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Editorial

The plastic problem

/ 05:28 AM April 10, 2011

IT IS so simple in theory but complicated in application. We have been told so often and for some time that plastic bags have a negative impact on the environment. This is even more telling in a flood-prone country such as ours, where plastic bags clog our overtaxed sewage systems. The big problem isn’t just that plastic bags take forever to disintegrate, it is the massive number of plastic bags Filipinos use, reuse and eventually throw away. The bags—in clear, white, red, blue, yellow and other shades—are choking the life out of the cities.

It is therefore elementary to expect that any step toward the complete eradication of plastic bags would be lauded and, more importantly, supported through action. Yet an environmentally conscious solution to the plastic bags problem may need the push of legislation to ever be effective in this country.

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That is why Senate Bill 2759, authored by Sen. Loren Legarda, is most timely and even carries with it a sense of urgency, as does Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Senate Bill 2749. Legarda’s bill asks supermarkets, restaurants and retail stores to cease using plastic bags. “As the problems of pollution, environmental degradation and severe weather shifts escalate, all sectors of society must act with dispatch. Individuals must make conscious efforts to change our daily routine and practices to produce a positive impact on our environment,” Legarda said.

What is significant in Legarda’s bill is that it not only calls on individual Filipinos to stop using plastic bags, it also calls on business establishments, which hand out plastic bags for almost every transaction, to take responsibility for the bags’ disastrous effect on our environment and surroundings. “Companies must change their economic mind-set, wasteful production processes and packaging methods—from the use of seemingly cost-effective plastic bags into investing in long-term reusable and recyclable bags which are more sustainable in the long run,” Legarda explained.

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Marcos’ bill takes that a step further by advocating the use of biodegradable bags to protect the land. “Through this bill, consumers are encouraged to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of plastic bags, thereby saving the fragile life of the environment,” he said. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the idea is to find a way to stop using plastic bags altogether, be it by the singular Filipino or by large corporations.

It sounds so easy to do. After all, isn’t banning the use of plastic bags a universal idea we can all get behind? But you would be surprised; someone is already trying—and it has proven to be far more difficult than expected.

In 2010, Muntinlupa City took a huge step forward when Mayor Aldrin San Pedro signed into law Ordinance 101-109 which banned plastic bags and containers made from polysterene and called for environment-friendly substitutes. It sounds like the kind of forward-thinking, metropolitan rule-crafting that constituents would wholeheartedly support. But Muntinlupa has met resistance after it began implementing the ordinance last January. Businesses, large and small, were a source of immediate defiance. An industry group, the Philippine Plastics Industry Association said that the problem wasn’t the plastic, it was the lack of discipline. The Philippine Association of Supermarkets Inc. argued that paper bags were five times more costly than plastic bags.

Well, nobody says implementing laws protecting the environment was going to be easy. But does it really have to be so hard? It might be true that Filipinos need to exercise more discipline with the amount of trash they throw away—plastic bags or otherwise. But that doesn’t make the move to ban plastics any less important. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, if both could be done, then that would contribute the most serious effort thus far to curbing the serious threat of plastic bags. Instead of brickbats, Muntinlupa deserves a thumbs-up for daring to do what other cities only give lip service to. Now if only the rest of the country can follow the city’s brave example—and rid ourselves of this plastic menace once and for all.

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