PASAY CITY – The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) successfully held the Science Legislative Forum on Single-Use Plastics last 27 January 2020 at Hotel Jen, Pasay City. The forum was attended by 70 participants from the senate, house committee, government agencies, local government units, private sector and the academe. This forum aims to gather experts and concerned stakeholders to provide inputs on our understanding of plastics, and in particular, single-use plastic; to suggest directions in research and development, and propose strategies regarding the management of single-use plastics.

In her opening remarks, Academician Rhodora V. Azanza, NAST PHL President, highlighted the immense contribution of single-use plastics in the Philippines’ plastic waste pollution problem, owing to the sachet culture of Filipinos. However, the role of single-use plastics in the industry and the difficulty of a complete ban is undeniable. She called for the cooperation of the different sectors of the government, academe and the industry to fight against the exponential growth of plastic waste.

The forum commenced with the introductory talk of Academician Fabian M. Dayrit, Vice President of NAST PHL. He emphasized the following objectives of the forum: 1) help clarify the range of plastics under single-use plastics (SUP), 2) discuss strategies for the phase-out of SUP, 3) discuss strategies for the management of all types of plastics and 4) encourage a multi-sectoral strategy. A brief definition of plastics, its properties and types were also discussed to give the audience a background on plastics. He focused on single-use plastics and how it is already part of the daily living and culture of Filipinos across social classes. However, the majority of plastic waste is single-use plastic. According to a report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA, 209), Filipinos use more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million sando bags, and 45 million labo bags daily, which are all considered single-use plastics.

The problem on the exponential growth of plastic waste, particularly the single-use plastics has already been tackled by the United Nations Environment Programme in their report for 2018. They identified the main problem to be lack of law enforcement and lack of viable and affordable alternatives. It is recommended to develop appropriate multi-pronged approach that may include bans, voluntary initiatives and financial incentives for alternatives. This should be done in cooperation of all sectors. Support for research and development should also be done to develop new materials as alternatives to plastic and to assist a circular economy. A new paradigm for plastics is recommended: the 5R’s; Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover.

Academician Agnes C. Rola, Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines Los Baños and a member of the Social Science Division of NAST PHL, further the discourse by discussing legislative initiatives in plastic waste management. She started by enumerating several international plastic bans such as in China and Indonesia. Single-Use plastic ban in the Philippines also already started such as in Boracay and Quezon City in Metro Manila. Other than the previous bills filed in the senate, Sen. Cynthia Villar, the current Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources recently filed the Senate Bill (SB) 333 or the “Single-Use Plastic Product Regulation Act of 2019. She also remarked that RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, is an adept and strong law. However, there is weak implementation. The initiatives of environmental non-government organizations (NGOs) such as coastal cleaning drives may help but it is not the answer to the growing problem in plastic waste.

Stregnthening partnerships among the different sectors, private and government, is needed for stronger implementation. Acd. Rola also supported the need for research in addressing this problem.

An update on the RA 9003 was given by Ms. Likha Malai C. Alcantara, an environmental management specialist from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). There is a 21,000,000 metric ton projected waste in 2020 which increased from 13,500,000 since 2010. The 10 Year Solid Waste Management Plans follows the structure; Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, Treat and Dispose. After 20 years of implementation of the RA 9003, there are 819 approved barangay solid waste management plans from all over the Philippines, 719 for evaluation and 105 with no submissions. The percentage coverage for Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) is roughly at 33%. Through the years, there have been a decrease in the number of illegal dumpsites but an increase in sanitary landfills. A lot of municipalities share sanitary landfills. Due to lack of space, we anticipate in the future that these landfills will be completely full. Currently, there are 186 sanitary landfills covering 407 LGUs which show a 25% coverage.

On top of all these things, Ms. Alcantara emphasized that much of the work in creating a plastic waste free country is cultural. We have to change our ways of living and the ways we dispose our waste. She also suggested upcycling, composting and finding alternative waste technologies.

Unfortunately, Sen. Villar, who was supposed to give a talk on the initiatives of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on plastic waste management, was not able to attend. Hon. Glona G. Labadlabad, chairperson of the House Committee on Ecology was not able to attend also. However, her representative, Ms. Elena Carolino-Alcantara, secretariat of House Committee on Ecology delivered her statement on the issue at hand. The House Committee on Ecology have already passed several bills to ban single-use plastics. There are a total of 35 bills and house resolutions passed and filed, seeking the need to regulate or phase-out single-use plastics. The first hearing was conducted last year November 2019. They are doing their best to do their part in the congress to protect our environment.

Representative from the Department of Interior and Local Government Units (LGU) also shared their accomplishments with regard to the implementation of RA 9003. They exercise a supervisory power over the LGUs. Under the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, the DILG is a member of the National Solid Waste Commission (NSWMC). They help in the approval and monitoring of local solid waste management plans and boards, provision of capacity development for select LGU on the drafting local SWMPs, monitoring of local solid waste and provision of incentive scheme for effective solid waste management. Their evaluation for LGU compliance is through existence of a municipal solid waste management board, existence of ordinances, presence of MRF, existence of waste diversion programs and the presence of a 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan. The incentives for performing LGUs include Manila BAYani Awards and Incentives and the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) Awards and Special Recognitions.

Since the implementation of RA 9003, DILG have assisted LGUs in capacity development projects and seminars. Through the years, there is an increasing number of 10-Year Solid Waste Management Plan, establishment of MRFs, and implementation of proper waste segregation and collection.

The City of San Fernando, Pampanga, which was awarded as one of the leading cities of the Asia Pacific for its 93 percent smart implementation of the Zero Waste Management also shared its plastic waste management strategies. Mayor Edwin D. Santiago was represented by Ms. Maria Regina N. Rodriguez, a supervising environmental management specialist and officer-in-charge at the City Environment and Natural Resources Office of San Fernando, Pampanga. She featured a city ordinance authored by Congressman BJ Lagman, “An ordinance regulating the use of reusable bags, prohibiting the use of polystyrene (styro) for food products”. The city effectively implements a total ban on plastic sando bags. They encourage consumers to bring eco-bags. Some also use used cartons in shopping. They allow plastic labo packaging but only for raw food products such as raw meat and fish. They also have plastic bottle collection programs for recycling. They also started a support for Refill Revolution to help lessen plastic waste. Refilling for dishwashing soap, oil etc. are currently being made available in the city.

The private sector was represented by Commissioner Crispian N. Lao from the National Solid Waste Commission (NSWC), who is also the President of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Material Sustainability (PARMS). The PARMS has been focused on full waste recovery and recycling programs in Metro Manila. Their program plan include the following components: IEC Campaign, recovery system, collection from recovery points, technical assessment, treatment facility and market development. On behalf of the NSWMC, Mr. Lao also presented updates. They have been preparing a list of non-environmentally products which shall be prohibited, unless there are no alternatives available. Products with current restrictions include persistent organic pollutants, chemical controls on Mercury (Hg), Cyanide (CN), heavy chemical such as Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd) and Chromium (Cr).

They were also able to create a Technical Working Group (TWG) which prepares the guidelines for the list based on scientific, technical and economic studies. The TWG is composed of representatives from various institutions within the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and other government agencies. Single-Use Plastics are on the list of the TWG but specific items are needed to be identified. The PARMS is looking forward to their recently launched project “Zero Waste to Nature: Ambisyon 2030” which aims to effectively manage waste. Their approach will include Reduced waste generation through packaging redesign and improve recyclability of plastics, Reuse, Recover and Recycle.

Mr. Steven T. Cua, President of the Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association (PAGASA), also gave a talk to express the stand of the supermarket retailer’s stand on the issue. He started by sharing a video on BBC showing the history of plastics. He highlighted that plastics actually came about to address the negative effect of increasing paper waste and consumption, which result to more trees being cut down. Mr. Sten Gustaf Thulin, who created the plastic bag, came with the idea of a strong bag that was light and would last for ages so that it could be re-used for a long time to replace paper bags. From the very beginning, plastics were made to help save the earth. However, due to mismanagement, plastics became a problem, which was supposedly a solution at the time it was created. Mr. Cua further emphasized the importance of plastics and that the real problem is not plastic but the management of its disposal.

The last speaker is a representative of the civil society, Ms. Sonia S. Mendoza, President of the Mother Earth Foundation (MEF). The MEF is a non-stock, non-profit NGO actively engaged in addressing waste and toxic pollution, climate change, and other health and environmental justice issues. It is best known for its community-based advocacy of zero waste. It has lectured, trained, and conducted workshops in the different levels of Local Government Units (LGUs), schools and various sectors of society to promote ecological solid waste management. Like PARMS, they also aim for a Zero Waste Community. They continually work toward a Zero Waste Community through three pillars: Decentralized system, Fair livelihoods and Community leaderships. The benefits of this drive include less waste/litter, less residuals, reduced expenses for the city, reduced fees for clients, less negative environmental impact, more local jobs and more social integration.

Ms. Mendoza reiterated that plastic bags highly pollute our oceans, water and land. She support the ban of single-use plastics particularly the single-use plastics. The MEF made a brand audit of the plastic wastes in our landfills. The top corporations responsible for residual waste in the Philippines are Unilever, Nestlѐ and Procter and Gamble. The top polluting brands include Coca-Cola, Nestlѐ and Pepsico.

The open forum followed after all the talks. There was an active discussion among the speakers and participants from various sectors. Most of the questions were towards Ms. Alcantara from DENR on how they shoul effectively implement RA 9003.