Eleventh Hour: The circular road toward a plastic-free, resilient Philippines

By Ian Soqueño

Our addiction to plastics is hurting our climate and our chances of survival.

 

You’ve probably heard news or read reports citing the Philippines as one of the world’s top plastic-polluting countries due to our tremendous plastic consumption yet paltry plastic waste management efforts, with a recent study listing 19 of our very own rivers among the top 50 in the world carrying the most plastic waste into the ocean.

This has reignited public outcry for better and more effective waste management measures from the government, while also demanding greater accountability from the private sector, especially from the producers and companies that have introduced the most plastic in the market.

Unfortunately, this issue is not just about how plastics pollute the environment and our oceans, or how animals get entangled or confuse them for food, or how plastics can clog waterways and worsen flooding or contaminate our water due to open dumpsites, which may also provide breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects.

This is also about climate change and how these plastics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Whenever we produce plastics—which are derived from fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas—we also emit greenhouse gases that accumulate in our atmosphere and trap heat from the sun, thereby increasing the Earth’s temperature. In fact, the whole plastic life cycle—from extraction, manufacture, transport, and up to disposal—produces emissions that may reach up to 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030, which is equivalent to more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants, if current trends continue.

For decades, the Philippines has cultivated a culture and economy that thrived on the retail or tingi system using single-use plastics. For sure, sachets, straws, stirrers, plastic labo, and sando bags have made our lives more convenient, and we patronized them not knowing full well how they would affect our environment, health, and climate.

But we know better now. We’re seeing eco-stores that are bringing back refilling systems and promoting environment-friendly alternatives to plastics becoming more commercial, as well as startups working to minimize the use of plastics in online shopping and deliveries.

Also just last week, the House of Representatives finally approved its version of a proposed law that would phase out and ban single-use plastics nationwide, support research and development of sustainable plastic alternatives, and compel plastic producers and companies to implement extended producer responsibility schemes—but the question is, will this bill prosper in the Senate?

The approval built momentum for the government-led conference that took place the following day, which featured sustainable alternatives and solutions to single-use plastics, such as the development of green degradable polymers from plant-based oils, starch-based plastics, and chitosan-based packaging. The conference showed and also supported the bill’s belief in the capability of the Filipino to innovate and develop solutions against single-use plastics.

As we reinforce our policies and measures on single-use plastics, we also hope to change our societal behavior and mindset for the better. The goal—not just for us, but for all nations—is to have a circular economy, as opposed to our current linear economy. Circular, meaning, we are designing materials and products to be recyclable or upcyclable and not to end up as waste or pollution. Through this approach, we intend to extract less and less from our environment and minimize our greenhouse gas emissions from our industries and sectors.

As the Philippines faces a plastic crisis, the principles of circularity lend insights on how we can overcome our addiction to plastics and foster a green and just transition towards a more resilient and more sustainable future for all.

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About Eleventh Hour

This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.

About the Author

Ian Soqueño is a Climate Reality Leader and a strategic communications professional with engagements in the public and development sectors. He is currently the research associate for The Climate Reality Project Philippines.