By Andrea Ong, Trisha Cruz, and Danielle Madriaga
May 6, 2022
Plastic is easy to produce and easy to use, so there’s a high demand for it. However, in exchange for short-term convenience, plastic costs the world serious long-term effects on the health of both people and the planet.
Three things, in particular, make the problem of plastic production and consumption so complex and difficult to solve: first, how people can be unaware of plastic’s harmful consequences; second, how people can be aware but not have the ability to choose eco-friendly alternatives; and third, how people continue to choose plastic despite being aware of its harmful effects and having the ability to switch to more sustainable options.
The plastic life cycle
About 99 percent of plastics in use are actually made of petrochemicals that are derived from fossil fuels such as crude oil, which are broken down into resins to create plastic. Once plastics are manufactured, they are then sold to markets and households, after which, more often than not, they end up in our landfills or the open environment.
Unfortunately, the chemicals found in plastic make them difficult to break down and be regenerated. Thus, from the beginning, in the extraction of materials needed to manufacture it, until the end of its life cycle when it becomes a huge waste management problem, plastic poses a problem not only to our environment but to the climate as well.
Plastic waste, more likely than not, ends up in our oceans or in landfills. Plastic also poses a significant threat to people whose jobs or means to survive directly involve plastic. Waste collectors, the urban poor, and even a simple dweller living near or beside landfills or open dumps are at risk from the potential harms of plastic wastes.
Addressing the root cause of plastic pollution
While it is our individual responsibility to keep our environment healthy and free of pollution, advocates agree that governments and companies have a larger responsibility in preventing plastic waste and pollution.
Republic Act (RA) No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law sets the role of government agencies and local government units in proper waste segregation, recycling, composting, and disposal. However, its provisions, such as the issuance of the list of non-environmentally acceptable products (NEAP), are yet to be promulgated today, 22 years after the law was passed.
If a tap overflows, do you tell yourself to stop using the water? Or do you turn off the faucet? In the same vein, it’s time to stop plastic pollution at the source. However, majority of the solutions available right now are temporary fixes and fail to address the root causes of plastic pollution.
As anti-single-use plastic advocates, we are also called to go beyond personal lifestyle changes and to engage others to be part of the movement. At the end of the day, consumers shouldn’t feel bad or pressured. Instead, be reminded that the solution to the plastic crisis goes beyond living a zero-waste lifestyle. No matter how much we want to change our ways to be more environmental-friendly, it can almost seem impossible to do so when the rest of our society continues to incorporate it into our way of life.
But difficult as it seems, one should still try to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. As activist Chuck Baclagon puts it: “It’s not a reason to stop pursuing a world that’s ecologically sustainable and just.”
Apart from finding ways to reuse plastics as individuals, we must also find ways to engage governments and corporations to improve waste management solutions and shift production systems. We must keep in mind that while recycling and upcycling are needed to manage existing waste, the real solution is to stop the tap on the endless production of plastic.
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.