Passage of a national single-use plastic policy pushed

Cebu City—The sheer number of local ordinances on single-use plastics means that there is a clamor for a national law that will comprehensively and effectively address the plastic crisis, advocates said during the second episode of Klima Ug Kalikupan, a joint webcast series by Cebu Technological University (CTU) and The Climate Reality Project Philippines.

“As of 2019, 489 cities and municipalities or about 30 percent of local government units (LGUs) in the country have some form of policy to regulate the use of plastics, particularly plastic bags,” Ian Soqueño, Anti Single-Use Plastics Lead of Climate Reality Philippines, said.

Citing data from the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), Soqueño said that these local ordinances have different scopes, different definitions of single-use plastics, and different sanctions. He also noted that all regions in the country except in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have LGUs regulating plastics. 

Pending bills and existing laws addressing single-use plastics

Soqueño noted that there are two (2) bills filed in the 17th Congress that seek to address the proliferation of single-use plastics in the country.

House Bill No. 9147 or the Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act, which was already approved on third reading at the House of Representatives, is a consolidation of about 40 bills filed in Congress that aims to phase out and eventually totally ban the use of single-use plastics in the country. It also mandates companies or plastic producers to create programs and measures that will manage plastic waste.

The Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act, however, did not flourish in the Senate.

“They were not in favor of the banning part of the bill. What they want is the extended producer responsibility scheme. Because of that, the House created a bill that would complement the Senate bill,” Soqueño said, pertaining to Senate Bill No. 2425 and House Bill No. 10696 or the Extender Producers Responsibility Act.

The consolidated bill solely focused on extended producer responsibility schemes has been approved and is now for the signature of the President, Soqueño noted.

Discussing the only solid waste management law in the country, Soqueño lamented the failure of concerned agencies to fully implement Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. 

“Had we implemented this law right, we wouldn’t have this much of a problem on plastics,” he said, explaining that the law mandates the NSWMC to formulate and update a list of Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products (NEAPs) and determine a phase-out period for these products.

While the law has been in effect since the year 2000, it was only last year that the NSWMC released a list of NEAPs.

“It’s not even a promulgated list. It’s a draft list. The list is not yet approved by the agencies that advise the Commission. As of now, it’s still a draft resolution. Twenty-two years since the law was enacted, the draft list only includes only two items—plastic soft drink straws and coffee stirrers,” he said.

Banning single-use plastics is not anti-poor

Speaking on the impact of banning single-use plastics on consumers who do not have the means to buy in bulk, Soqueño pointed out that there are ways to shift to more sustainable systems without leaving low-income families behind.

“A lot has been said about the advocacy against single-use plastics being anti-poor and that it will not help Filipinos who could only afford products in sachets. What we are saying is that even before sachets, we have working systems on these kinds of products, such as refilling systems,” he explained.

Soqueño also shared how multinational companies are circumventing the definition of single-use plastics, explaining that they do not consider sachets as single-use plastics because they are composed of other materials other than plastics.

“This is why bills were designed to include an eventual phase-out of single-use plastics instead of an outright ban. This way, we can promote the development of eco-friendly products and develop alternative systems and approaches, such as refilling systems and zero-waste sari-sari stores,” he said, noting that the government should find ways to address gaps, including those who will lose their jobs because of the ban of single-use plastics.

Supporting Soqueño’s position, Roxanne Doron, Founder and Executive Director of Bisdak Pride, said that the sachet system was created by multinational companies out of their desire to increase profit. 

“It [sachet system] is destructive. Our old system of tingi-tingi used to be sustainable but this has been destroyed by multinational firms. “It [sachet system] is destructive. Our old system of tingi-tingi used to be sustainable but this has been destroyed by multinational firms. I have traced the history of this profit-centered drive from companies that has resulted in this waste problem,” Doron said.

Status of waste management in Cebu

Zeroing in on the plastic problem of Cebu, Doron noted that there was a conference held in April this year aimed at finding solutions to the city’s 30-year garbage problem. 

“In the conference, the city government expressed that they will embark on a people-driven solid waste management. It is commendable because the leadership should guide the people on solid waste management. If your leadership is good, people will follow. Since Mayor Michael Rama is about to start his mandate, I hope that there is follow-through,” he said.

Doron noted that Cebu City already has ordinances in place to address the plastic problem. These include the ban on plastic shopping bags on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the prohibition of foam food containers and single-use plastics in all public events in the city.

“The bigger question is why is it that there is still waste around the city? The problem here lies in the supply because if you cut the supply there will be less supply. We have ordinances on waste disposal but we do not have restrictions on waste production,” Doron said.

The Cebu City Council enacted last year an ordinance totally banning all single-use plastic materials in all business establishments. However, the ordinance still needs the signature of the local chief executive.