Eleventh Hour: Solving the plastic crisis and pursuing a circular economy

By Adavieve Lasam


Plastic pollution has been a problem since the ’60s when scientists discovered that plastic products have been accumulating in natural environments, especially in the oceans. Confronting the problem has been a challenge for government leaders, businesses, and scientists.


To successfully end the toxic relationship with plastics, there is a need to fundamentally change the way we depend on them, and the way we create, use, and dispose of them.

As of 2021, according to a report published by the World Bank, 2.7 million tons of plastic waste are generated yearly in the Philippines and 20 percent is leaked into the oceans. Unsustainable methods of production and consumption, as well as limited recycling infrastructure in the country, contribute to the perpetual plastic pollution crisis.

While low-cost sachet products are made accessible for and available to the masses, the adverse impacts of the sachet economy currently outweigh efforts by private organizations and local agencies to curb the pressing issue of plastics, particularly single-use plastics.

There are discussions about transitioning the country into a circular economy to keep resources intact and conserve the overall integrity of the environment. However, according to an interview published in February of this year with Gregorio Bueta, an environmental, climate, and sustainability lawyer and Ateneo de Manila School of Law Faculty member, there is no integrated circular economy strategy or policy framework that exists in the Philippines.

Furthermore, a 2022 report of Circulo, a pioneering initiative that fosters circular economy in the Philippines, said that “the Southeast Asian region is still far from achieving a circular economy due to financial and information barriers, which need to be broken down for this economic model to prosper.”

The US also faces problems with plastic pollution. As a current resident here, I am no stranger to the problem of plastics that this country struggles with. All sorts of plastic products are widely used in various establishments—utensils, straws, food packaging, and shopping bags. Only a few establishments have resolved to avoid plastics.

Despite an organized trash collection system, wastes are leaked into waterways and lands, harming the environment in its entirety. According to concerned advocates in Chicago, other US states have taken “greater strides” in curbing plastic pollution, but the city has failed to address the problem accordingly.

Among the action plans in Illinois include banning some types of single-use plastics, like polystyrene foam, the worst form of plastic pollution, which started last March 2021, and efforts are currently ongoing. In 2000, a project on biodegradable electronic devices developed by two faculty members from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago was funded that same year.

I realized that the plastic pollution problem is universal and encompassing. No matter which country we are in, the pressure to cut an unhealthy relationship with plastics is immensely felt. Plastics are ubiquitous. The production, distribution, and disposal of plastics continue to seriously threaten the environment. Plastics remain and persist in environments and are difficult to eliminate unless we develop a more sustainable and firm resolution to keep them in se with improved technologies and recycling facilities.

While mitigating initiatives are taking place, creating alternatives is required, which entails redesigning the systems and products that were once linear and wasteful. The government has a huge role to play because they will be all-hands-on-deck in creating regulations and policies. But with so many regulations in place, these reflect how we want to power our world.

On one hand, regulations are there to protect the best interests of the common good. On the other hand, inspired by the words of Michael Braungart and William McDonough, authors of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, “regulation is a signal of design failure.” They added that regulations are what the authors would like to call a “license to harm” or a “permit issued by a government to an industry so that it may dispense sickness, destruction, and death at an ‘acceptable’ rate.”

The point is that regulations are not required at all with well-designed products inspired by how nature operates.

The quest for a better environment should be inclusive. With the hopes of redesigning a model or a system which zeroes in on material health, safe material recycling and recovery, maximization of renewable energy resources, and keeping water systems healthy and intact, we could only wish that we can reverse the effects of our mistakes in our lifetime.



Ma. Adavieve Mella Lasam is a Climate Reality Leader and the Lead Initiator of Upcycle Philippines, an online community fostering awareness on upcycling as a system for environment conservation.


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.