By Ian Soqueño
September 23, 2022
It’s a welcome law that requires large enterprises or business entities with over P100 million in total assets to be environmentally responsible throughout the life cycle of their products, by reducing and preventing waste and pollution. Tighter mandates are imposed for plastic-producing companies that must recover or offset their plastic packaging footprint by 20 to 80 percent starting in 2023 up to 2028 and beyond.
Single or multi-layered materials (such as sachets, labels, and laminates), rigid products (such as containers, personal care, cosmetic, cutlery, straws, tarps, and signages), plastic bags, and polystyrene are covered by the law.
To say that this law would only set things moving, however, feels like a compromise.
Those who have been following the hearings in both chambers would also think that this is perhaps because of Sen. Villar’s decision, as chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment, to prioritize the EPR Act over another similar bill, which also mandated EPR schemes from companies but whose main component was to regulate and phaseout single-use plastics. This push for a national ban came from a good number of legislators and even from the Department of Finance (DOF) and Climate Change Commission (CCC), in consideration as well of the over 30 percent of local government units that have policies regulating plastics.
It’s a missed opportunity, considering the country’s massive addiction and negligence on plastics. We’re cited as the third highest plastic polluter in the world’s oceans (next to Indonesia and China), with our rivers among the world’s plastic-emitters. This could get worse as our plastic production and consumption would increase by 230 percent by 2040 and our unrecycled plastics would also increase to three million tons in 2030 and five million tons in 2040, according to a recent report from World Bank.
What’s also revealing in the study made by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in 2019 is that more than 50 percent of all unrecyclable residual waste discarded in the country is branded waste, with only 10 companies responsible for 60 percent of branded waste.
Believing that the EPR Act as a good start is acceptable, but “to what end?” is the question — especially since there are certain contestable provisions of the law.
For one, the inclusion of “thermal treatment” facilities as part of the product waste recovery programs to be included in the national EPR framework could run counter to the law’s goals and principles because it could allow large-scale incineration activities and could encourage more plastic production (because we could just burn them anyway).
There is also a clear absence of safeguards from the likelihood that enterprises would pass on the added costs to implement their EPR schemes to the consumers (just like how fossil fuel companies could pass on additional costs of oil and gas to us). The implementing rules and regulations must be drafted in such a way that ordinary Filipinos would feel incentivized to participate in the EPR schemes and help to reduce and prevent waste and pollution.
The law made mention once again of the issuance of the Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products (NEAP) list, which has been long overdue for more than 20 years, pursuant to the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (Republic Act No. 9003). With the new law, it’s still uncertain if the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) would have the political will to finally issue and promulgate the list.
And of course, there’s the possibility that legislation banning single-use plastics, that’s been clamored prior, would be delayed or not prosper in this new Congress — which is what’s most worrying. The EPR Law should be a means toward the eventual ban on single-use plastics to turn off the plastic faucet and mitigate the risks and hazards to our health, environment, and climate due to the pollution and emissions produced throughout the whole life cycle of plastics. If this is the direction we’re headed, then the EPR Act, even without a president’s stamp on it, is one landmark legislation to be celebrated about.
Ian Soqueño is a Climate Reality Leader and a strategic communications professional with engagements in the public and development sectors. He is currently the Plastics and Energy Campaign Lead of The Climate Reality Project Philippines.
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.