Advocates laud EPR Act, push for more circular policies and business practices

Quezon City—The enactment of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Act of 2022 is a good start but more transformational and progressive policies, programs, and business practices are needed to enable a circular economy for the Philippines.

This was emphasized by sustainability advocates yesterday during a town hall discussion at the Quezon City Sports Club, entitled “The Philippine Circular Economy Agenda: Integrating Sustainable and Strategic Waste Management Systems,” which was organized by international research organization Stratbase ADR Institute with the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) and The Climate Reality Project Philippines.

Participated by key stakeholders from diverse sectors, the event tackled the national government’s circular economy agenda, the private sector’s circular business model initiatives that can be adopted at scale, and consumer responsibilities in effective waste management.

“The [EPR] Act, while not the only solution, is an important enabler to accelerate our transition to a circular economy,” Assistant Secretary Gilbert Gonzales of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said during the event where he presented the salient provisions of the said law.

The EPR Act, which was passed in 2022, requires large enterprises or business entities with over PhP100 million in total assets to be environmentally responsible throughout the life cycle of their products, by reducing and preventing waste and pollution. It imposes tighter mandates for plastic-producing companies that must recover or offset their plastic packaging footprint by 20%-80% starting in 2023 up to 2028 and beyond.

“We’ve made a significant step with the EPR Law, but our next big step should already turn off our plastic faucet. Shifting to a circular economy is a pathway that can help address our addiction and dependence on plastics, which is aggravating the climate crisis,” Nazrin Castro, Manager of The Climate Reality Project Philippines, said during the forum.

Circular economy, as defined under the EPR Act, refers to an economic model of efficiently utilizing resources by its continual use and retaining the highest utility and value of products through sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment, and recycling in an almost closed loop. This is the exact opposite of the current linear economic model, where raw materials extracted from natural resources end up as waste on land, water, and air.

The Climate Reality Project Philippines and The Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) held a ceremonial signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening the latter’s #BawalPlastikan, a program to create a community of practice for local policies and actions that reduce and manage plastic waste and pollution and promote zero-waste and sustainability practices.
The future is circular: environmental and economic benefits of circular economy

During the event, Climate Reality Leader Carlo Delantar, Circular Economy Pioneer at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, underscored three principles of circular economy: (1) designing out waste and pollution, (2) keeping products and materials in use, and (3) regenerating natural systems. 

“If we do that right, then a lot of post-consumer issues that we’re talking about now will be completely eliminated,” Delantar added.

Castro, on her part, added that a circular economy will rectify the traditional and backward notions and approaches and the current hyper-consumeristic behavior and attitude towards development—especially on the aspects of consumption and production where greenhouse gas emissions are mainly concerned.

Mr. Alexander Cabrera, Vice President of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), noted that a circular economy model does not only benefit the environment and society but also adds value to businesses. 

Cabrera also shared various circular business models that are already changing the private sector landscape in the country and that participants could consider in their respective operations.  This includes circular inputs (using renewable, recycled, or highly recyclable inputs in the production process), sharing economy (maximizing idle assets by renting or leading it), product as service (selling the same product to the maximum amount of people over and over again); product use extension (designs products for repairability, upgradability reusability, reconditioning, and recyclability of all components), and resource recovery (recovering embedded materials, energy, and resources from products at the end of use).

Adopting these circular models makes good business sense.

According to a Pulse Asia survey conducted from November to December 2022, an overwhelming majority of Filipinos (83%) prefer to patronize products and/or services by entities that they believe have environment-friendly operations and products.

“The survey results show that 8 out of 10 Filipinos, regardless of area and socioeconomic class, expressed preference for products and services produced by firms that they believe to be environment-friendly,” Dr. Ronald Holmes, President of Pulse Asia, presented during the forum. 

“Given this message, there is one challenge. And this is for firms to satisfy these preferences by providing products and services within the reach of consumers,” he added.

The need for a national ban on single-use plastics

While there are certain provisions in the EPR Act that are contentious to her organization—such as the inclusion of “thermal treatment” facilities and the absence of consumer safeguards from additional costs to implement EPR schemes, Castro said that putting greater responsibility on businesses that put out massive amounts of plastics in the market is still a cause for celebration.

“While we support the implementation of the EPR Act, we are also keen to support once again legislation to regulate and phaseout single-use plastics, Castro noted.

Local and community-driven zero-waste solutions

At the end of the event, Climate Reality Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding with PBEST to develop the online platform of #BawalPlastikan.

The platform, which will be launched later this year, will serve as a compendium of local policies and initiatives of LGUs, the private sector, civil society organizations, and other groups that reduce and manage plastic waste and pollution, especially on single-use plastics, as well as promote zero-waste and sustainability practices, through research and crowdsourcing.