Monday, October 15, 2012

Sustainability # 7: No More Plastic Bags in Some Philippine Cities But Education Needed

My Sustainability posts spring from my forum posts in the free Sustainability Course, offered by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which I am participating in.

Last year, the Philippine House of Representatives passed the Plastic Regulation Act. Local ordinances have since been implementing bans on the use of plastic bags and styrofoam, especially in malls and supermarkets. It took a while to implement because I only noticed it while doing the groceries several months ago. There were several signages that indicated that plastic bags would no longer be used in the supermarket and that consumers needed to use re-usable bags or be charged for using plastic bags. In another city, I noticed that the supermarket went around the ordinance by issuing out paper bags whenever consumers didn't use re-usable bags. Using paper bags is just as damaging to the environment.

I asked one of the employees of the supermarket if she agreed with the ordinance and she said yes, mentioning how plastic bags had a big role to play in clogging local waterways and causing more damage during recent floods. While I'm glad that she agrees with less use of non-biodegradable plastic...I'm not sure she knows that there were many factors that cause flooding and not just the use of plastic bags.

While we still have a long way to go in terms of formulating and implementing environmental policies, I think this is a good start. The implementation isn't perfect. Most of the eateries in the mall that implemented bans on the use of plastic bags and styrofoam are still using these materials. Apparently, the ban was being enforced only in the supermarket and not the eateries adjacent to the supermarket. As an individual, I've started bringing my own re-usable plastic container and metal utensils whenever I buy food from the eatery. Hopefully, more people will start getting present to the social cost that comes with using disposables. I've also been more vocal in discussing the impact of using disposables (from plastics to diapers and feminine napkins) and what we don't see in the long term in exchange for the convenience in the short term.

As expected, the industry opposed the ban on plastic bags, stating that they preferred regulation over a total ban. Personally, I think it's about time that we start looking for alternatives to the use of disposable and non-biodegradable plastic bags. However, I do agree that industries need time to adjust and shouldn't be "shocked" into compliance without alternatives or a transition period. Not only that, there should be an evaluation of what really needs to be addressed first as well as widespread awareness/ education on recycling and proper waste disposal (trash segregation) that should go hand in hand with the policies on plastic such as this ban.

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