Plastic Ban in the Philippines: Prohibitions & Clarifications
For the past year, local government units (LGU's) here in the Philippines have been banning the use of plastic in their respective municipalities. So far, at least 27 cities have banned the use of plastic, with Muntinlupa City leading the way. The main reason for banning plastic is because it is thought of as the major culprit in blocking the drainage system. Hence, flooding is imminent whenever there is rainfall. To find out which cities are implementing the ban, please visit List of Cities in Metro Manila Where Plastic Ban is Implemented.
This hub discusses which kinds of plastics are banned, the solutions offered by the LGU's, the paper versus plastic bag debate, and some more practical solutions to the problem.
Confusion Arising From Plastic Ban
LGU's intend to fully implement this ban by 2013. Their objective is to zero out the inventory of non-biodegradable materials in certain establishments by the end of 2012.
Because LGU's are the ones implementing this ban, people belonging to different municipalities are confused as to what is actually allowed or not. In some cities, just being seen carrying a plastic bag around can cause you to be fined by the local officials, even if you don't live in the said city. In some cities, the ban is limited to hospitals, city halls, and government offices. If you visit the mall, most establishments still give away plastic bags to store the things you bought. If one store does not give you one, just go to the next establishment and they will surely give you a bag to store your things in.
What is the Plastic Ban?
So what is this plastic ban actually prohibiting? It prohibits the sale, distribution, and use of plastic bags as primary and secondary packaging materials for dry goods and as secondary packaging materials for wet goods. There are still some goods exempt from this which I will discuss below. It also bans the used of styrofoam (polystyrene) and other materials with non-biodegradable components that are being used for food, drinks, dining utensils and beverage containers.
Difference Between Primary and Secondary Packaging Materials
Primary packaging materials are the first level product packaging that contains the item being sold. I believe that this one applies to certain industries that produce local goods and wrap them in plastic packaging.
Secondary packaging materials, on the other hand, are the ones used to provide support for your goods with primary packaging. This category is the one plastic bags belong to, the ones that you get when you buy things from the grocery or department stores.
The products exempted from this ban include plastic bottled products (e.g. bottled water, cooking oil, alcohol, peanut butter, etc.); plastic sachet products (e.g. shampoo, conditioner, noodles, cosmetics, etc.); and plastic bags used as primary packaging on wet goods with thickness of 15 microns above, and other similar products.
Paper Versus Plastic Bags
Debates have sparked between the two industries regarding their products. Philippine Plastic Industry Association (PPIA) say that making 1 paper bag cost more than 1 plastic bag in terms of the trees they need to cut, the amount of water used, and the amount of energy expended. Meanwhile, the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry of the Philippines issued a rebuttal to the arguments and said that all the paper products in the country are derived from recycled fiber, while plastic is made from petroleum, a dwindling natural resource.
While we get conflicting reports from these industries, these facts are stemmed by their need for the industry to survive by increasing their sales instead of actually offering a solution to the problem. For more details on just how much it costs to produce 1 plastic bag, visit Are We Saving Earth by Banning Plastic Bag?
Alternatives to Packing Your Dry and Wet Goods
In my opinion, dry goods are the easiest thing to find alternative packaging to plastic. Because there is no water involved, brown paper bags are a good storage solution. If you want handles, just bring your own sturdy bag/basket to store your items in. What the LGUs are promoting are "bayongs". Bayongs are woven bags made from different kinds of leaves. This is traditionally used by people going to the wet market in the old days.
In some Asian countries I have visited, if you want the establishment to provide you a bag (paper/plastic), you have to pay a fee. So the people are encouraged to bring a big bag with them whenever they go out so they will not need to pay this fee when they buy things. These days, in municipalities where plastic bags are only regulated instead of totally banned, fees are also being charged for each bag.
Wet goods, on the other hand, are more problematic. Even if there is primary packaging surrounding your wet goods, there is a risk of liquid leaking and destroying bags made of paper. If you purchase different kinds of wet goods, you would not want to mix them together for fear of contaminating them. Imagine eating fish that tastes like meat, or fruit that stinks because of the fish smell.
One alternative is to bring your own things to wrap the wet goods in (e.g. old ice cream tubs, banana leaves, old newspapers, etc.) Then you can put those things in your bag/basket and be in no danger of mixing anything. Just note that if you do use recycled paper, make sure the product that you wrap is washable so no bacteria can contaminate it. You would not want to get sick just to save the planet.
What Will We Use to Hold the Trash?
Segregation of trash has been encouraged for a few years now. Its implementation, however, is still not perfect. I remember when I was in school, even though the trash cans are segregated, whenever the cleaning crew came, all the trash is piled into one single bin they roll around to collect the trash.
You can be more proactive and bring your trash to junk yards that buy recyclable materials for a small amount of money. As for the biodegradable trash, you can use it for your compost pile to put in your garden.
The problem with this is, how about those who live in condominiums? It is impossible to have zero plastic bags in local municipalities. How will you get rid of your biodegradable trash, when you don't have a garden to justify having a compost pile? Supposedly, there is a law for your biodegradable trash to be collected with no plastic bag. Just let the garbage collector empty out your containers and return them to your home. While we may throw our trash differently, here in our community, we leave the trash bags outside for the garbage collector to pick up. I do not want to leave anything of value outside for fear of losing anything to thieves.
One of the things we can do is wait until the plastic industry can produce biodegradable plastic locally before totally banning the petroleum-based plastic bags. Meanwhile, instead of just throwing the plastic bags that contain our trash, we can just empty out the bags and reuse them again if possible. This will reduce the amount of plastic we throw out, hence less problem with its non-biodegradability.
Critics have been arguing that plastic is not the only cause of flooding. Just because plastic floats on the surface doesn't mean it is the only problem we have. Items with higher densities sink and clog the drains directly. What we need is waste reduction. In order to actually reduce flooding, we need to change our mentality from just throwing things away to learning how to reuse our things.
In order to help out with this waste reduction, just bring your own bags so you can put in your purchases. When the establishment wants to give you a bag (whether plastic or paper), you can always tell them to just put the things in your bag instead. Just remember that if you don't start being more proactive in saving the environment, the next time heavy rains come, your house might not be so safe anymore.