Last Saturday, members of the Alliance for a Cleaner Earth (ACE) and myself were able to get some time at the Kapihan sa Sulo at the newly refurbished Sulo Hotel in Quezon City.
ACE is a group of outdoor sports enthusiasts who live out their environmentalist causes by collecting aluminum cans, practicing Earth Day everyday by shutting down their household's power for two hours everyday, by giving up smoking, using E-10 fuels, lessening their plastic wastes, and once a year, holding a rock concert cum clean up drive in areas endangered by climate change. We also participate in the projects of other groups whose cause is to fight for climate change adaptation measures.
Members of the group present were Abbie Modino, Jojo Menorca, Chi Martillo, Au Martillo, Salvs Beleo, and myself.
It was a good thing that some of our friends in the media allowed us some time to share our message about remembering Ondoy and stopping plastic pollution. This despite the fact that the organizers of Kapihan would probably have wanted more time discussing the present brouha-ha over police brutality sparked by the torture video played excessively on television.
I don't know how many people have suffered from police brutality and the worst thing I ever experienced from a policeman was to get a ticket for beating the red light. The thing is, I think, you only have to be worried about police brutality if you are a chronic street protester, a criminal, or a vagrant.
Ordinary law abiding citizens don't have to worry much about the police, unless, of course, they are victims of a crime and the perpetrators are relatives or friends of a policeman.
In any case, out of every ten people I talk to about the Ondoy floods last year, about seven have their own stories to tell and of those seven, four or five were actually victims of Ondoy.
And talk about brutality... There's nothing more brutal than mother nature showing up at your front door in the form of a raging flood carrying all sorts of debris. There's nothing more brutal than losing almost everything your own to a flood. There nothing more brutal than watching your loved one drown in a flood.
Almost always, there'll be stories to tell and among those stories will be stories about the fears of another Ondoy flood happening.
It's not the sort of irrational phobia that one ends up having all their lives after, say, getting struck by lightning or some other incident that has more than one-in-a-million odds stacked against it happening again.
The fear of another Ondoy flood is actually grounded on the certain likelihood that it is bound to happen again, if not this year, then next year or the year after that.
Do you think I'm wrong? I've got two words for you. Typhoon Basyang.
While we were 'lucky' -- YES LUCKY -- that Typhoon Basyang didn't cause the floods that we experienced with Ondoy, but there were still floods and a very major power disruption that lasted for days in some areas of Metro Manila.
In any case, the likelihood of having another Ondoy is premised on the fact that our country experiences an average of 20 typhoons every year and despite this, the national government has not adopted or implemented any long range plans for Climate Change Adaptation.
So far, the only things that have been done by the present administration so far is:
- the President visited a number of esteros near Malacanang
- the DENR, DPWH, and PRRC showed up at another estero to pose for cameras as they ordered a clean up of ONE estero
- the President spoke at the Bayer Young Environmentalists event and said that he'd go after polluters in neckties.
- a flood mapping project is being finished up, but no mention yet of a real flood control system being put into place
- the President ordered an anti-littering drive on the Pasig river
- the relocation of squatters along the Pasig river is being done
- Pagasa is being beefed up, or so we're told, so that we'll get better warnings of impending destructive typhoons.
- the MMDA is asking private companies to lend heavy earth moving machinery to the government so that esteros can be declogged.
- a Pasig River marathon organized by the PRRC that doesn't go anywhere around or near the Pasig River!
All of these steps can do some good, but perhaps, not on the scale of what really needs to happen in order so that a great number of lives and property can be saved when we are faced with another Ondoy.
At the Kapihan sa Sulo, ACE came out to call for measures that would drastically reduce the use of plastic packaging -- sachets, pouches, bags, bottles, etcetera -- and at the same time build up necessary funds that could be used for the retrieval and proper disposal of plastic waste.
Telling companies such as Unilever, Proceter and Gamble, Nestle, SM, Rustans, Puregold, and other large companies that they ought to lessen the plastic pollution they create is just one of the number of things ACE has in mind.
Why is it important to curb the country's production of plastic waste?
It is because plastics are the major cause of flooding in Metro Manila and if you are wondering just how much plastic trash the consumption of goods in plastic containers generate, here are a couple of estimates:
Here's one estimate:
Giant consumer goods manufacturer Unilever claims that every day, it sells 160 million products. Assuming that the sales volume of the other manufacturing giants, Procter & Gamble and Nestle is in the vicinity of Unilever’s, that would be some 500 million products sold daily.
Let’s peg a conservative estimate that 10 percent of all products sold are in plastic sachets, then that’s 50 million. That’s 50 million plastic sachets and pouches that will eventually find its way to our oceans, waterways, landfills and drainage systems ready to clog the free flow of water and trigger floods or kill marine wildlife.
But it is really reasonable to think that of the 500 million products sold daily by the three giants, only 10 percent of are in tiny plastic sachets?And here's another way of figuring it.
According to Unilever’s vice president for corporate planning Chito Macapagal, 70% of Unilever Philippines 2007 sales is from the sachet market. That’s 70% of 30 billion pesos, or 21 billion pesos three years ago. That’s nine zeroes following 21. The company was enjoying double digit growth rate from the previous year, so expect that by now those numbers are now not just big, but big big.
Can you picture how many sachets 21 billion pesos’ worth of Unilever products are? Well, let’s see. Which brands of theirs have sachet variants? Sunsilk, Creamsilk, Rexona, Clear, Knorr, Lady’s Choice, Close-Up, Best Foods, and Vaseline come to mind.
Moving on, 21 billion pesos in sachets, if say, the average price for any given sachet were 20 pesos conservatively (I say conservatively because first, most of those mentioned cost less than 20 pesos, and second, 21 billion pesos in Unilever’s sales is at supplier-to-distributor prices, which are lower than retail), would be equivalent to 1,050 million sachets. If a given sachet has 10mL of product inside, it’s like they’re producing- no, selling at least one Olympic size swimming pool’s worth of product every 3 months. That doesn’t sound like much, but you could shampoo all 90 million Filipinos 20 times over with that much shampoo, if it were all shampoo.
What’s difficult to imagine is the sheer quantity of packaging material that went into the making of all those sachets. If 1,050 million sachets were sold, then the waste would be 1,050 million multiplied twice to include front and back of the sachet, times 3 inches by 4 inches (I took an estimate of a Clear shampoo sachet), which equals 25,200 million square inches. This is the equivalent of about 16.26 square kilometers worth of sachet or wrapper material. Now, before you do take the initiative to shoot me for driving you nuts with numbers, picture this: 16.26 square kilometers of sachet is enough to cover all of Ilog Pasig.