It was President Noynoy Aquino himself who made a remark about the futility of Pasig river clean up projects during his "surprise" visit to an estero near Malacanang a couple of weeks ago.
Apparently, the estero he visited which feeds into the Pasig river was just recently cleaned, but upon inspection, was already strewn with garbage -- some of which were plastic bags, plastic pouches, etcetera...
If one had a mind to analyze the problem and pose a solution that would really curb the prolific dumping of solid wastes like plastic bags, one would aim at finding the source and stop it from there.
A recent lunch meeting with friends from the House of Representatives proved quite a bit fruitful in alerting me to a recently refiled bill that aims to discourage the use of plastic bags through the imposition of a levy and generate funds that would support the "protection of our environment, promote sustainable development, and combat the pernicious effects of the wanton destruction of our natural resouces".
The proposed law taxing plastic bags was refiled by Albay District Two Representative Al Francis Bichara as House Bill 127 or "AN ACT IMPOSING AN EXCISE TAX, TO BE KNOWN AS ENVIRONMENTAL LEVY ON THE USE OF PLASTIC BAGS IN SHOPS, SUPERMARKETS, SERVICE STATIONS, STORES AND/OR SALES OUTLETS, CREATING THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION SUPPORT FUND, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES".
In the proposed law's explanatory note, Congressman Bichara says:
Aside from the fact that plastic bags are made of "petrochemicals" -- a non-renewable resource, plastic bags are not bio-degradable. the unrestrained usage of plastic bags and the existing practice in their disposal hampers the efforts of our Government to protext our environment through proper garbage disposal (sic) system. Furthermore, littered plastic bags may clog roadside drains which may cause flooding during heavy rainfall. In fact, plastic bag litter is a universal problem.
Further on, it cites that such a tax is already being implemented by other countries:
Governments in several countries and major cities, like Australia, China, Ireland, Bangladesh, Paris, Italy, Taiwan, and Tanzania, have banned or taken action to discourage the use of plastic bags. (Sic) Needles to state, the Government has a duty to protect the natural environment, and should take an active role in safeguarding the health of its citizens.
Although the bill only targets plastic bags, which comprises only a portion of the plastic waste generated by producers and consumers in the Philippines, I think it is a sure step towards reducing the amount of plastic waste.
In Ghana, there was a proposal sometime in 2005 to tax the use of all plastic containers (pouches, bottles, sachets) as the country's streets was literally choked by discarded plastic containers.
Greenpeace has also talked about a Trash Vortex the size of Texas.
The trash vortex is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared. Some plastics in the gyre will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away.
|Photo credit to Greenpeace International|
Estimating the amount of plastic garbage that the Philippines produces based on the production and distribution of products packed in plastic containers, one can gauge the country's contribution the generation of plastic waste.
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.