Friday, October 22, 2010

Why raise a fuss over plastic pollution?

At Sulo Hotel News Forum I attended with other members of the Philippine Alliance for a Cleaner Earth, Inquirer columnist Mr. Neal Cruz asked me "Why not ban all plastics?"

I really don't know if the old man was making fun of me or being a smart ass.

If I had said then that banning all plastics would be a great idea, I would have branded myself as one of those radical green activists -- which I am not.  

I just can't see myself turning my back on all the modern conveniences that are probably killing the planet.  Plastics provide a lot of these conveniences and banning them all together might leave us with not much else to use.

So, I told Mr. Cruz, banning plastics would be impractical at this point and re-asserted my position that a tax with de-marketing effects would be a better solution to the plastic pollution menace.

The old man said, "That's even MORE impractical!"

It was clear that he didn't like taxes on plastics and this was a sure indication that a tax on plastics might actually work to keep people from buying stuff packaged in plastic.

For some reason, Filipino consumers hate it when they have to pay a few cents or a few pesos more for products and services even when you say that the the money will go to some good cause.  And yet, they hate it when they get crappy public education, floods, crime, inefficient garbage disposal.

The thing is, they recognize the problem but when you start telling them about the cost of solving the problem, most of them bawl and raise a protest -- saying that they're so poor that they can't afford it or raise doubts as to where the money being raised will go.

I encountered this when, as part of Senator Gordon's staff, we proposed a 5 centavo tax on every text message sent.  To make it more palatable, we put in a provision that said that the 5 cents would be taken from the revenue of the cellphone companies.  But, even if you did get it from the consumers, what's five cents anyway?  What's five cents anyway if the money will go to paying for the upgrading of the Philippine Public Education system?  What's five cents if poor children can start going to schools that match the standards of Ateneo, La Salle, and other good private schools?

In any case, what is a few pesos more for the products that you'll end up buying anyway if the money raised will go to funding a plastics retrieval system and possibly deter manufacturers from producing more products in plastic packaging or if manufacturers used less plastic?

Still, I think, people will go against any measure to tax plastic bags and plastic packaging.

However, what most people don't realize is that THEY ARE ALREADY PAYING extra for the plastics they are buying.

I don't know if you realize it, but SM has been charging its customers the cost of the plastic bags for decades now.  You don't notice it because the cost of the plastic bags is basically tucked into the price of the goods that it sells.  Unless, of course, you think that you can actually SM gives out those plastic bags for FREE.

The bad thing about this is that the money that you pay for the plastic bags just go to paying SM's cost for making more plastic bags and not a single cent goes to cleaning up the environment.

SM's claim that their plastic bags are BIO-DEGRADABLE is a false assurance.  First, the plastic bags last for months or years.  Second, even when they do break up into smaller pieces, they don't turn into anything else -- it continues to be plastic.

Another thing that people are paying extra for is the fact that plastics cause most of the flooding in Metro Manila and other urban areas in the Philippines.  They clog storm drains and water ways.

People also pay extra for the damage it does to our seas and sea life.  The plastics floating on our seas end up being eaten by sea animals that die from it.  When it collects on coral reefs, the corals die.  And when you talk about the value of our seas both for sustenance and tourism, the value of this resource plummets when it's littered by plastic trash.

People also pay extra for the toxic substances in plastic that leach out into the food or drink that it contains.  Re-using water bottles is actually a BAD idea, friends.

All those detergents, shampoos, dish washing liquid, and food in plastic sachets are also contributing to plastic pollution.

A friend of mine who turns plastic trash into pavement tiles told me that plastic sachets can't be converted into anything else, not even pavement tiles.

Do you know just how much plastic is produced world wide?

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