As parts of the country are placed under varying degrees of eased quarantine schemes, this has caused a surge in the usage of single-use plastic due to a need for affordable, disposable or easy-to-clean packaging and a rise in deliveries for households under lockdown.
“We are seeing a shift in consumption patterns. More people are opting for deliveries and that will only mean that there is more plastic packaging usage to be expected, especially for food packaging,” said Crispian Lao, president of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability.
PARMS is a non-profit multi-stakeholder organization that aims to develop and implement a comprehensive waste management program to increase resource recovery, such as plastics and other packaging materials, and reduce landfill dependence leading toward a zero waste Philippines.
Lao was one of five speakers during the recently concluded online forum “Walang Plastikan: An honest conversation on plastic packaging in the Philippines’ food industry.”
Lao said while the use of plastic packaging and the sharp increase in plastic medical and healthcare materials for hospital use are not alarming onntheir own, what is critical is how these wastes, plastic or not, are being managed.
“If we look at waste management under the new normal, we can't highlight enough that waste avoidance should be top priority and segregation at source is critical to any form of waste management programs,” Lao said.
“We need to design packaging under the new normal focused on waste avoidance and make a decision on whether a product should be reusable, recyclable, durable, repairable, have less packaging, or even no packaging at all.”
Recycling activities have been put on hold due to the unprecedented situation caused by the pandemic.
Edwin Seah, the Head of Sustainability and Communications of Singapore-based Food Industry Asia, raised concerns against hastily and indiscriminately banning all forms of single-use plastic like those used in food packaging.
“The fundamental purpose and function of food packaging is to protect the contents, to keep it fresh, to keep it safe, especially in a climate like the Philippines—the humidity, the diverse networks, and the challenges of distributing food, and getting it stored safely,” Seah said.
“You can’t just invent food-grade packaging overnight. It takes a lot of time and research. You have to pilot it, scale it, and you have to go through a regulatory process...In the Philippines, plastic waste collection is not a problem. It's probably the highest in the region but the problem is what happens after it's collected," he added.
According to Toff Rada, country manager of corporate and government affairs of Mondelez Philippines, the problem lies in the country's waste management program.
“So, after it's collected, what's next? That's the imperative for us -- to craft solutions, not looking at plastic as the problem but in taking plastic waste management as a potential solution to this problem that we're facing," Rada said.
Based along Parañaque city, Mondelez Philippines has worked closely with the city’s local government to help improve waste collection and has already invested P2 million for the construction of a plastic waste recycling plant together with PARMS and its member-companies.
“We have a PARMS pilot recycling facility that we have put some investment in and that we hope will be a showcase if we finally get it at full scale," Rada said.
“We hope that it will be a showcase also for other cities and local governments to emulate and to see that it is something that can be done and can help improve the entire recycling infrastructure in the country,” he added.
As a company globally renowned for its portfolio of snacking brands which uses plastic to keep its food safe and secure, Mondelez Philippines acknowledges its responsibility to its stakeholders and the environment at large.
“As a company, we are putting our stake in the cause. We have made commitments to try and reduce our carbon footprint, and we're going to make all our packaging recyclable by 2025. And in the short term, we've also committed to reduce the amount of global packaging material that we use for our products by 65,000 tons by the end of this year," Rada said.