A circular-economy mindset

"Why is the Philippines ranked among the top three largest ocean polluters?"


Nearly two decades ago, Republic Act 9003 known as the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000” was hailed as a landmark legislation on environment management. The law mandated cities and municipal governments to establish sustainable collection and disposal of solid waste. It authorized the implementation of solid waste management methods through recycling, composting, integrated with efficient collection and disposal.

Yet most local governments are still having difficulty in implementing the law and some 50 complaints have been filed with the Office of the Ombudsman for non-compliance.

When the bold Manila Bay Rehabilitation project was launched by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, supported by no less than the President, the tons of trash clogging the esteros of the metropolis and littered along the shores of Manila Bay must have been a shocker for Secretary Roy Cimatu. But confident with his recent success in Boracay, he has made this what some consider as kind of a “mission impossible” as his top priority and has earned the support of a broad spectrum of stakeholders from the private sector and civil society.

So, with policies in place and the plethora of environmental activists in the country, why is the Philippines ranked among the top three largest ocean polluters?

Some policy makers seem fixated on plastic reduction or bans as simplistic interventions to look responsive to the loud noise of environmental groups instead of focusing on plastic waste leakage, consumer awareness and a whole population participation strategy for waste management.

The 2017 Ocean Conservancy Report was able to trace the flow of plastic waste leakage in the Philippines. According to the report, 84 percent of the total plastic waste was collected (2.27 million tons) but 17 percent or a whopping 386,000 tons were leaked to the ocean pointing to private hauler companies unloading trucks en route to disposal sites to cut costs and open pit dumpsites adjacent to waterways. This accounts for 74 percent of total tonnage leaked to the ocean.

Add to this the 16 percent (432,000 tons) of total plastic waste not collected, of which 31 percent equivalent to 135,000 tons are leaked to the ocean. This accounts for 26 percent of total plastic leakage traced to waste piles thrown by informal settlers because of limited or no collection services combined with personal litter and waste from small river communities. All these amount to 521,000 tons of leaked plastics flowing into our waterways.

The Occasional Paper published by Stratbase ADR Institute. “A balanced approach to Solid Waste Management: Governance and total stakeholder participation authored by Vanessa Pepino, a development economist and environment planner discusses the need to shift to a circular economy mindset in tackling solid waste problems.

The paper cites the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in its latest report on “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability,” which recommends that policy-makers approach single-use plastics as part of a circular economy integrating a circular model that establishes the importance of distribution, consumer use, reuse/repair and recycling rather than limiting plastic use.

The circular economy model first starts with designing and producing plastics packaging that are more durable and recyclable, hence extending its use and adding value.

Second is the collaboration of all business sectors to reduce greenhouse gas emission in production and operations.

Third is for the distributors to offer products that can be easily reused, refurbished and make end-of-life take back or maintenance services available to consumers while supporting producers in providing education and awareness to consumers.

The fourth element calls for consumers to be part of the solution by choosing more environment-friendly products and practicing reuse, repair, refurbishing and sharing of assets such as cars, tools and of course to stop littering.

Fifth is for producers to have more responsibility in recovering materials so that the cycle closes with recycling, and the sixth phase, that with cost-efficient collection and treatment systems, will lead to less materials ending up in landfills.

“Consumers have a part to play toward sustainability. Consumers are as directly responsible for plastic waste recycling, reuse, reduction, and avoidance as businesses and the government. More than that, a circular economy recognizes that not all plastic waste needs to end up in landfills, easing the need to augment the scale of landfills due to increased waste production. This works hand-in-hand with design, production, and distribution of more sustainable materials by the private sector and providing more green options for consumers. The government’s direct function then is to strengthen waste management systems, and to establish environmentally acceptable facilities for residuals management, treatment, and recovery. It is with its leadership that enables mechanisms for business innovation, public participation and effective implementation of laws and policies,” Pepino said.

The paper emphasizes the role of governance and the role of people while approaching regulating behavior from a circular economy perspective.

“All stakeholders need to play their part, even the government and businesses. While plans for sustainable packing does not happen overnight, more industry players can be encouraged to establish recycling and collection facilities, and ramp up resource recovery efforts to reduce landfill dependence and plastic waste. Governance also applies to when national government support is provided to LGUs, i.e. incentivizing barangays to establish strategically located individual/cluster MRFs, and recycling centers especially in areas highly vulnerable to plastic leakage.”

Topics: Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 , Manila Bay Rehabilitation , Department of Environment and Natural Resources , Roy Cimatu
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