"A strong recycling industry can have a strong multiplier effect."
The “Battle for Manila Bay,” the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ call to all sectors for pro-active initiatives to clean-up Manila Bay and all water tributaries, recently marked its first year at the Baseco Beach, a 500-meter shoreline which for decades was a heaping monstrosity of trash dumped and washed ashore. This is a result of irresponsible garbage disposal from the inhabitants of cities and municipalities connected to the bay by esteros and rivers. The Baseco Beach became the symbolic ground zero of what many thought was an impossible mission that many administrations failed or never dared confront.
I saw how it was during my young volunteer years for some community anti-poverty programs. I saw the pollution, the filth and extremely unsanitary conditions that the residents of the Baseco compound had to live with.
Now, though swimming is understandably not yet allowed, the tons of garbage are gone and the sandy beach is open to the delight of the Baseco community.
Administrative Order No. 16 says: “The convergence of national government agencies and LGUs (local government units) in the Manila Bay Region, and their active participation, are necessary to facilitate the robust and integrated implementation of all rehabilitation and restoration efforts at the Manila Bay.”
This complements existing provisions of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 that “encourage greater private sector participation in solid waste management,” opening up the potential of public-private partnerships between LGUs and private corporations to implement appropriate projects that would push towards total compliance with environmental regulations.
One of the most significant initiatives responding to this convergent approach is the P1-billion recycling facility that Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines Inc. will be building. This is going to be the first that the company will set up in Southeast Asia and will be the Philippines most technologically advanced PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle recycling facility. This is under the Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste global program that aims to boost the Philippine’s waste management systems. This project will integrate a metropolis wide PET bottle collection system that will significantly reduce the tonnage of plastic bottles leaking into the waterways and illegal dumpsites.
According to Coca-Cola Philippines’ public affairs and sustainability director Jonah de Lumen-Pernia. “Coca-Cola does not want its bottles to end up in landfills, the oceans or elsewhere, and instead wants them recycled. We want every single bottle that we put out in the market back by 2030.”
The City of Manila, unfortunately because of geographic factors, has become the catch basin of garbage flowing in from all the water tributaries passing through many cities and municipalities around Manila Bay. Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso, recognizing the need for a holistic and all-sectors approach, and the value of the private sector as a strategic stakeholder in solving the complex dynamics of solid waste management, has recently forged a partnership with Coca-Cola and the city government.
Among the components of the partnership are the allocation of RPET (recycled PET bottle) benches, collections bins and capability training to support Manila’s cleanup projects. The project will also develop a sustainability model that can be adapted by other LGUs.
WWW initiatives are being expanded in other LGUs such as recyclable bottle collection systems in Davao. This program will be integrating with local recycling technology partners to transform post-consumer recyclable plastic bottles into, benches, trash bins and even school chairs. A similar program is also being implemented in Siargao in support of sustainable tourism and environmental protection in the country’s surfing capital.
Iloilo, Bacolod, Cavite, Bataan, Marinduque, Negros Occidental, and Sarangani are also benefiting under the WWW program’s bandwidth of waste management initiatives.
Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship Convenor Carmelo Bayarcal, a proponent of developmental approach to environmental policies, sees a potential multiplier effect of a strong recycling industry.
“The expansion of the local recycling industry will be creating new economic opportunities such as jobs and linked industries benefiting from an ecosystem that will emerge as the nation learns to integrate responsible stewardship of the environment in every aspect of daily life,” Bayarcal said.
On the other hand, some environmental groups are calling for the outright banning of plastics. This hard-line stance are headline catching sound bites but disregards the economic disruptions that will greatly burden the poor consumers who can only afford sachet-size purchases.
In a recent public hearing, the Senate committee on environment chairperson Cynthia Villar said that banning single-use plastic may be impossible, pending the availability of alternatives to packaging and sees recycling as a more practical and viable option.
A common factor that many experts and environmental thought leaders have underlined is the behavior problem. The 2017 Ocean conservancy report traced 521,000 tons of leaked plastics flowing into our waterways from informal settlers and private hauler companies dumping to our waterways. This is not just an enforcement problem but also a social marketing challenge that government and the private sector communication gurus can certainly design and execute.
Building the infrastructure to collect all our garbage is a very doable with enough resources and the appropriate implementation. Instilling the discipline of proper waste disposal and eventually becoming a subconscious habit will be the biggest challenge in developing a leak-proof circular economy.