Keynote Speech: Zero Waste Cities Summit 2019

January 31, 2019

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda*
Zero Waste Cities Summit 2019
31 January 2019 | Sulo Riviera Hotel, Quezon City
*Delivered by Mr. Michael Ubac, Luntiang Pilipinas Partylist

In the vastness of the ocean, one would think it is impossible to fill it with trash. But with reports of dead whales ingesting tonnes of plastic waste, sea turtles mistaking plastic for jellyfish, sea lions becoming entangled in plastic bags, and fish unknowingly consuming plastic microfibers, it almost seems that plastics have occupied our waters. What is also alarming is the possibility of having more plastic than fish in our oceans by the middle of the 21st century.

The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics, a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, showed that the world produced 20 times more plastic in 2014, around 311 million tonnes, than it did in 1964 at 15 million tonnes. At this rate, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish (by weight) by the year 2050.[1]

The Philippines ranked third among the countries with the highest source of plastic ocean pollution, generating 1.88 million metric tonnes of mismanaged plastic garbage annually[2], with the threats of microplastic pollution also compounding the negative impacts to humans and marine environments.

It is lamentable that this is still the case even if we have one of the best eco-friendly solid waste management laws—Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law. Ever since this law, which I principally authored, was enacted in 2001, I have been campaigning for its full implementation, but the progress has been painfully slow. The biggest challenge in the implementation is the need for a lifestyle change—to abandon the convenient throwaway habit and embrace the seemingly laborious zero waste lifestyle. But one only needs to revisit his or her values to realize that the way to go is really to be mindful of what we consume and how it affects our environment.

The convenience that humans are experiencing in the form of plastic has been detrimental to other life forms in the planet. Plastics have become a significant cause of water pollution; cause blockages in sewerage and drainage systems, which lead to flooding; and release toxic emissions when burned.

Plastic ocean pollution likewise threatens food security of the country, given the dependence of the farming and fishing communities on the oceans. It will also adversely affect the health of communities, with the microplastics getting into our food chains.

To address this growing challenge of plastic pollution, I have filed Senate Bill No. 1948, the proposed Single-Use Plastics Regulation and Management Act of 2018. This bill provides for an ambitious yet comprehensive approach to solving the single-use plastics problem, which involves actions from national and local governments, industries, business enterprises and consumers for the manufacturing, selling, use, recycling and disposal of all single-use plastics in the country.

The measure aims to phase out single-use plastics in the country by prohibiting importation and use in food establishments, stores, markets and retailers.

The phase-out of single-use plastics by all business enterprises to consumers will be in full force and effect one year from the effectivity of the Act. During the interim period, the provision of single-use plastics by food establishments, stores, markets and retailers will be strictly prohibited; consumers will be encouraged to use reusable materials in substitution for single-use plastics; all single-use plastics already in circulation in the general market will be collected, recycled, and properly disposed of by manufacturers in accordance with the provisions of the ESWM Law.

For single-use plastic materials that cannot be avoided, business enterprises must ensure that these are recycled. A minimum levy of five pesos shall be charged to consumers for each single-use plastic used in transactions, 20% percent of which shall be kept by the enterprise, while the 80% shall be remitted to the proposed Special Plastic Fund.

The bill also urges government agencies to undertake research and development on alternatives to single-use plastics; assess impact on affected industry workers and employees; and develop capacity building programs for alternative livelihood opportunities.

Moreover, businesses and individuals engaged in the manufacture of single-use plastics alternatives shall be given incentives provided under existing laws and from local government units, while violators shall be imposed penalties ranging from P5,000.00 to P500,000 and permanent suspension of business permit.

The bill is still pending in the committee level, but I hope for the support from government and all sectors on this policy promoting a circular economy. I am confident that this is a viable measure because it is already being implemented in some areas in the country.

Local government units (LGUs) that have taken steps to limit the use of plastics include El Nido in Palawan, Los Baños in Laguna, Cebu City, Bacolod City, San Fernando in La Union, Negros Oriental, Baguio City, selected towns in Pangasinan, Pilar in Surigao del Norte, and Boracay Island.

In Metro Manila, plastic ban is being implemented in various degrees in the cities of Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Pasig, Quezon, Pasay, and Makati.

Eliminating plastic materials could be very challenging, but certainly doable. One noteworthy initiative that can be employed to encourage the turnover of plastic materials from households to LGUs is a youth-led project called “Plastic palit bigas” in Barangay Talon, Amadeo, Cavite. The Sangguniang Kabataan in the said barangay encouraged their communities to collect their assorted plastic wastes, such as candy wrappers, empty sachets, plastic containers and receptacles, in exchange for rice. A kilo of clean plastic waste can be exchanged for a kilo of rice.

The recent directive of the President to rehabilitate the Manila Bay is a welcome development in our zero-waste campaign. It is actually a long overdue gargantuan task, considering the Supreme Court’s Writ of Continuing Mandamus issued in 2008, which ordered various government agencies to clean up Manila Bay. But the stricter implementation of the ESWM Law, as well as the Clean Water Act, will ease the restoration not only of the Manila Bay, but also of the Pasig River and other polluted bodies of water.

The key in solving the plastic and waste pollution problem is lifestyle change. Doing away with plastic should be a way of life, and it does not have to be drastic. We take it one step at a time, starting in our own homes and offices, which I have been doing. I have adopted not only a zero-waste but also a low-carbon lifestyle, and I encourage the people around me to do the same.

I plant what I eat, growing vegetables and fruits in my backyard garden using organic compost from food waste and dried leaves. I built my own rainwater catchment using recycled and indigenous materials. The captured water is piped back to the house for all domestic use including irrigation of the organic garden.

I also introduced physical changes in my office to demonstrate that environmental upkeep starts with our homes and offices. My staff’s work place is a long table constructed out of discarded pallets of solar panels. Instead of steel cabinets, we used old wood and antique capiz windows as cabinets – illustrating that recycling builds, rather than destroys. The office lights were changed to LED, same as what I did in my home.

Both my household and office staff follow the ESWM Law. I would even ask Sonia Mendoza, whenever she is in the Senate, to inspect if my office is compliant and I would be the first to reprimand my staff when they do not properly observe waste segregation.

I have also prohibited bottled water and the use of disposable cups and straw during my committee hearings in the Senate. Instead, purified water in dispenser and glassware are available for the guests. Often times, I would start my Senate hearings explaining such practice while also encouraging resource persons present, mostly government officials, to adopt the zero-waste lifestyle.

We still have a long way to go, but the work we are doing has been gaining ground. Conferences such as this help advance our shared advocacy.

I also wish to take this opportunity to rally support for the Luntiang Pilipinas Partylist. This is a movement I found in 1998 to advocate for the protection and preservation of our environment. As a partylist, it aims to better serve the Filipino people by advocating for policies and measures, such as the single-use plastics ban, that would lead the nation towards resilience, inclusivity and sustainability.

In closing, I wish to stress that we owe it to our children to leave them a liveable planet. We cannot bequeath to them an environment that is degraded, polluted and uninhabitable. We should all learn to manage our natural resources more judiciously so that humanity can live within the Earth’s limitations.

While the challenge is magnitude, the opportunities are also limitless. After all, it does not take a superhero to clean the planet, it only needs individuals working together to make our own communities clean, healthy, safe and habitable.

Thank you.

[1] The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016

[2] Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T.T. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K.L. Law, Science 13 Feb 2015