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Plastic, plastic anywhere

August 21, 2015

The heavy rains hitting Metro Manila almost every week has exposed anew a dirty habit of many Filipinos: the indiscriminate throwing plastic trash that lead to clogged drainage systems and pollution of marine environment.

At about this time year after year, the problem of flooding keeps coming back even as many realize that the perennial dilemma is also indicative of an aberration in our society: an undisciplined lot whose apathy is the primary cause of clogged waterways and, on the other hand, negligent authorities whose apparent indifference allows the crisis to worsen.

Improper garbage disposal has become a bad habit so difficult to break for many people, despite common knowledge that littering and careless dumping of all sorts of trash—particularly plastics, styrophor, and other non-biodegradable materials—end up clogging drainage systems, canals, and rivers, and with plastic debris finding its way into the open sea.

Such bad habit is even more apparent soon after a typhoon hits as truckloads of filth and floating debris have become familiar sight at Manila Bay. Plastic waste can also be found abundant in esteros that have to undergo weekly declogging operations.

The reckless disposal of plastic waste is common not only in Metro Manila but also in other densely-populated areas that our country has been ranked third, next to China and Indonesia, among the top 20 countries with the highest amounts of mismanaged plastic waste in 2010.

An extensive study made by a group of environmental scientists, oceanographers, and researchers whose work was published last February in Science, the leading journal of original scientific research, revealed that the Philippines’ mismanaged plastic waste reached 1.88 million metric tons (MMT) a year, which is estimated to be 5.9 percent of the world’s total.

The study which calculated the amount of plastic waste for populations within 50 kilometers of the coast in 192 countries disclosed that of the Philippines’ 1.88 MMT /year of mismanaged plastic waste, 0.28-0.75 MMT/year are believed to have flowed and found its way into the ocean. In 2010, an estimated 4.8 to 12.7 MMT of plastic trash from coastal countries ended up in the world’s oceans, the study findings showed.

The plastic trash, which endangers marine life that ingests them, can be found not only in waters near coastlines but also “in Arctic sea ice, at the sea surface, and on the sea floor.” With the extreme difficulty of retrieving plastic debris from ocean environments, the groundbreaking study shows it is now imperative that “most effective mitigation strategies must reduce inputs” to the ocean.

RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001 offers much needed mitigation measures but 14 years after it was enacted, majority of local government units have yet to comply with its provisions.

“Out of 178 LGUs within the Manila Bay region, only 51 percent are compliant with segregation-at-source; 50 percent for segregated collection; 44 percent with functional materials recovery facilities; and 30 percent with the allowed disposal facilities/sanitary landfills,” says Sen. Loren Legarda, author of RA 9003.

To avert perennial floods, we have to realize the obvious: Floodwaters can’t easily make it to Manila Bay because waterways are frequently clogged with garbage that bogs down pumping stations. Even flood-control projects like the Blumentritt Interceptor Catchment area may be doomed to fail with clogged waterways.

But there’s hope if we heed the recent papal encyclical to stop environmental degradation. As Pope Francis said, “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

Source: Journal