AS A kid, I still remember buying “diyes na taba” (10 cents cooking oil) or “beinte-singkung aslam” ( 25 cents vinegar ) in the neighborhood sari-sari store. Back then, this “tingi” (retail) system was perfectly okay from waste management point of view because no plastic bags were used. You have to bring your own “garapon” (empty bottle) to the store.
Today, this “tingi” system which has become a part of our culture has contributed to our solid waste problem. Everything from personal care products to condiments is now in non-recyclable and non-biodegradable sachets. In a recent waste audit conducted by Greenpeace-Philippines and the group Break Free from Plastic (BFP) movement, the most common item found was sachets.
The audit was conducted in Freedom Island, a stretch of mangrove-lined beach just outside of Manila, in the Philippines. It is an artificial beach, created in the 1970s when a coastal highway was built, but it has become an important habitat for migrating birds from Siberia, Japan, and China. The government declared it a “critical habitat” in 2007 and it was listed as a “Ramsar wetland of international importance” in 2013. Unfortunately, Freedom Island is also covered in trash.
For one week, volunteers gathered trash at Freedom Island. The results of the audit were presented by BFP in a press conference. Of the 2,106.8 kilos or 54,260 pieces, of waste collected during the clean-up drive, almost half, or 49 percent, were plastic waste. The rest are diapers and sanitary napkins at 16 percent, glass at five percent, textiles at two percent and 26 percent others.
Of the plastic waste, 45 percent are plastic bags, 22 percent are multi-layered packaging, 11 percent are single layer packaging, 11 percent are polystyrene (often called Styrofoam), five percent are hard plastic, three percent are PET plastic and three percent are drinking straws. We can see from these figures that if we use reusable bags and avoid plastic bags, we can solve half of the plastic waste problem.
Going further into the BFP presentation, it was shown that the company with the most number of packaging waste is Nestle. Those found in the audit were packaging materials for brands like Nescafe, Bear Brand, Milo and Maggi Magic Sarap. On second place is Unilever with popular brands like Cream Silk, Surf, Dove, Lady’s Choice, Close-up and Sunsilk. A company from Indonesia landed third for its Kopiko and Energen brands. In reaction to the audit results, Nestle and Unilever said they are trying to find greener alternatives to plastic packaging.
The Ecological Solid Waste Management Law or Republic Act 9003 has a specific provision on non-environmentally-friendly materials. Section 29 of the law mandates that within one year from its effectivity, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) shall prepare a list of non-environmentally acceptable (NEA) products which shall be prohibited according to a schedule that shall be prepared. That should have been done many years ago.
The NSWMC created a technical working committee for the Phasing out of NEA products and packaging as contained in Resolution No. 09. Up to now, there is no update on the study made by the committee.
Meanwhile, we can do something about this sachet and plastic waste problem. Try to buy products in bulk, which by the way is cheaper, or buy refills whenever possible. Avoid plastic sando bags by bringing our own reusable bags. Our actions will help unclog the environment of plastic waste.