GARBAGE in equals garbage out, figuratively and literally. To come up with definitive actions on the never-ending garbage problem, there is a need for accurate data. It’s good that the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance (GAIA) and Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) came up with a study on what we Filipinos throw away. The report contains details which may give waste planners and policy makers, as well as industry leaders, a good input to address the worsening garbage problem.

The data in the report entitled “Plastics Exposed: How Waste Assessments and Brand Audits are Helping Philippine Cities Fight Plastic Pollution”, was gathered through the waste assessment and brand audit (Waba) tool developed by MEF. It contains data from 21 waste assessments conducted in six cities and seven municipalities across the Philippines by MEF and local government project partners with the support of GAIA. Data from these 21 waste assessments were used to extrapolate national data, including estimates about the use and disposal of different types of plastic residuals.

Here are some of the findings with my comments:

1. Organic waste comprise more than 50% of generated waste in the Philippines. This means that composting alone can already solve half of the garbage problem. Garden waste and food waste should be “buried” in the backyard and not mixed with other waste.

2. The strict implementation of plastic bag regulations produces dramatically significant results in lowering plastic bag use. However, the existence of a plastic bag regulation in a city or municipality does not automatically equate to lower plastic bag use. In the absence of a national law, LGU’s are coming up with their own plastic bag ban ordinances. There are several bills pending in Congress but none has progressed to become a law.

3. Almost 164 million pieces of sachets are used in the Philippines daily, equating to around 59.7 billion pieces of sachets yearly. Everything from personal care products to condiments is now in non-recyclable and non-biodegradable sachets. In the waste audit conducted by Greenpeace-Philippines and the group Break Free from Plastic (BFP) at the Freedom Island, the most common item found was sachets.

4. More than 50% of all unrecyclable residual waste discarded in the country is branded waste, and only 10 companies are responsible for 60% of all branded waste in the study sites. The problem must be addressed by the manufacturers, and not just the government. One possible solution is a refill system at the sari-sari store level.

Using WABA data, the research came up with the following estimates:

1. The average Filipino uses 591 pieces of sachets, 174 shopping bags, and 163 plastic labo bags, yearly. That’s almost 48 million shopping bags used throughout the Philippines everyday or roughly 20.6 billion pieces a year. Plastic labo bag usages is at 45.2 million pieces per day, or 16.5 billion pieces a year. Using reusable bags and baskets can help a lot in avoiding all these plastic bag waste.

2. Around three million diapers are discarded in the Philippines daily, or 1.1 billion diapers

The combination of ballooning population and decreasing land area means we cannot rely on sanitary landfills to ‘temporary’ solve the garbage problem. Waste avoidance and waste reduction should be the primary steps to take in addressing the garbage problem.