Last May 25 was ‘International Plastic Free Day’. The organizers of the movement said that if every person in the world stopped using one single-use piece of plastic for one day, we’d avoid over 7.6 billion items of plastic on that single day. The action is laudable. Solving the plastic problem needs the cooperation of all. However, the lasting solution to this problem is to ‘nip it in the bud’. That is to target the source - the plastic producers.

This is the direction that the United States (US) wants to take. This is good because they are a major plastic producer. More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced in the US each year, of which 91 percent is not recycled. The U.S. generates the most plastic waste per capita of any country and exports 225 shipping containers of plastic waste per day to countries with limited or nonexistent waste management systems, where plastic may be crudely processed in unsafe facilities and incinerated in open areas, creating additional pollution and health problems.

Two legislators from the United States, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), reintroduced a bill called ‘Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act’. It is by far the most comprehensive bill to address the plastic pollution crisis ever introduced in the US congress. It is an improved version of a similar bill filed before. The new version shifts the financial burden of waste management off of municipalities and taxpayers to the producers of plastic waste.

The ‘Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act’ will address environmental justice concerns directly by holding corporations accountable for their pollution, and requiring producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs, pressing pause on new and expanding plastic facilities until critical environment and health protections are put in place. The legislation applies the ‘polluter pays principle’.

The bill also gives incentives to businesses to make reusable products that can actually be recycled. It will also reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable. It aims to create a nationwide beverage container refund program and establish minimum recycled content requirements for containers, packaging, and food-service products.

Here in the Philippines, there are several bills filed in both houses of Congress which seek to address the plastic waste problem. One of those is House Bill No. 9147 or the “Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act”. I did not find a bill similar to this Break Free from Plastic Bill. It will surely meet a lot of opposition from business groups.

So far there is no national law that regulates the use of plastic except for a provision in RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which bans ‘non-environmentally acceptable products’. Under this provision, plastic stirrers and plastic straws have been declared as such, paving the way for their eventual removal from the market. In the absence of national law, local government units have taken upon themselves the task of regulating plastic products in their areas through ordinances.