I'VE read many articles about plastic waste in oceans and none of them specifically cited the Philippines as a major source. Now an article published online at ourworldindata.org/ocean-plastics entitled “Where does the plastics in our ocean come from?” written by Hannah Ritchie says that we are not just a major source, we are in fact at the very top.

According to the article, an estimated 81 percent of ocean plastics come from Asian rivers with the Philippines contributing more than one-third (36 percent) of the global total. In spite of their big land area and huge population, India contributes only 13 percent and China 7 percent. This is very alarming. We are the top ocean polluter? The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has not released a statement on this.

The painful truth, if the data is correct, is that seven of the top ten polluting rivers are from the Philippines. Pasig River is number 1 contributing 6.43 percent of the global ocean plastic pollution. Our very own Pampanga River is 6th on the list! Their source of data is a research by Lourens Meijer et al. (2021), which was just published in the magazine Science Advances. It can be read online at https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/18/eaaz5803.

The rest of the top ten polluters are Klang in Malaysia (2nd), Ulhas in India (3rd), Tullahan, Meycauyan, and Libmanan from the Philippines (4th, 5th and 7th respectively), Ganges in India (8th) and Rio Grande de Mindanao and Agno in the Philippines (9th and 10th).

In 2019, the Philippines emitted 356,371 tons of plastic waste into the ocean. This is roughly the equivalent of 17,800 dump trucks at 20 tons of garbage per truck. India is second at 126,513 tons and China at third emitting 70,707 tons.

Why did Philippine rivers become top ocean polluters? In terms of plastic waste generated per person, rich countries have higher figures ranging from 0.2 to 0.5 kilograms per person per day. The Philippines is only generating 0.07 kilograms per capita. This means that while we generate a smaller volume, our plastic wastes are mismanaged. They are not collected and disposed of properly so they end up in the ocean. It seems RA 9003, our Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, failed to prevent this.

There is a need to update RA 9003 or to pass another law that will deal specifically with plastic waste. There is one. I wrote about it in my column last week. It’s House Bill 9147 which was approved last June 02, 2021. The bill will regulate the production, importation, sale, and use of single-use plastics and shifts the responsibility on producers to recover plastic waste.

In the bill, some plastic materials will be phased out after 4 years and some after 1 year of the effectivity of the act. HB 9147 will also hold manufacturers and exporters of single-use plastics accountable for the proper disposal of their products.

Commercial establishments will be required to promote recyclable and reusable products and establish an in-store recovery program. They shall charge their customers a minimum fee of P5 for every single-use plastic bag. LGU’s may also impose fees on the use of plastic bags.