"These are the horrors of plastic use."
According to a 2015 report by the Ocean Conservancy charity and the McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment, the Philippines is the third largest source of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean; worse off are only two countries, also in Asia—China and Indonesia. Some 2.7 million tons of plastic waste are generated by the 104 million or so Filipinos, about 20 percent of which, or half a million tons, ends up in the ocean.
Experts have attributed this to a couple of factors. First is the so-called sachet economy, or the widespread, seemingly unstoppable use of single-use plastic sachets in practically every facet of daily life.
The second is a little more complicated, to some extent a combination of lack of political will and corruption. The Philippines has a nearly 20-year-old landmark law that in a perfect world would have solved the problem. The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, or Republic Act (RA) 9003, mandates the implementation of a “systematic, comprehensive, and ecological solid waste management program” that will “ensure protection of public health and the environment.”
It’s a landmark law, ahead of its time and comprehensive. It seeks to “emphasize the need to create the necessary institutional mechanisms and incentives, and imposes penalties for acts in violation of any of its provisions.” In particular, it mandates local government units to adopt a viable solid waste management program.
Vision is nothing with no sound implementation, however. And by and large RA 9003 was hounded by a number of issues, from administrative and management to economic and even technical. The success of the law in local communities, for instance, is largely dependent on the political will of local chief executives, many of whom either carry a negative attitude about solid waste management or just lack the necessary initiative to carry out its provisions.
The lack of any cost-sharing grants or financing for local governments to fully implement the law also hinders its implementation, while most also do not possess any technical capability to create a ten-year solid waste management plan, another provision of the law.
A possible game-changer in the scene is a planned P1-billion pioneering food-grade recycling facility by Coca-Cola Philippines. It’s the company’s first major investment in a recycling facility in the whole of Southeast Asia, which it says represents its commitment to a “World Without Waste.” It is anchored on the concept of the circular economy, in which a recycling facility collecting, sorting, cleaning, and washing post-consumer PET plastic bottles and turning them into new bottles using advanced technology.
“Our Coca-Cola bottles and cans are 100-percent recyclable and have value as a recycled material,” said Gareth McGeown, President and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages, Philippines, Inc (CCBPI}, the bottling arm of Coca-Cola Philippines.
“Our aspiration with this facility is to close the loop on our packaging by helping turn old bottles into new ones. This facility is a testament to our resolve in making our World Without vision a reality across the country, with a real positive impact not just across our value chain, but also in the communities where we belong,” Gareth said.
The initiative to work toward a bottle-to-bottle closed loop is a model for companies and communities to help contribute to solving the monstrous packaging waste problem in the world in the long term. It is specifically relevant in a country like the Philippines, which can see its waterways drowning in plastic and other wastes if something does not change.
The bottling subsidiary also intends to use an average of 50-percent recycled content in its packaging, including PET bottles. All this is part of its global commitment for a World Without Waste, in particular its aim to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle and can it sells by 2030. The use of solar panels in the company’s manufacturing facilities is also in the works.
While recycling is certainly not new, CCBPI’s plan upgrades it to what it calls a “total economic system” instead of a “band-aid solution” as some people see it as. Its circular economy model or “zero waste production,” seeks to guarantee that things are designed, consumed, and recycled without waste as an end in mind. This includes introducing more sustainable packaging innovations, such as the Viva Eco-bottle, the country’s first beverage bottle made from 100 percent recycled plastic.
Under the model, too, the recycling process does not end with just recovering recyclable material or curbside collection. With the help of consumers and other key players in the waste materials value chain, the goal is to help boost and power “an endless loop of recycling,” which will eliminate the harmful practice of having waste as an end-product.
Considering the utter magnitude of the problem, the Coca-Cola company, said Winn Everhart, president and general manager of Coca-Cola Philippines, can be “uniquely positioned to help lead the industry in finding solutions to help address the issue.”
Big initiatives of the private sector to help solve serious environmental problems should be encouraged by government with “Green Projects” being one of the areas of activities of the Investment Priority Plan under the mandate of the Board of Investments. This will mobilize the resources and technical expertise of the big enterprises to take a lead role in environmental stewardship instead of penalizing them with bans and taxes that ultimately burdens the consumers.
Even so, the horror of plastic waste is a planetary problem and all businesses big and small must do their share. But while the technological know-how to manage plastic waste might be at hand, changing behavior might be trickier. No matter how robust our waste management systems become, the people component must also be present.