Viable alternatives sought amid looming ban on 'single-use' plastics

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2019 06:08 AM

PPIA President Vicente Co holds a two-feet long upcycled sachet hanger made up of 100 percent recycled sachet materials. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

A blanket ban on single-use plastics could be more problematic than helpful in solving the chronic trash problem of the Philippines, the head of the Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA) has said.

Studies have ranked the Philippines as among the top 5 producers of plastic waste globally. 

The PPIA is pulling out all the stops to join the fight in curbing plastics waste—among them, putting heavy emphasis on the effective implementation of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which deals with proper waste segregation.

PPIA President Vicento Co said there needs to be a clear definition of what "single-use" is, and a viable, less costlier alternative to replacing single-use plastic in a sachet-oriented economy like the Philippines, as the plastics industry has strong supply chain linkages with other industries.

"We make things like appliances parts. We make things like car parts. We make things like housewares... Let's say mga packaging like big items, for rice (sacks). We make packages like as small as sauce for instant noodles, which by the way would also be part of the ban when you really define it as single use... (even) the 3-IN-1 coffee or coffee pouch, shampoo... sinasabi na din 'yung candy kasi plastic wrapper din eh, sigarilyo, etc. It encompasses all industries," said Co.

Up close. An upcycled hanger. The spots indicate that the product is made of recycled sachets. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

"Like my driver, he has Absolute na bote. Kumukuha lang siya ng tubig doon sa office namin with the same bottle. Hindi na siya bumili ng mamahalin na re-usable bottle. Then, from his point of view, it's not a single-use bottle because inuulit, ulit niya eh. It is when you use it once then you throw it away, then it becomes single use. It is how you use it that determines whether it's a single use or reusable," he added.

Co, who is also the vice president for sales and marketing at Manly Plastics, Inc.—the largest provider of end-to-end plastic product solutions in the Philippines and whose clients include Toyota, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Coca Cola, and Pepsi, said the single biggest effect could see the disruption in the distribution of food and service, hitting consumers the most.

The PPIA president also raised concerns over health risks, adding, even the United States and Japan are sachet-oriented economies because of the need to maintain hygiene, and to make sure there is no contamination in one's food. For example, the sharing of condiments or ingredients in coffee shops and fast-food chains.

Even the health sector is not spared from the list of would-be effects of the plastic ban.

"Medicine is single-use packaging. All medicines are single use, 'di ba? Hindi na uso ngayon 'yung bote na madaming tabletas, except for vitamins ng individual," Co told ABS-CBN News. 

In July, senators Cynthia Villar and Francis Pangilinan filed Senate Bill No. 333 or the Single-Use Plastic Product Regulation Act of 2019 and Senate Bill No. 40 or the Single-Use Plastics Regulation and Management Act of 2019, respectively. 

Under Villar's bill, the issuance of the single-use plastics by food establishments, stores, markets and retailers will be prohibited.

Consumers will also be diverted to use reusable materials, and manufacturers will be mandated to collect, recycle and dispose of single-use plastics manufactured and/or in circulation in the general market. Importation of single-use plastics will no longer be allowed. 

Pangilinan's bill, meanwhile, defines "single-use" plastics as "those disposable plastic which are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled."

These include items such as grocery bags, food packaging, films and bags, manufacturing water bottles, straws, stirrers, containers, Styrofoams or styros, cups, sachets, and plastic cutlery. Those who will re-use and recycle will receive an incentive.

The PPIA has about 200 members, but only 160 are manufacturers. The rest are suppliers of machinery and other services like banks. Some 200,000 jobs in the plastics industry could be on the line with the looming single-use ban.

For PPIA vice-president Danny Ngo, whose Dynamic Plastic Manufacturing Co. Inc business supplies plastic materials to some 50 clients in the cleaning services sector, and food packaging sector, among others, said he has already been making adjustments in recent years, including clients he has lost, like a popular popcorn brand about 2 years ago when it, too, ditched its plastics packaging for paper.

"This time dapat rehiring kami. Everything is put on hold. Other Philippine businesses I know plan to expand in Thailand and Vietnam, lalo 'yung mga Philippine businesses with Korean investors, maraming lumipat," said Ngo.

Using paper as an alternative may not be ideal in terms of durability. If many businesses start moving to other places, the Philippines, Ngo worries, may end up importing products, which he said is not a solution for the environment, but lies in people's habits.

"We are only shifting to something more costly. There needs to be a holistic, integrated approach, a circular economy. 'Pag ginawa mo 'yan, babalik 'yan. Meron na (tayong) batas. Implementation lang ang problema," said Ngo.

The PPIA vice-president said some plastic products are already experiencing a drastic drop in volume—per capital consumption is around 2 kilograms. Plastic, he added, is vital in the transportation and preservation of goods.

"As population increases, (the) volume of plastic usage will likewise increase," Ngo told ABS-CBN News. "When plastic is banned and the alternative costs are higher, cost of living will be higher and this will eventually lead to wage adjustment." 

On the other hand, Ngo said, if incentives will be given to plastic manufacturers, companies will then be able to promote recovery and recycling initiatives. 

But as more plastic banning will be implemented, most companies’ sales will drop and may not be able to sustain costs in the long run, especially with the rising cost of input materials and labor cost. 

In a study entitled the "Life Cycle Assessment of Carrying Bags Option for Metro Manila," funded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), implemented by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)-Board of Investments, and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), it was found that paper had the highest negative environmental impact measured against the greenhouse parameters.

Based on the cost remediation, the flooding contribution of paper bags is the highest, compared with non-woven bags and plastic bags, and that non-biodegradable bags are more environmentally friendly than paper.

The greenhouse analysis included the components of global warming potential, acidification, ozone depletion, human toxicity, flooding impact, and landfill volume impact, among others.

It was also found that there are 0.02 non-woven bags used for a plastic bag and 2 for paper bags for the carrying capacity of a 12 liter sando bag.

In November 2015, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) issued Resolution No. 238, stating that the commission adopts the findings of the LCA study on plastic bags, based on the scientific study.

In a separate study comparing the impact of the plastic bag ordinance between Quezon City and Muntinlupa conducted by graduating mass communication students from the University of the Philippines in June 2015, it concluded that Muntinlupa City faced the ballooning waste generation problem from the excessive use of paper bags, with the shift of commercial establishments from the plastic to paper bags to avoid getting apprehended. 

Data from the Muntinlupa Waste Analysis and Characterization Survey showed the yearly fast increasing volume when the LGU implemented their ordinance in 2011. The annual volume of waste generation in tons was at 391,929 in 2012, compared to 318, 929 in 2011.The average daily weight in tons generated reached 4,646 in 2012 from 3,780 in the previous year.

In its position paper submitted to the 17th Congress, the PPIA is proposing to define plastic bag as a polymer carrier bag designed to be provided or utilized at the point of sale for carrying and transporting goods. This, they argue, will avoid possible other interpretations to exclude in the coverage other bags used for medical purposes, courier, others and for other applications that are not from point of sale like from supermarkets.

It also appeals to redefine the term reusable bag, which refers to a washable fabric bag, a bayong or any shopping bag to include non-biodegradable plastic bag with thickness greater than 20 or 30 microns that have a minimum lifetime of 125 uses. It also means, having the capability to carry a minimum of 10 kilograms, 125 times over the distance of at least 50 meters (about 65 steps) used for carrying and transporting goods, which bags are made of organic or non-organic materials.

Regarding restricting the production, sale, and distribution of disposable plastic items such as plates, cups, cutlery and food containers, the PPIA suggests it would be more a detriment rather than an advantage. The biodegradable option for these 'rigid items' cost about thrice. This circumvents the provision under Sec. 29 of RA 9003, which states that the cost of the replacement products should not be more than 10 percent of the disposed product.

The rigid plastic items, they argue, are neither waste residuals on dumpsites nor contributors to flooding.

"Huwag na natin isipin anong effect sa plastic industry. We are serving the consumer. If the consumer decides ayaw niya gamitin produkto natin, it doesn't matter whether it's banned or not eh," said Co. 

"Kailangan lahat tayo may agreed responsibility and the whole purpose of that is to reduce iyung consumption natin, to reuse yung pwedeng gamitin and kung hindi mo na magamit ulit, recycle natin para mabalik sa ibang produkto," he added.