Environment advocates: Hold companies, not just gov’ts, accountable for plastic waste

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2019 06:04 AM | Updated as of Oct 24 2019 08:04 AM

Environmental groups say companies offering single-use plastic packaging carry a significant responsibility of the pollution they cause. Boogs Rosales, Greenpeace/file

The Philippines has long been criticized for being the third largest source of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. But environmental groups say companies offering single-use plastic packaging carry a bigger responsibility.

This is why the environmental network Break Free From Plastic has been conducting “brand audits” from its regular cleanups of beaches and other places.

The network released on Wednesday the result of its second audit of “top plastic polluters.” The group said the audit is based on 470,000 pieces of plastic collected from 484 cleanups done in more than 50 countries and 6 continents. From the trash gathered at cleanup events, volunteers identify the brands based on the labels on the plastics and count them.

Beau Baconguis, of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said there were also a lot of unbranded plastics in Asia or those with packaging and brand names that are no longer readable. 

“We are telling a story here that is not often mentioned. Every time we talk about plastic solution in a global scale, it pinpoints to the role of countries,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of Break Free From Plastic movement. 

“[But] These are mostly products produced, marketed, sold by multinational companies.”

Hernandez pointed out that it is the companies’ decision to package their products in single-use plastic. According to the brand audit report, plastics have many negative health effects, from the burning of fossil fuel for its manufacture to the leaching of chemicals into food wrapped in plastic.

Abigail Aguilar, Greenpeace Southeast Asia regional campaign coordinator, also pointed out how replacing plastic packaging with paper and bioplastics will only result in other environmental problems such as deforestation and chemical recycling, which uses dangerous chemicals.

“More than 90 percent of all the plastics ever produced have not been recycled,” she explained.

What happens to those plastics? Thrown into dumpsites and left there until those decompose in 1,000 years.

Sonia Mendoza, of the Mother Earth Foundation, said this is the problem of zero-waste communities. In San Fernando, Pampanga, the city government is able to process 80 percent of the waste through composting and recycling, but 20 percent have to be dumped because they cannot be reused or recycled.

“These plastic waste remain the biggest stumbling block for those cities and communities trying to achieve or have goals to be zero waste,” Mendoza said of the plastic packaging, plastic cutlery and feminine sanitary products that end up in dumpsites.

ABS-CBN News reached out to the companies with local offices mentioned in the report but did not receive a response as of posting time. 

Previously, Unilever announced its plan to reduce its use of new plastic and to process its used packaging. It also pledged to scale up its refilling stations in malls. Nestlé also committed to making 100 percent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo also announced their own recycling campaigns.

But Aguilar said it is better to promote alternative delivery systems, which includes community-based refilling stations for food ingredients and toiletries. 

Hernandez said the Philippines has an immediate need to pass a law that will impose a nationwide ban on single-use plastic. 

The group is also hoping for a law on extended producer responsibility, which will hold companies accountable for the life cycle of their products. Ideally, companies will be responsible for managing the disposal and recycling of their products.