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Will LGUs be ‘plastic’ against plastic?

Will LGUs be ‘plastic’ against plastic?

Industry scampers for ways to mitigate wave of LGU bans

LIPACITY—Buy a wi-fi router at a leading mall’s computer shop here. The cashier at the shop’s counter then does the unusual if one’s a habitué in buying at computer shops in classier malls.

“Here’s your router,” the lady says, placing the boxed router in a brown paper bag —yes, that bag where KFC one-piece chicken meals or school supplies bought at National Bookstore are also stored from now on here. “We have to follow the new ordinance here,” she adds.

If you’re irritated over this new ruling over the regulated use of —or the ban on— plastics in some Philippine cities and municipalities, don’t go to Batangas City, some 30-45 minutes south ofLipaCity. It’s a total plastic ban there, and there’s no mercy to violators there.

Banning or regulating the use of plastics is the new trend of Philippine local governance after years of making disaster risk reduction response programs. If San Jose, Batangas is following suit soon, so is the world’s largest city Davao: this June 28, local pastries firm Bread Factory will have to say sayonara to the plastics that have put a brand to its sweet bread products. There’s a ban on plastics, too.

So are in 21 other Philippine local government units, as of this writing: Ten of these LGUs are municipalities: Burgos (Pangasinan), Sta. Barbara (Iloilo), Los Baños, Luisiana, Calauan, Paete, Kalayaan, Sta. Cruz (Laguna), Infanta and Lucban (Quezon). The others are cities: Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Makati, Pasig (Metro Manila), Calamba (Laguna), Lingayen (Pangasinan), Imus (Cavite), Baguio City (Benguet), Sorsogon (Sorsogon), Masbate (Masbate), and Batangas City found in the Batangas Local Growth Corridor. Other LGUs —BacolodCity (Negros Occidental), Carmona City (Cavite), Antipolo City and Binangonan (Rizal), Calapan (Oriental Mindoro), and now Lipa City in Batangas— regulate the use of plastic to certain items.

These ordinances by LGUs have made the pesky environmental non-government group EcoWaste Coalition ever happier. “They (LGUs regulating or banning plastic use) are properly implementing their ordinances,” says EcoWaste’s Sonia Mendoza.

But the Philippine Plastics Industry Association isn’t: if the Metro Manila Development Authority is true to its word that all 17 cities and municipalities will ban plastics come 2013, PPIA President Crispian Lao’s premonition may come true: those local ordinances will affect the manufacturing industry and 650,000 people directly or indirectly employed by the industry.

DEBATE

Banning or regulating the use of plastics has now led to a debate between plastics manufacturers, environment advocates, local government officials, and even ordinary Filipinos. The debate has also become scientific (not just about what’s best in terms of managing piled-up solid waste), as well as about people’s convenience, of what they’ve been accustomed to.

But this plastics-or-no-plastics debate now has a new question: do mayors and their law enforcers and environment officers mean business?

Batangas City is, with a local environmental code to back up. Just in the month of March, some 40 establishments were handed out citation tickets for using plastics and Styrofoam —with all of them paying a total of P17,200 to the city treasurer’s office.

Go to SM City Lipa or to its competitor that’s about nearly two kilometers away, Robinson’s Lipa. There are no placards or tarpaulins hung over Robinson’s walls announcing the ban. But on a Saturday afternoon, days after Lipa City mayor Meynard Sabili announced the new ordinance at SM City Lipa, the queue’s long at Robinsons Supermarket just because the bagger isn’t used to putting the items in paper bags quickly.

On the streets, there’s grumbling already from some micro-entrepreneurs. Tell me, says fruit vendor Zeny Mendoza while wrapping a kilo of bananas with pieces of old newspapers, “How can I put these bananas inside a supot (paper bag)?” If my mangoes get wet, says mango vendor Jeanne Biaco, “do you think the paper bags wrapping them won’t tear up?

Paper containers are also more expensive, says a 44-year-old entrepreneur who sells baked macaroni and spaghetti at Lipa City’s night market. Some 100 pieces of Styrofoam is P100, but just a few pieces of carton containers is already P380.

That’s why the Solid Waste Management Association of thePhilippinesis batting for the regulation of using plastic bags, “but not (their) total elimination”. SWAPP, which released a recent study, also called for developing a more effective and efficient system of re-use or recycling of these plastic bags, as well as proper collection and disposal.

Yet others are batting for different types of containers. Should San Jose’s ordinance becomes enforceable, the local government will promote the use of bayong (bags woven with leaves), katsa (bags coming from cloth that stores flour), and other containers like banana and gabi (taro) leaves.

So if the ordinance gets going in San Jose, says Laurile Talag of the town’s barangay health workers, “it will be good for people’s health.”

But who says paper is any better to protect public’s health, asks Lao and Alfred Chan, the former’s colleague at PPIA. “If wet products mix with paper (like newspaper materials that have led-based ink), there goes your problem. Paper can be easily dissolved in water, thus permanently polluting it.”

PPIA’s Lao also gave a policy reminder in justifying that LGUs’ ordinances are “non-scientific:” “LGUs’ ordinances do not follow any scientific study on the effect of plastic and styrofor or polystyrene on the environment.”

At least it’s less risky when plastic’s burned or floats on river systems, others say.

MOVING ON

What has moved on, in this wave of anti-plastic and Styrofoam ordinances, is enforcement.

In Lipa City, individuals must be ready to elude these: a P1,000 penalty for the first offense, or up to P3,000 and/or imprisonment for further offenses —with payments to be paid at the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) within three days.

Business establishments will be meted P3,000 fine for the first offense and up to P5,000 fine and, worse, cancellation of their licenses to operate for one year.

Lipa City’s General Ordinance no. 1 also created a city-wide Plastic Regulatory Board, headed by the city mayor and co-chaired by the city council’s committee on health and environmental protection, in order to oversee the ordinance’s implementation.

Another municipality that’s northwest of the eight-area Batangas Local Growth Corridor, manufacturing hub Sto. Tomas, is currently within a one-year grace period to prepare people for the full-blown plastic ban later this year. Ibaan’s municipal officials led by Mayor Juan Toreja, for its part, had to travel for two-to-three hours in May 2011 to learn from Paete, Laguna’s anti-plastics efforts.

As these LGUs’ legislative and executory measures are underway, PPIA’s Lao thinks that if the industry collaborates with these LGUs to institute a materials recovery program that will minimize plastic waste, this “could be the real solution to solid waste”.

National-level legislative advocacy is also moving forward: PPIA is proposing to lawmakers to support the use of biodegradable plastics, while EcoWaste Coalition is urging reported anti-plastics senators Loren Legarda and Miriam Defensor-Santiago to move forward a bill to totally banning plastics in the country.

And the malls? SM City Lipa mall manager Liza Dimaculangan said there has been a no-plastics policy since April 1 (or three weeks before Mayor Sabili’s Earth Day pronouncement of General Ordinance no. 1), while SM is providing shoppers an option to buy cloth-woven “eco-bags” and, in return, they get additional points in shoppers’ SM Advantage cards.

Given SWAPP’s study that covered four LGUs with plastic bans, the group recommended that people “should be given a choice between plastic and paper…and pay for it,” like what some European countries are doing.

But for now, in the view of Ric Libon of Lipa City’s CENRO, the city’s ordinance is not meant to be punitive. “The only time,” he tells The Filipino Connection, “we can say we are successful is when we can no longer catch people violating (the ordinance) or we no longer issue citation tickets.”

—Villanueva and Luistro reported from Lipa City, Gabi from San Jose, and Caraig from Manila