Vanessa Pepino, Non-Resident Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute
Our rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans are part of what we call the “blue” economy. It is similar to what is often referred to as the “green” economy, only that it represents the economic development of marine and coastal ecosystems.
The Philippines, like other coastal and island states, depends on tourism and fisheries. In 2015, our ocean economy was valued at $11.81 billion while our ecosystem services were valued at $17 billion. Our blue economy is an important cornerstone in food security, health, livelihood and a source of employment, trade, shelter, renewable energy, and even climate change mitigation.
While continuous technological improvement has helped realize new growth possibilities, unregulated human-based activities have seriously affected our coasts and oceans. Plastic waste leakage — i.e. plastic waste leaking into our waterways and oceans — is at alarming levels.
In Manila Bay alone, 3,810 tons of garbage, water hyacinths, and silt was collected from the bay’s coastline and drainage system as of two months ago. In other reports, collected waste reached 27,000 tons of garbage. More than 50% of waste collected, according to waste audits, is plastic.
Addressing both solid waste and wastewater elements of the Manila Bay clean-up and rehabilitation, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) continues to strengthen coastal clean-up operations, partnerships with the private sector, and monitoring of non-compliant establishments in the bay area. An example is the Adopt-an-Estero program, launched in 2013, where several communities have clean-up activities in the waterways of Manila.
What it lacks though are localized initiatives and monitoring to disincentivize consumers and households from littering and encourage proper segregation.
In Boracay, the local anti-littering policy stipulates that violators could face a fine or be made to render community service from eight to 16 hours. There is also a proposal to arrest citizens caught littering. While local policies and regulations may vary in intensity and extent, one thing is for sure: coastal clean-ups can only do so much.
This makes collection, treatment, recycling, and proper disposal, especially in coastal areas, critical. It needs to be supported by wastewater management system and infrastructure. Many of the recycling facilities are in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu and even they only process a sparse volume of waste compared to what is generated on a national level. Extensive land-based and sea-based solutions are essential to address plastic waste pollution sustainably.
In simple terms, that means keeping the trash out of our oceans. Waste management is key for reducing pollution of the coastal and marine environment. We need efficient waste-management systems, particularly an upscaling of our recycling system.
Coca-Cola Philippines, Inc. is one of many global businesses that have developed game-changing technology to be part of the solution. Anchored on its “World Without Waste” initiative, Coca-Cola Phils. is investing in a state-of-the-art recycling and reprocessing facility in the Philippines, the first in Southeast Asia. In line with the concept of the circular economy, the recycling facility will collect, sort, clean, and wash post-consumer PET plastic bottles and turn them into new bottles using advanced technology. The bottling subsidiary also intends to use an average of 50% recycled content in its packaging. In fact, it recently launched country’s first-ever food-grade PET bottle made of 100% recycled material — The Viva! Eco-bottle.
Any large-scale recycling facility is dependent on waste inputs, a minimum amount that makes it economical to operate. That should not be a problem for the Philippines — the amount of plastic recyclable waste in our landfills and waterways is unfortunately a somber manifestation that recycling should be a viable commercial venture. However, a critical component is to close the loop of collection to ensure the supply of plastic recyclables.
In line with this, Coca-Cola Phils. also entered into a public-private partnership with the City of Manila to allocate recycled PET (RPET) benches, collection bins, and capability training for the Manila Bay clean-up. A similar partnership was also initiated in Davao by working with its communities and local government units (LGUs). Collected PET bottles are diverted to the recycling system and transformed into high-value products such as chairs and benches.
This is a sustainability model that can be adapted and replicated in other LGUs. It is a source of green jobs and livelihood opportunities, and an innovation for environmental management to plug leaks in the circular economy of waste.
In the larger scheme of things, such initiatives help support the goal towards a healthy and resilient “blue” economy, with abundant opportunities that can be leveraged for sustainable development. Cleaning up Manila Bay, for instance, means opening and diversifying economic opportunities in tourism and heritage conservation, among others.
An efficient Philippine recycling system that is well integrated within a circular economy, upscales the economic value of waste down to the communities. It reinforces and incentivizes environmental awareness and discipline in segregation and recycling. It also creates a momentum to develop other segments of the waste management system.
Keeping our oceans clean is not just important for economic sustainability, it is essential for survival. We are all part of the circular economy of waste. There is already a global momentum to build government, private, and community partnerships for stronger recycling systems, solid waste and wastewater infrastructure, but plugging leakage will depend on the discipline of each consumer.
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.