Collective environmental stewardship

Venice Rañosa, Research Manager at Stratbase ADR Institute

“Reaping what you sow,” a quote attributed to the Christian apostle Paul, is about action and consequences. It strikes at the core of the message of Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) when he addressed top government officials and leaders of industry who came together in a forum organized by The Stratbase Group to share in the global crusade to sustain the environment and help save the future of mankind.

The story embarks upon the handling of a man-made problem: waste. “We are in the middle of a garbage crisis,” said Mr. Cimatu. Statistics from the Ocean Conservancy indicate that the Philippines is ranked third after China and Indonesia in terms of contributing to ocean litter. According to Mr. Cimatu, the Philippines generates some 7 million metric tons of plastic waste annually, while about half a million metric tons becomes marine debris. He added that the waste generation baseline for 2019 of 58,000 cubic meters has already been surpassed. The disturbing part is that much of this will eventually be found in the sea. A considerable amount of this garbage is plastic waste that will find its way into the food chain for the fish that, in turn, people will consume.

Plastic as a global industry began in 1907 following the invention in the US of the first synthetic plastic called Bakelite. The name “plastic” itself came from the Greek word plastikos, which means “capable of being shaped or molded.” With the expansion of mass production technologies and the spread of a “throw-away” culture, plastic has become a short-cut to business growth. The Philippine economy itself has evolved somewhat into a “sachet” economy. Globally, practically all tools and gadgets contain plastic components. But plastic has also taken its toll on the environment and public health.

Against this backdrop, the DENR has taken the lead in working with the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to address the problem. One of the specific concrete responses being studied is that of Extended Producer Responsibility, or EPR.

EPR is a practice where a manufacturer takes back the product it produced after the item itself has outgrown its usefulness. The scheme revolves around the “Polluter Pays Principle,” which requires that the responsibility of the producer be extended up until the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. In other words, the manufacturer assumes the burden of disposal and recycling.

EPR is widely practiced in Europe because laws, regulations, and systems are in place. In Asia, Japan is heavily involved in it as well. However, the rest of Asia has a lot to work on.

While the Philippines does not officially have an EPR system in place yet, some companies have been practicing it in some form since the 1970s. Among these are companies that produce car batteries. When a buyer makes a purchase of a car battery, the seller offers a trade-in incentive by way of a rebate.

However, with the rise of online retail sales today, the practice of EPR has met with some complications. With the bulk of unbranded retail products traded online and produced overseas, it becomes difficult to require local manufacturers to undertake EPR knowing that others can get away as freeloaders.

The call of Senator Cynthia Villar to involve the private sector and other stakeholders in this initiative drives home the importance of shifting from a linear model to a circular one to keep resources in circulation for as long as possible, get the maximum value, and generate outputs from it. This means that instead of just banning the use of plastics, it would make better sense if the government involved the participation of citizens and industries while encouraging the establishment of more plastic recycling plants under the basic formula of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Fortunately, more people and businesses are actively taking the lead as environment champions. Among these are Coca-Cola Philippines with its “World Without Waste” program; Unilever Philippines with its “Zero Waste to Nature” program, “All Things Hair Refillery” refilling and recycling hubs, and “Misis Walastik” post-consumer sachet waste program; and Maynilad’s tree planting programs, recovery of 700 million liters of water through the rehabilitation of water pipes, and the conversion of plastic waste into school chairs for use in public schools, done in partnership with the Villar Sipag Foundation.

Even the city of Manila has an incentivized collection program for flexible plastic waste under the “May Pera sa Basura” initiative of Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso. In addition, through Unilever’s Office and Factory Solid Waste Management Program, waste generated from their factories and offices are either eliminated at the source or recycled off-site by DENR-accredited waste haulers.

Hopefully, more private sector participants will be able to join as industry champions. However, it is important to emphasize that no single player should be solely responsible for addressing this issue. Everyone is culpable in this matter. If people continue to wantonly dispose of their waste and disregard the law, then it will just be a hopeless, vicious cycle.

It is high time for everyone — may they be from the government, the private sector, the academe, or civil society — to pro-actively collaborate and take responsibility in managing our waste. No single player possesses all the relevant resources, knowledge, skills, connections, and other valuable assets, hence the need to help each other out for the greater good.

It would benefit us all if everyone does his or her share in this crusade towards environment sustainability. After all, the future we save may just be our own.



This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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