As the health pandemic calms down with more vaccinations, appropriate government response, and build up of our immunity, another pandemic is looming over the horizon. Dubbed the “plastic pandemic,” countries all over the world, including the Philippines, are waking up to the reality of facing mountains of discarded plastic wastes such as face masks, face shields, sanitizer bottles, etc. Some of these have already washed up on shores, rivers, and ocean; some have even settled on seabeds, disturbing our fragile ecosystem.
A worldwide study pegged the amount of plastic wastes generated worldwide since the pandemic outbreak at “estimated 1.6 million tons per day.” The study also added that “COVID-19 may reverse the momentum of years-long global battle to reduce plastic waste pollution.”
Faced with this stark reality, all responsible governments must now address this plastic issue. Plastics, as we all know, have been useful during the pandemic, for example as a container for utensils, barrier in public spaces, to serving as wrapper for food deliveries. But now is the right time to take all steps to mitigate its use, especially single-use plastics, considering that we are experiencing some semblance of normalcy.
One of the steps addressing this plastic problem is from a Senate bill, which passed last Jan. 31, 2022. It is a bill that mandates large companies to “adopt and implement policies for the proper management of plastic packaging wastes.”
“Senators, voting 22-0-0, passed on third and final reading Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2425, which seeks to institutionalize the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and in effect amend Republic Act No. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,” according to a statement from the Senate.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change, said the bill was crafted in response to the clamor for the regulation of single-use plastics and its production, importation, and disposal by industries.
“It is not a solution in itself, but it is a move in the right direction, I believe. We need to rescue our country from being a marine litter culprit and demonstrate that a developing country can and will make this work,” Villar said.
Through the EPR, companies “have the responsibility for the proper and effective recovery, treatment, recycling, or disposal of their products after they have been sold and used by consumers” to reduce packaging waste generation and improve the recyclability and reusability of packaging wastes.
Obligated companies would include producers, manufacturers, and importers of consumer goods using plastic packaging. They shall be responsible for making financial contributions to support the collection, recovery, transportation, processing, recycling and disposal of their plastic packaging wastes.
According to the statement, “micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) would not be required to have EPR programs.”
SBN 2425 sets targets until 2030 for the compliance of the required companies to “improve their performance over time.” Producers, distributors, retailers implementing EPR programs would also be eligible for tax incentives. On the other hand, fines ranging from P5 million to P20 million were proposed as penalties for failure to comply with the mandated EPR, as well as failure to meet the targets.
Consumer and eco groups have positively responded to this move to combat the waste crisis, but have also lamented that the bill is “not enough” as it should “address stopping pollution at the source” and also, to be effective, “EPR must apply to any and all products produced.”
We can only hope that what Villar has said regarding this bill being “a move into the right direction” is just the start of a long and arduous journey toward a plastic-free and zero-waste Philippines.