Plastic Pollutants on Philippine Rivers ‘National Shame’ — DOF’s Dominguez

According to urban-links.org, citing McKinsey, 2015, the Philippines generates a “staggering 2.7 million tons of plastics each year, 20 percent of which end up in the ocean.” 

Twitter: @edd1819, Instagram: @bluestar0910, Facebook: SDN — Science, Digital & Current Affairs​

By EDD K. USMAN

Short link: https://wp.me/paaccn-bxS

(SDN) — Plastic pollutants’ presence on many Philippine rivers is a “national shame”. There’s no pride in it.

In fact, there are seven rivers of the country mentioned in an international study which found out the presence of plastics in the said water bodies, apparently making the country one of the worst ocean polluters.

Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez apparently minced no words in making the description.

Why would he not feel the way he felt as seven of the world’s Top 10 plastic polluters of the ocean seven are Philippine bodies of water.

Dominguez’s scathing statement was relayed by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), the Innovation Council of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

DOST, others seek end of single-used plastics.
PCIEERD Executive Director Dr. Eric Paringit. (File photo)

In an email to SDN — Science & Digital News, DOST-PCIEERD said the country’s finance top honcho dubbed “national shame” an international study’s results where seven of the Top 10 plastic polluters of ocean the Philippines recorded seven rivers.

In a recent report on ABS-CBN news portal it identified these as Pasig River and Tullahan River, both in Metro Manila; Meycauayan River in Bulacan; Pampanga River in Pampanga; Libmanan River in Camarines Sur; Rio Grande de Mindanao (Pulangi River) in Southern Philippines; and Agno River in Pangasinan. The online news site cited a study published on http://www.advances.sciencemag.org.

Apparently, this had the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) moving to eradicate the dependence on single-use plastics in the Philippines. To help realize it the DOST headed by Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña mobilized different agencies and institutions to join forces in finding better alternatives to these marine pollutant products. Good thing is they are also looking into providing solutions and opportunities to industries.

The Innovation Council of the DOST, the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD), hosted a forum recently dubbed the “Joint Conference on Environment-Friendly Alternative Plastics”, which is a pioneering effort to address the single-use plastic problem through a whole-of-government approach in dealing with the issue.

In collaboration, DOST with the Department of Finance (DOF), Climate Change Commission (CCC), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government agencies seek to provide alternatives to single-use plastics in the market and accelerate the search for substitutes through research and development.

“We need to move forward and find a more environmentally sustainable alternative to plastic and by stepping up our efforts through research and development (R&D) as well as a whole of government approach, I believe that we can achieve this,” dela Peña said in the virtual event.

Aside from the DOST chief, another key forum speaker was DOF Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, concurrent CCC chairperson-designate. He moved to ban single-use plastics as the country’s concrete contribution to the global effort to stop the unbridled plastics pollution on the world’s oceans. He deemed it urgent to adopt a national policy on this.

There’s no pride but rather a “national shame”, he pointed out, referring to the study’s results.

“Recently, an international study identified the Philippines as one of the worst contributors to the dumping of plastic wastes in the ocean. It should not be a source of pride that seven (7) of the top 10 rivers identified as top plastic polluters of the ocean is in the country. This is a national shame,” the finance chief said.
DOST's Innovation Council
He called for innovation and creativity in tackling the marine plastic pollutants through collaboration.
“We need to be innovative and creative. It is high time for the government, industries, businesses, and advocates to work together to develop better alternatives. By not consuming plastics, our people will be able to do their part on a daily basis in saving the world’s environment,” Dominguez said.
The DOF head moved for a demonstration of a credible, audacious, and sustainable policy program to clean up the country’s waters and in turn protect the oceans of the world. He cited the process of manufacturing plastics with attendant harm to the environment.
“This meeting is a good start towards evolving that policy program. Plastics are a particular concern not only because they are non-biodegradable, they harm the environment from the moment we start producing the product. Not many know that 99% of plastics are produced by burning fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coil. The process is energy-intensive and produces harmful greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere which leads to global warming.”

Studies show that plastics continue to be a pervasive material in the country,  being a “sachet economy” that utilizes  the “tingi” retail system employed in the market. Plastic is mainly used in grocery stores, as packaging material, in construction, and a lot more due to it being cheap, strong, and extremely versatile, PCIEERD said.

Members of the industry who make use of single-use plastics also joined the conference to air their side and explain the significance of such products, and how alternatives will impact the market and the lives of those who depend on their use.

As part of resolving the issues on plastics, PCIEERD also unveiled various DOST R&D Initiatives for the Green Economy.

DOST Executive Director Dr. Enrico Paringit has expressed his support for a harmonized pursuit in protecting the environment through research, development, and innovations.

“As we gear towards achieving environmental sustainability by substituting single-use plastics with ecologically neutral alternatives, we shall put out more efforts to collaborate with our partners in government, the academe and the industry to ensure that we will come up with viable solutions to address the challenges brought by single-plastics use,” he said.

How plastic has polluted the ocean, according to CondorFerries in an article titled “Shocking Ocean Plastic Statistics”

  • More than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year.
  • 100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
  • There is now 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean & 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
  • Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic makes their way into our oceans.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 1.6 million square kilometers – bigger than Texas.
  • The world produces 381 million tonnes in plastic waste yearly – this is set to double by 2034.
  • 50% of this is single-use plastic & only 9% has ever been recycled.
  • Over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging are used in the UK each year.
  • 88% of the sea’s surface is polluted by plastic waste.
  • Between 8 to 14 million tonnes enters our ocean every year.
  • Britain contributes an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of plastic annually.
  • The US contributes 38 million tonnes of plastic every year.
  • Plastic packaging is the biggest culprit, resulting in 80 million tonnes of waste yearly from the US alone.
  • On UK beaches there are 5000 pieces of plastic & 150 plastic bottles for each mile.
  • More than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.
  • The world uses over 500 billion plastic bags a year – that’s 150 for each person on Earth.
  • 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches, but only 1% of straws end up as waste in the ocean.
  • By 2020 the number of plastics in the sea will be higher than the number of fish.
  • 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contains plastic.
  • Plastic microbeads are estimated to be one million times more toxic than the seawater around it.
  • Products containing microbeads can release 100,000 tiny beads with just one squeeze. (emphasis by CondorFerries)

As cited in the urban-links.org article on July 21, 2020, the Philippines “stands as the third largest global contributor to the eight million tons of plastics that are estimated to flood our oceans each year.”

While the article, based on a comprehensive ocean plastics study by Dr. Jenna Jambeck in 2015, noted that the nation already has national laws guiding solid waste management for years, implementing the laws lies on the shoulders of local government units (LGUs).

However, LGUs “are often challenged by a lack of financial resources, limited capacity for enforcement, and low public awareness of the human and environmental cost of plastic waste.”

The article also noted that similar to “many rapidly-urbanizing countries, the Philippines struggles with unsustainable plastic production and consumption and waste management infrastructure that relies heavily on open dumping sites, giving plastics an easy pathways into waterways.”

In addressing the nation’s problem on plastic pollutants, the urban-links.org article suggested that “more work is needed to establish and enforce legislation, enhance infrastructure, and encourage sustainable production and consumption.”

Help is on the way, apparently.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) “supports locally-driven solutions to turn the tide of plastic pollution.” (✓)

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Featured image of a bird with plastic in his beak credit to @TimMossholder on Unsplash.

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