Ban on plastics: how effective?

Today, the local government unit of Davao has begun imposing the ban on the use of non-biodegradable plastics and polystyrene foams for use as food and beverage containers, as laid out in the Davao City Ecological Solid Waste Management Ordinance of 2009. The City Environmental and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) is now tasked to monitor compliance to, and impose sanctions against violators of, the city ordinance.

How effective will this measure be in addressing the city’s growing environmental problems?

The city government should be praised for its firm commitment to the conservation of our natural environment. However, I’d like to raise an issue here. City Hall said “No excuses” when asked about the coverage of this ordinance: all food & beverage establishments, no matter how small, are included in the ban. But then, they proceeded to state that biodegradable plastics are to be encouraged.

For me, that is just wrong.

I’ve done some reading, and from what I’ve gathered, plastics that biodegrade take from several months to years to break down into environment-friendly components. Those plastic materials that take only a few months to biodegrade do so, however, only in controlled situations where there are favorable conditions. In other words, so-called biodegradable plastics can cause harm to the environment just as badly as regular plastics.

Think about it. We let stores and restaurants use biodegradable plastic bags, and people use them, and continue to throw them into the sea. Let’s say it takes only a few months for those plastics to break down and dissolve into the water. Fine. But, during those few months, dolphins and sea turtles will still be vulnerable to those plastics — whether they’re biodegradable or not, they can still cause harm and death to marine life.

Furthermore, biodegradable plastic bags can still clog up our waterways. (This problem, let’s not forget, was the main cause of the awful flooding that resulted in human deaths and property destruction last year.)

And then there’s the question of compliance. With tens of thousands of establishments to monitor, will CENRO enforcers have the capacity to check that the plastic bags and containers being used are indeed biodegradable? I doubt it very much, even only considering the logistical aspect of the problem.

I was very happy with this bold move by the Davao LGU to implement this ordinance. But with a huge loophole weakening its efficacy, I’m having doubts in its having any measurable positive effect on the environment in the foreseeable future.

To be fair to the city government, however, it is clear that the good intentions are present. Let’s hope that the rules & regulations of this environment ordinance will be carried out as strictly as the anti-smoking ordinance, for which the City of Davao has become quite famous.

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3 Responses to “Ban on plastics: how effective?”

  1. Franky says:

    Blogie,

    I hear you with the concerns raised about biodegradable plastic bags, but I keep referring people to read upon ‘your own Bayong’ and paper bags. Especially this entry by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17027990

    It seems that the issue is more difficult than we want it to be. Right now in Pasig there are stores which will give a double paper bag, because they are not solid. Additionally they are useless for reuse in the trash can. Other supermarkets sell ‘reusable bags’, which can not be used more than 10 times before they fall apart.

    Funnily enough, when I arrived in PH (NCR), supermarket employees would look at me as if I had been bitten by some weird bug when I said ‘No thanks, I have my own bag (and I will pack it myself too)’.

    Let us just hope that this initial ban will be implemented already and followed up. It’s a beginning while we continue to figure out what is the better option.

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