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The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) recently held the Multi-Sectoral Forum on Plastic Waste last May 24, 2019 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Manila.

Attended by more than 150 participants from national government agencies (NGAs), Congressional committees, local government units (LGUs), academic and research institutions, non-government organizations (NGOs), and the private sector, the Forum served as an avenue for discussions on how the country can effectively address the problem of plastic waste.

Facing the realities

NAST PHL President Academician Rhodora V. Azanza, in her opening remarks, highlighted the realities being faced by the country in its problem of plastic pollution. She mentioned the report by the Mother Earth Foundation that each Filipino uses 591 pieces of plastic sachets and 163 plastic (sando) bags every year.

In a short overview of the Forum, NAST PHL Vice President Academician Fabian M. Dayrit emphasized that the plastic waste problem is a multi-faceted issue which involves plastic pollution, plastic waste, plastic products, and new plastic materials among others. According to him, this requires a multi-sectoral approach.

NAST member and former Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Academician Filemon A. Uriarte, Jr. discussed some of the issues regarding the use of plastic, in particular, plastic vs. paper; plastic vs. glass bottles; and the use of biodegradable plastic. Academician Uriarte, a chemical engineer by profession, revealed that, based on several scientific studies, plastics are environmentally superior to paper.

According to Dr. Uriarte: “Based on a life-cycle analysis of PriceWaterCoopers in 2004, paper emits more greenhouse and acid gases than plastics.”

In contrast, there was no clear advantage between plastic versus glass bottles, and based on available evidence, biodegradable plastics will not likely play a significant role in reducing marine litter.

Governance and Plastic Waste

The Forum also featured two speakers from the government, one from a national agency and another one from the local government.

Stressing the importance of governance in the plastic problem, Engr. Nolan Francisco, Chief of the Solid Waste Management Division of the Environmental Management Bureau (SWMD-EMB) presented some updates from the 10-year solid waste management (SWM) plan.

Engr. Francisco reported that as mandated by law, 684 LGUs (40% of all LGUs) had their 10-year solid waste management plans approved. He recommended updating the SWM plan every year, and have the non-compliant LGUs dealt with accordingly.

From the side of the local government, Dr. Antonio J. Alcantara, the designated Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO) of Los Baños, Laguna, shared their experience in regulating single-use plastics. Alcantara, who is also an adjunct professor of environmental science in UP Los Baños, explained the need for a national law that will regulate plastic use.

“Local governments can have a crucial role in the economy in terms of single-use plastic bags. However, we need to support LGUs in managing, processing, and turning these plastics into good and effective use.” 

“Plastic Battle”

Representing the views of civil society, Ms. Anna Oposa, Co-founder of Save Philippine Seas and self-declared “Chief Mermaid”, presented some of the campaigns that their groups and allied organizations conduct in the battle against plastic. Dubbed as the “Plastic Battle”, Ms. Oposa mentioned some campaigns which include reusable tumblers, mainstream refilling, and discouraging the release of balloons to the sky.

The Role of the Industry

Speaking on behalf of the private sector, Commissioner Crispian Lao, representative of the recycling industry to the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) detailed some of the industry’s initiatives in the battle against plastic pollution. Commissioner Lao, also the convenor of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Material Sustainability (PARMS), proposed an aggressive full waste recovery and recycling program.

“We need a holistic approach in this problem. From consumers to producers, all must be involved in this endeavor.”

Commissioner Lao also advocated the development of a food waste management program, minimization of disposable packaging from sources, and strengthening of the market for construction materials made from waste through provision of incentives.

Hearing the voices

As a part of its goal to make the Forum more participatory, NAST PHL held breakout sessions in the afternoon. Participants were given the chance to voice out their views and suggestions in the breakout sessions on governance and on research and development. Facilitated by UP Los Baños Professor Dr. Myra David and De La Salle University Professor Dr. Michael Promentilla, respectively, both the breakout sessions came up with some recommendations on the issue of plastic pollution.

In the area of governance, some of the proposed recommendations include a more active role of the LGUs in the campaign against plastic pollution. Consistent in the discussions was the proposed amendment to the local government code that should require all government units to have a plantilla position for an environment and natural resources officer.

Regarding research, participants agreed on focusing on research for alternative materials that can replace existing plastic products. They also proposed to replace the term “biodegradable” in single use plastics with terms such as “compostable” or “recyclable” and advocated against the use of oxy-degradable plastic.

Going beyond the Forum

Academician Dayrit, serving as the focal person of the activity, said that the resulting recommendations from the Forum will be included in the discussions during the NAST PHL’s 41st Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) on July 10-11, 2019 in EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. He said that the outputs are crucial, especially that one of the main topics of the ASM focuses on the management of plastic products and waste.

“Definitely we will evaluate and include the outcomes in our discussions in the ASM. This is helpful in crafting recommendations that NAST PHL, as a science adviser to the government, will transmit to President Rodrigo Duterte for appropriate action,” Dayrit explained.

The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL), an attached agency to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), is the premier recognition and advisory body in the Philippines on matters related to science and technology.###