Early in August this year, the Philippines was battered by monsoon rains. The downpour, which lasted for several days, submerged most of Metro Manila and some parts of Luzon. As of August 16, 109 were reported killed by the deluge.
Authorities and environmental advocates blamed improper garbage disposal for clogging waterways. Sure enough, when the waters subsided, mounds of garbage were left behind.
Among the most visible in the pile were plastic bags and food wrappers, according to green group EcoWaste Coalition.
This kind of scenario is one of the main reasons why some local governments are pushing for a ban on plastic bags.
“The use of plastics has been abused too much,” said Danilo Villas, chief of the Department of Environmental Services of Makati City. “It affects our drainage systems and is a source of flooding.”
Makati is one of several cities in Metro Manila with an existing legislation banning the use of plastic bags. Other cities include Marikina, Muntinlupa, Pasig, Valenzuela, and Las Piñas.
Villas cited the throwaway mentality of some people as another reason for banning plastic bags. “After people use it, they just throw it away. It’s that easy.”
In Manila, after the storm surge in August, at least 48 trucks of garbage were collected along Roxas Boulevard, right next to the shores of Manila Bay.
A waste audit conducted in 2010 by the EcoWaste Coalition and other environmental organizations showed that plastics top the kind of waste thrown into the waters of the Manila Bay. Among these plastic products, plastic bags make up more than a quarter of the total amount, the rest being polystyrene, plastic bottles and hard plastics.
According to figures from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Metro Manila generates 8,700 tons of garbage every day. This is said to increase dramatically after storm-related disasters.
The MMDA encouraged other local governments in Metro Manila to adapt a ban on plastic bags “to combat the dangerous effects of environmental degradation which leads to massive flooding and climate change.” The agency looks to implement a metro-wide plastic ban by 2013.
However, the initiative also has its share of critics, particularly those who work in the plastics industry.
“Actually, I was approached by people from the plastic industry who told me that they might lose their jobs,” Villas recalled. “I told them that they may only be seeing the effects on them, but what about flooding and the impact on the environment? There should be a balance.”
Villas encouraged consumers to use reusable bags or containers when they go shopping. “Back in the day, people used baskets when they go to the market. You wouldn’t throw that away, would you?”