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Davao City, Philippines

Why not improve our waste management system instead?

October 09, 2019 - Wednesday 4:10 AM by Atty. Jamil Matalam

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A whale died of “gastric shock” because of ingesting 40 kilos of plastics, say the volunteers from the international awardee, D'Bone Collector Museum of Davao City, early this year. The volunteers found “16 rice sacks, 4 banana bags, and multiple shopping bags” inside the stomach of the whale, according the Euronews website. I remember seeing footage of their autopsy on television, and I was greatly surprised with the piles of plastic rubbish inside the whale. It was like someone inserted a large amount of plastics inside the whale to suffocate it to death. What did the whale do to deserve such a gruesome fate? What have we done? Or have not done?

Events like this help support the campaign for the ban of single-use plastics in Davao City, or in the country. However, a policy ban on single-use plastics will not be enough. Something more has to be done than a ban on single-use plastics. I would like to argue here that if we are motivated by the protection, preservation, or sustainability of our oceans and marine life, then it is urgent for us to take steps in improving our waste management system. 

The first compelling argument for this is that we are a country of increasing population. The Philippine Statistics Authority has reported that in 2017 we have 16 births per thousand of population, that is more than 1.7 million births. More mouths to feed, more waste generated. Add to this the increase in the migration of people to the urban centers. Increase in population will also mean increase in waste generation. Today we see more rubbish in our city streets compared to five years ago; and this is because our waste collectors cannot cope with the increase in our waste. They have to forego collection for tomorrow because the garbage trucks are already overloaded before they arrive at your garbage. Imagine the next five years if we do not improve our waste management.

The second compelling argument is that one of the main reasons for the death of that whale is our poor waste management system. It was really us who suffocated that whale to death. More than 80% of our generated plastic wastes are mismanaged, and therefore the high probability of leakage into the ocean. In 2010 we were the third most plastic polluter of the oceans. And this should be a shock for all of us. We are not even in the top 10 countries in terms of generating plastic waste. According to the analytics by the, in 2010 the top three countries that generated plastic wastes are China, United States, and Germany. China generated around 60 million tons, the United States at around 38 million tons, and Germany, around 14.5 million tons. The Philippines generated around 2.5 million tons. The top 3 polluters are China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. China’s consistency is no surprise, but the Philippines leapfrogging to top 3 is a great surprise. But the more surprising thing is that the 2nd and 3rd generator of plastic waste are listed as the least polluters of the ocean. It is possible to generate high volume of plastic waste but at the same time not be plastic polluters. How is that the case? It is because of effective waste management. Based on the same analytics, only around 0 to 2% of the generated plastic waste by the United States and Germany are mismanaged, and therefore less chances for their plastic waste to go into the ocean. It is our mismanagement of our plastic waste that ranked as 3rd plastic polluters of the ocean.

An objection may be raised here. We are an archipelago, and as such, more likely our waste will leak into the ocean. Compared to the United States and Germany, they are not archipelagos, and therefore, it is unlikely for their rubbish to easily slip into the ocean. 

Aside from the fact that there are other archipelagos but are not in the top ranked ocean polluters, this objection does not deny the fact the our waste indeed leaks into the ocean. It is a very irresponsible way of dealing with the problem. I think that because we are an archipelago, therefore, it is more incumbent upon us to improve on our waste management system. Thus, the third compelling argument: because we are an archipelago, the risk of leaking waste into the ocean is higher, and therefore the more reason we have to come up with a better and more effective waste management system. As an archipelago we have a bigger responsibility to protect the ocean, and that fact should not be taken to mean an excuse to pollute it.

What I am really trying to say here is that we should not have an easy conscience simply because we have started to ban single-use plastics in Davao City, and in the country. The job should not end with that. We should give more, at least equal, attention with managing our waste, including plastics. There should be an increase in our social investments, private or/and public, for our waste management system. For instance, instead of promoting an allergic attitude towards plastics, private and public institutions should welcome plastics and improve or innovate in its recycling and reuse programs. Moreover, improving on our waste management is about our generated waste in general, of which plastic is only but a component. Together with a ban on single-use plastics, an effective waste management system will not only reduce our plastic waste but will also ensure cleaner streets for our ballooning population. This in turn will not only help in the preservation of our oceans and the marine life it sustains, but also our environment and ourselves.