As I See It: Ban importation of plastic bags (By Neal Cruz)

Reprinting an article by Neal Cruz, which appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 22 September 2010.  Click here to read the article from the Inquirer site.

I AGREE completely with the recommendation of the EcoWaste Coalition to ban the use of non-biogradable plastic bags. I would include in the ban the styrofoam containers and plastic spoons and forks used by fast-food outlets and restaurants. These are very cheap, convenient and practical for many uses, but they do not decompose and clog canals, sewers, esteros, rivers and other waterways, and cause floods. Also, they stay in the landfills for thousands of years so that we would soon run out of space to throw our garbage into. There is now floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a garbage patch the size of Texas. This patch is composed of plastic bags, styrofoam containers, rubber tires and other non-biodegradable materials. The patch gets bigger and bigger every year as more and more debris from land are carried by the ocean currents to this giant patch. If you go from Manila to Corregidor or Bataan by boat, you will pass in Manila Bay a patch of floating plastics. They were either taken there by the currents from the esteros and rivers of Metro Manila or dumped there by garbage contractors hired by local governments to get rid of their waste. Another environmental group has urged the government to ban the use of plastic bags by supermarkets and of styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery by fast-food outlets. But as long as we import plastic bags and allow petrochemical companies to manufacture them, I do not think we can successfully prohibit their use because they are convenient, practical and cheap. Convenient, too, for homeowners who use them to put kitchen waste in before throwing them away. The trick is to ban the entry into the country of plastic bags as well as their manufacture here. Let’s promote the use of reusable cloth bags by having art work or beautiful pictures printed on them. In the US, paper shopping bags of department stores have famous paintings printed on them and are collected by homeowners. I am not saying that we should use paper bags because that may mean cutting down more trees to be processed into paper, although bags can be made out of recycled waste paper. Before the era of plastic bags, housewives went to market with reusable rattan baskets or bayong in which to put their market purchases. They have been immortalized in the pastoral paintings of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, but they have now been made obsolete by the plastic bags. Also, there are now bags, as good and durable and water resistant as plastic bags but made out of biodegradable materials such as corn stalk. They look like plastic but decompose just like any other organic material. We should use them instead of the petrochemical-based plastic bags. The plastic bags we now use are a waste product of the petrochemical industry. They are a by-product of refining crude oil into gasoline, other fuels and lubricants. The oil companies have to do something to them so as not to waste them. But they can be used for other things instead of for making plastic bags and styrofoam containers. Supermarkets and wet markets are the top dispensers of plastic bags and fast-food restaurants are the top users of styrofoam eating utensils. It is a reflex action of clerks and bag boys to put grocery purchases in plastic bags even if the shopper has brought her own cloth shopping bag. Security guards look at shoppers with suspicion if their purchases are not in plastic shopping bags. I have been accosted by supermarket and drugstore guards for carrying my few purchases in my hands instead of in plastic bags. I had to show them the receipts before they allowed me to leave. I think the first we have to convince to refrain from the use of plastic bags are the store owners. And I think environmental groups should talk to the supermarket and fast-food associations instead of just issuing press releases. Also, they should propagate the use of more durable alternatives to plastic bags, such as attractive reusable paper bags, rattan and bamboo baskets, bayong and cloth bags. The Department of Science and Technology should pioneer the manufacture of biodegradable bags made out of corn and sugarcane stalks, cogon, talahib and rice stalks.


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