Environmental defense lawyers and zero waste activists belong to the No Burn Pilipinas threaten to sue DENR for serious lapses in enforcing the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, particularly for circumventing the ban on waste incineration and for its failure to phase out non-environmentally products and packaging materials like plastic.
27 January 2020, Quezon City. As the Zero Waste Month draws to a close, environmental defense lawyers and zero waste activists pressed the authorities to faithfully enforce the provisions of the country’s waste and pollution prevention laws against the incineration of garbage.
To compel the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) into upholding the ban on incineration under Republic Act 8749 (the Clean Air Act) and reiterated in Republic Act 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act), groups belonging to the No Burn Pilipinas (NBP) today filed a “notice to sue” to rescind DAO 2019-21.
Signed by DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, DAO 2019-21 sets the guidelines for the establishment and operation of waste-to-energy (WtE) facilities, which environmentalists have dismissed as “a euphemism for incineration or burning of solid waste.”
At a press conference convened by NBP, lawyers and activists took turns in criticizing the WtE order and the gross inaction in phasing out non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging (NEAP) materials such as the ubiquitous single-use plastics (SUPs).
“By issuing the WtE Guidelines, the DENR is reneging on its constitutional and legal mandate to uphold the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology being the primary agency tasked to enforce environmental laws, not violate them. In the last two decades, DENR has failed to ensure the full implementation of RA 9003 and RA 8749,” said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, lead counsel of the NBP.
“By extending a blanket clearance for WtE projects through DAO 2019-21, it places itself above the law in violation of the prevailing ban on incineration. We are serving notice to DENR: rescind DAO 2019-21 now or be sued,” he emphasized.
“The DENR continues to defy the laws that mandate them to protect Filipinos from environmental harm and danger by proposing and allowing waste incineration, a quick-fix false solution to our waste problem. DAO 2010-06 and recently DAO 2019-21 are just concrete examples of how the agency circumvents RA 9003, RA 8749 and other laws that would ensure our constitutional rights to a balanced and healthful ecology,” added Glenn Ymata, Senior Campaign Manager of NBP.
“It is high time that the government exercise its powers and duties to untrash our oceans from millions of sachets, plastic bottles, straws and cutlery, and other SUPs thrown into it every second. How? By stopping and reducing its production at source. By including SUP in the list of non-environmentally sound materials – and releasing it, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), mandated to do so within one year from the effectivity of RA 9003 eighteen years ago, we would have adequately reduced and stopped the source of plastic pollution ravaging us and our environment,” stated Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Vice President, Oceana Philippines
“This policy issuance would have already lifted the financial woes and physical burden of finding a landfill and the dire environmental justice issues and health consequences that are now lodged with the barangays, municipalities and cities, and provinces to face, who are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of single-use plastics issues they are compelled to find solutions to,” she pointed out.
“Preventing and reducing the country’s escalating garbage problem is at the core of implementing RA 9003. For 20 years now, this continues to be a major struggle for the lead coordinating and implementing agencies – NSWMC and DENR,” noted Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
To reduce the volume of trash that ends up being littered, dumped and burned in disposal sites, or gets discarded into the oceans, Benosa called on all households, barangays and local government units to actively enforce the segregation of discards at source, recycling, composting and other requirements of RA 9003, including the establishment of community-based materials recovery facilities.
“We also call the attention of industries and businesses involved in the manufacture and sale of consumer goods to take responsibility in reducing the production and usage of wasteful and harmful SUPs clogging drains, river ways and the oceans,” he added.
For his part, visiting Zero Waste expert Dr. Paul Connett explained that “energy generation and the promise of less climate impact don’t change the fact that when you burn resources they have to be replaced, which wastes more energy and creates more greenhouse gases.”
“While landfills bury the evidence (of wastefulness), incinerators burn them. This is true of incinerators no matter what fancy name is used to describe them – WtE, thermal valorization, gasification, pyrolysis or plasma arc facilities,” said Connett, a staunch anti-incineration advocate and author of the book “The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time.”
By phasing out one-use plastics in food service, UCLA could drive regional change as one of the largest universities nationwide to make the shift
By phasing out one-use plastics in food service, UCLA could drive regional change as one of the largest universities nationwide to make the shift. CALPIRG Students at UCLA campaigned to make it happen.
“My generation is concerned about the immense amount of plastic ending up in our waterways and ocean and its impact on marine life. That’s why I’m excited that UCLA is taking action it mitigate plastic pollution.” – Sithara Menon, UCLA junior and CALPIRG Chapter Chair
UCLA is developing a new policy to remove environmentally harmful single-use plastics from campus food-service, making it one of the largest universities nationwide to pursue phasing out one-use plastics.
The draft single-use plastics policy, announced Jan. 24, aims to reduce the university’s impact on the environment and to encourage similar changes in the region. The first phase of the policy is scheduled to begin in July 2020, when UCLA plans to officially phase out plastic utensils, cup lids, bowls, plastic bags and similar “food accessory” items. Locally compostable or reusable alternatives would be provided only on request, and would shift over time to only reusable alternatives for all dine-in eaters.
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our oceans and environment for hundreds of years,” said Sithara Menon, UCLA chapter chair of the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG Students). “My generation is concerned about the immense amount of plastic ending up in our waterways and ocean and its impact on marine life. That’s why I’m excited that UCLA is taking action it mitigate plastic pollution.”
Students brought student support to the policy, collecting 1,900 student signatures supporting the move away from single-use plastics. The group also made classroom announcements to approximately 10,000 students to help raise awareness about the need for change. Over the last two decades, Menon has noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of plastic littering Southern California beaches.
The policy is envisioned as ultimately including not only sit-down and take-out restaurants at UCLA, but also dining halls, events, and even departmental meetings. Everything from conferences, panel discussions and lectures to catered meetings, rallies and concerts would be covered. The draft policy envisions a path to ultimately eliminate single-use plastic water bottles on campus and increase water-refilling hydration stations.
“UCLA is part of the larger culture shift moving away from wishful recycling,” said Nurit Katz, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “Only a small percentage of plastic is successfully recycled despite decades of efforts nationwide and globally. By getting rid of single-use plastics, we will make the planet a little healthier, and help Bruins approach their goal of zero waste.”
CALPIRG students across the state are also advocating for bill that would address plastic pollution statewide, and hope this action at UCLA can embolden state leaders to act.
California’s Legislature is currently considering the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act which would chart a path to reducing single-use packaging and foodware by 75 percent by 2030. The bills, SB 54 and AB 1080, are authored by Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and having getting attention by celebrities like Jeff Goldblum, who lobbied for the bill in Sacramento yesterday.
If passed, the bills will require manufacturers to design their product, food, and beverage packaging to reduce unnecessary waste. All remaining packaging will need to be able to be recycled or composted by 2030, and producers will have to demonstrate that their packaging products are being recycled at rates that ramp up over time to 75 percent by 2030. Finally, the bills require that common single-use foodware like plates and utensils also be fully recyclable or compostable by 2030.
“It’s tragic how often we see animals harmed by plastic pollution in our oceans, whether it’s straws in their nostrils or bags in their bellies” said Nic Riani, state Chairperson for CALPIRG Students.
The UCLA policy is expected to be ready for a 30-day public review by mid-March, and it is targeted to go into effect July 1. The campus has already eliminated Styrofoam and many single-use plastics in food service, and has shifted almost entirely to locally compostable flatware and to-go food service items.
Michael Beck, UCLA’s administrative vice chancellor said, “the enthusiasm and commitment of UCLA students to environmental causes help buoy the university’s progress. We have already eliminated several kinds of single-use plastics on campus, and students helped stimulate us to convert practice into policy.
The change won’t be easy, but UCLA sustainability staff say the campus is ready. They added hundreds of compost bins on campus, including in washrooms for paper towel waste. Conversations are already changing vendor habits, such as among those who once supplied individually plastic-wrapped tablecloths for special events but who now use reusable bags for linens. Likewise, years of campus “trash talks,” waste audits and awareness campaigns have prepared many Bruins, and the proposed policy change will include more outreach, said Kikei Wong, UCLA zero waste coordinator.
“It will be challenging,” Wong acknowledged. “There are so many single-use plastics everywhere in our lives that we depend on for convenience, but for the planet, this is the next step that we have to take.”
UCLA isn’t the first university to take this step, but it will likely inspire others, said Bonny Bentzin, deputy chief sustainability officer.
“UCLA is a leader with the ability to drive new policies and influence the purchasing practices across the region,” Bentzin said. “Vendors won’t change just part of their business. They’ll change their whole inventory and start to shift others over with us.”
Erin Fabris, sustainability manager for UCLA Housing and Hospitality, helped develop both the UC and UCLA draft policies.
“UCLA has a huge footprint,” Fabris said. “Expand that to all nine other campuses, and that’s a pretty significant change we can make in California.”
A bipartisan bill to boost plastics recycling could soon find its way to the president’s desk, but a more controversial package is dividing lawmakers and stakeholders.
A multi-track effort is afoot in the House to rein in the staggering 8 million tons of plastic dumped into oceans each year.
Lawmakers in the lower chamber are now preparing to take up legislation dubbed Save Our Seas 2.0, which sailed through the Senate earlier this month to the applause of Republicans, Democrats, and The Washington Post editorial board.
That bill aims to boost recycling technologies through a “Genius Prize,” while also charging the diplomatic corps with a global effort to prevent plastic pollution and incentivizing ship operators to collect plastic found at sea.
A new Republican strategy on environment policy bodes well for those policies. But Save Our Seas 2.0, the second iteration of plastic-pollution legislation led by Sens. Dan Sullivan and Sheldon Whitehouse, is largely noncontroversial and cautious.
“This is an important step, not the end of our work,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, the sponsor of the House companion bill, told National Journal.
Lawmakers across the aisle and Capitol will soon have to position themselves on a far more controversial package—one that is praised by advocates against plastic pollution and denounced by industry and recyclers.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Sen. Tom Udall are set to introduce legislation in February that would, according to a staffer for Lowenthal, force plastic producers to set up coalitions to collect and recycle plastics, akin to a system underway in Canada’s British Columbia province. The bill will also establish national container and deposit rules for beverage distributors.
And a ban on some single-use plastics, including carryout bags, is triggering some of the most pointed opposition from industry groups.
“While we agree that plastic waste must be addressed, domestic bans of otherwise completely recyclable materials will not solve our country’s waste management issues,” John Grant, a top lobbyist for the Plastics Industry Association, said in a statement. The association declined a request for an interview.
The plastic-recycling rate in the U.S. is just 8.4 percent annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent analysis. Environmental experts say new plastic production is often much cheaper—but more energy-intensive and polluting—than recycling.
Rock-bottom prices for natural gas, a critical input to plastics, are bolstering the plastics industry, and fossil-fuel producers are increasingly eyeing petrochemical and plastic production as a fallback amid growing pressure to curtail energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions.
But another core component of the Lowenthal-Udall legislation is attracting both intrigue and concern: a potential ban on plastics exports to non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
“The export restrictions are a critical element of this legislation. They are important to not only build up a domestic recycling infrastructure, but also necessary from an international human rights and environmental-justice standpoint,” Lowenthal said. “These are nations that simply do not have the infrastructure to be able to handle not just the volume, but also the longer-term impacts.”
Despite evidence that mismanaged recycling practices in China and other Asian countries led to mass plastic dumping, exports constituted roughly 40 percent of the 8.4 percent U.S. recycling rate in 2017, according to Jan Dell, an independent engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup.
“There’s no way we can keep blaming other countries for plastic pollution while we keep sending them our plastic waste,” Dell said. “We’re causing the problem and hurting their efforts to stop by continuing to export.”
At least 88 percent of river-borne ocean pollution flows from 10 rivers mostly in Asia, including critical waterways like the Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong, according to analysis of a 2017 study. China, traditionally the most popular destination for U.S. plastic-waste exports, closed its doors on the trade at the outset of 2018 as part of the country’s National Sword policy.
Now, U.S. plastic-waste exports are headed to some of the globe’s poorest countries, where recycling infrastructure is limited and some primitive recycling practices threaten public health. Those countries include Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Dell’s research shows. Meanwhile, a 2015 study ranked the U.S. at 20th globally for mismanaged plastic waste, meaning Americans are also contributing significantly to plastic pollution.
China isn’t the only country cracking down on the plastic-waste trade. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing to end plastic-waste exports altogether. The United Kingdom is planning to push legislation to ban plastic exports to non-OECD countries.
But much of the exported U.S. plastic waste is successfully recycled. And the U.S. recycling industry is coming out in opposition to export restrictions ahead of the Lowenthal-Udall-bill release.
“Recycling will happen if there’s a market,” said Adina Renee Adler, senior director for international relations at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. “A lot of this is on the manufacturing industry. We try to encourage companies to use more recycled plastic in products and make more products that can be easily recycled.”
Just last week, Nestlé announced it will invest more than $2 billion to shift from virgin plastic to food-grade recycled plastics. Pepsi and Walmart, along with other companies, have also made recycling commitments.
The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act could find its way to President Trump’s desk this Congress. Other bills, like the Recycle Act and the Recover Act, boast similar bipartisan support.
But Judith Enck, an advocate against plastic pollution and former EPA regional administrator, says the Lowenthal-Udall package is the only legislation with the teeth to tackle a daunting plastics crisis.
“The problem with Save Our Seas and a lot of the other things being considered in Washington is they propel the myth that we can recycle our way out of the plastic-pollution problem,” Enck said.
“They’re just like 20 years behind the times in terms of what the real issues are related to plastic.”
Though experts describe the new policy as a “milestone,” they also believe encouraging the use of biodegradable plastics is equally damaging to the environment.
China plans to ban the production of certain single-use plastic items by the end of this year to curb the amount of waste clogging the country’s landfills and waterways.
According to the guideline co-published Sunday by China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the country aims to gradually limit the production, use, and sale of single-use plastic items — from plastic bags to delivery packages — while also promoting alternative means to improve the recycling rate of plastic and reduce the amount of plastic sent to landfills.
Mao Da, founder of the nonprofit group Zero Waste Beijing, sees the long-awaited guideline as a “milestone policy” to replace the previous 2008 plastic ban and set new five-year goals combatting plastic pollution. However, he added that encouraging individuals to use biodegradable plastic, rather than reducing plastic use, would only hurt the environment in the long run.
Biodegradable plastics can break down into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass through a specialized treatment process, but experts say China doesn’t have enough treatment facilities. If improperly disposed of, biodegradable plastics can damage the environment.
“Biodegradable plastics have shortcomings and should be limited in use as well,” Mao told Sixth Tone. “Replacing nonbiodegradable plastics with biodegradable ones may cause misuse and a new type of pollution, as well as increased pressure on waste-recycling systems.”
China is the world’s largest plastics producer and exporter, accounting for over one-quarter of global plastic production in 2018. However, due to high consumption and low recycling and waste-management efforts, plastic waste often ends up polluting the land and sea.
Over 88% of waste on the sea surface and ocean floor is plastic, such as plastic bags and bottles, according to a 2018 report from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Another study published the year before estimated that up to 1.5 million metric tons of plastic waste from the Yangtze River is dumped into the Yellow Sea each year — the most among 10 rivers globally that together account for 90% of all plastic found in the oceans.
Authorities have now set specific timelines to minimize China’s plastic pollution.
A number of routine items — including single-use plastic straws, cotton swabs, and cosmetic products containing microbeads — as well as certain plastic soil coverings that are considered a main source of farmland soil pollution are expected to be entirely eliminated nationwide by the end of 2020.
According to the guideline, by 2025 all hotels and hostels will be banned from offering free single-use plastic items, while mail and delivery services will be prohibited from using nonbiodegradable plastic packages, tape, and single-use plastic bags. Cities will be required to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags and aim for a 30% reduction in the consumption of single-use cutlery.
China prohibited the import of 24 types of foreign waste — including plastic and electronic waste — in 2017, and additional items were added to the list the following year. The new guideline also reinforces a blanket ban on importing any type of foreign plastic waste.
“Plastics have a close connection to chemical pollutants,” Mao said. “We use plastics indiscriminately because we think they are clean, when they actually do harm to the environment.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Eyeem/Tuchong)
Bells rings for a national single-use plastic ban. Recent SWS survey says that 7 out of 10 Filipinos favor national SUP ban at all times. This call is echoed by green groups Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific, Break Free From Plastic, and Ecowaste Coalition.
MANILA, Philippines (January 21 2020) — Filipinos favor banning single-use plastics. That is according to a recent survey commissioned by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) which highlights the Filipino people’s strong support for a national ban on single-use plastics (SUPs).
The nationwide survey showed that seven out of 10 Filipinos feel that the best thing to do with SUPs is to ban their use at all times. Topping the list of materials that should be regulated or used less nationally is sando bags (71%), followed by plastic straws and stirrers (66%), plastic labo bags (65%), styrofoam or polystyrene food containers (64%), sachets (60%), Tetra pack or doy pack for juices (59%), plastic drinking cups (56%), cutlery such as plastic spoons and forks (54%), Plastic bottles for juice (49%), and Plastic bottles for water (41%).
In addition, 6 out of 10 said they are willing to buy their food condiments in recyclable or refillable containers instead of sachets while 4 out of 10 feel that companies should find alternative materials to plastic.
“The message to political leaders and business is clear: Filipinos reject single-use plastics. By supporting a ban on SUPs, the Filipino consumer is also sending a message to the plastic industry and manufacturers that plastic pollution and throwaway systems are no longer acceptable,” said Beau Baconguis, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Asia Pacific Coordinator.
More than a hundred and twenty countries have already instituted regulatory measures such as bans, levies, charges, and others, aimed at reducing the production and consumption of SUPs. The most recent SUP regulations were by Bangladesh, Thailand, and China, the Indian state of Kerala and the Indonesian City of Jakarta.
Further, according to the same survey, 71% of Filipinos want to ban the use of plastic at all times while 10% feel there is a need to ask the user of plastic to pay higher.
“The results of the survey puts into question the common excuse from the the big companies that sachets are pro-poor,” said Froilan Grate, GAIA Philippines Executive Director. According to the survey, those who are willing to buy their food condiments in recyclables and refillables and those who feel that plastic must be regulated or be used less nationally is highest in Class E at 73%. “Sachets and other SUPs are not pro-poor. People buy in sachets because an alternative distribution or packaging systems are not being made available by multinational companies.”
For Patricia Nicdao, Ecowaste Coalition Policy and Advocacy Officer, the Philippines urgently needs a law that will ban single-use plastics at the national level. “We have to act now. The people have spoken. The government needs to pass a law banning single-use plastics. We cannot afford any more excuses and delays!”, Nicdao said.
During the press briefing, GAIA also released a policy brief titled “Regulating Single-use Plastics in the Philippines: Opportunities to Move Forward” which outlines recommendations for the Philippine government in tackling the plastic pollution crisis. Among key policy recommendations are the following:
Pass a national ban on the production, sale, distribution, and use of sando and labo bags and other SUPs with phaseout schedule
Phase out sachets in favor of reuse and refill systems for product distribution within three years.
Establish a program that demands greater responsibility from companies manufacturing and using plastic, by determining their obligations and targets, as well as offering incentives to reduce plastic.
Despite being hailed as one of the world’s most progressive laws on waste management, the implementation of the 19-year old law R.A. 90003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001 has suffered from a lack of political will and contradicting policies from government agencies involved in waste and resource management.
“We hope that the Philippine government seriously take the public sentiment on single-use plastics. As shown in the results of the survey, plastic pollution is an important issue for Filipino consumers. They are willing to sacrifice convenience and are already looking into refill options and other alternative systems. They expect our government leaders to address the plastic pollution crisis and go beyond lip service by banning single-use plastics in the whole country, ” Grate said. //ends
Notes to Editors:
- Link to GAIA’s policy brief here: www.no-burn.org/PolicyBriefSUP2020
Notes from the SWS survey:
The survey conducted from September 27 to 30 last year used face-to-face interviews of 1,800 adults nationwide.
When asked about what the companies that are responsible for single-use plastics (SUPs) should do in order to help lessen plastic waste in the Philippines, plurality (41%) of adult Filipinos answered use/find alternative materials to plastic. Other responses are: buy/collect plastics and recycle (23%), ban/stop selling/production of plastics (14%), reduce the usage/selling/production of plastics (12%), and conduct seminars/observe proper waste management (4%). Five percent comprised other responses and 9% say none/no answer/don’t know/refused.
The Third Quarter 2019 Social Weather Stations, asked about the products that one would be willing to buy in recyclable or refillable container instead of sachet. The top three responses are: food condiments such as oil, soy sauce, vinegar, etc. (68%), personal care products like shampoo and conditioner (42%), and household cleaning products like dishwashing liquid, liquid detergent, fabric conditioner (42%). Other responses are: powdered drinks like coffee and juices (29%) and household cleaning products like powder laundry detergents (27%). Meanwhile, 0.1% say none and 0.4% had no answer.
When asked about the materials that should be regulated or be used less nationally, majority (71%) of adult Filipinos answered plastic sando bags. Other responses are: Styrofoam or polystyrene food containers (56%), plastic ”labo” bags (54%), plastic straws and stirrers (52%), sachets (50%), plastic drinking cups (43%), cutlery such as plastic spoon and forks (41%), tetra pack or doy pack for juice (37%), plastic bottles for water (32%), and plastic bottles for juice (32%). One percent say none/no answer/don’t know/refused.
About GAIA – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. www.no-burn.org