Officials mull plastic bans and other policies to implement RA 9003, curb plastic pollution
Quezon City, 31 January 2019—Hundreds of local government unit (LGU) officials across the country gathered today in a forum in Quezon City to discuss policies that will help bring an end to plastic pollution—and usher in sustainable, Zero Waste Cities in the Philippines.
The forum, held in celebration of Zero Waste Month this January and organized by GAIA Asia Pacific and Mother Earth Foundation, looked into local and national policy actions aimed at reducing single-use plastic, from material substitution by producers to outright bans in cities. Speakers from different countries also showcased success stories of Zero Waste initiatives from the European Union and other parts of the globe, as well as in the Philippines.
“Zero Waste is the key to solving the country’s waste problems,” said Froilan Grate, Executive Director of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific. “When city planners put Zero Waste into action, they can establish resilient and sustainable cities, help fulfill Sustainable Development Goals, comply with RA 9003, and transition to a sustainable circular economy.”
The proliferation of single-use plastic is one of the biggest drivers of plastic pollution. Environmental groups contend that waste should not be addressed through harmful end-of-pipe systems such as landfills and waste incinerators, but through Zero Waste systems. Zero Waste approaches address waste and resources throughout their entire lifecycle—from production to end-of-life—with the goal of waste prevention and resource conservation. In the Philippines, Zero Waste principles are at the core of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or Republic Act (RA) 9003, a landmark law on resource and waste management.
At the forum, GAIA Asia Pacific launched the report “Enabling sustainable cities through Zero Waste: A guide for decision- and policy-makers.” Although RA 9003 was signed into law in 2001, many cities and municipalities are still struggling with compliance. GAIA believes that there is a lack of information available to local and national government officials about practical strategies and policies that can help them fully implement RA 9003. The paper aims to give local government leaders and national lawmakers recommendations for policies that put Zero Waste in action and effectively implement RA 9003 while demonstrating that Zero Waste is both practical and achievable.
Several local governments are already pioneering Zero Waste programs through cost-effective investments in decentralized waste collection, composting, recycling markets, and waste management infrastructure. Experiences of Philippine cities have shown that as long as the right strategies are in place, cities can set up Zero Waste systems that will enable successful implementation within a period of as short as six months, while also achieving significant savings in waste management costs.
However, cities continue to struggle in managing non-recyclable waste, mostly single-use plastics such as sachets and other packaging. The cities of San Fernando in Pampanga, and San Carlos in Negros Occidental, for example, are implementing strict and effective plastic bag and styrofoam regulations, but these remain a problem.
Marietta Lomocso of San Carlos City’s Environmental Management Office, shared: “With strong political will and stakeholder engagement, our plastic regulation reduced residual waste by half.” But, she said, challenges persist. “Businesses from neighboring cities bring in plastic packaging because they are not familiar with our plastic regulation. And, we still need to deal with the remaining 50% non-recyclable waste that we collect.”
GAIA maintains that businesses need to be part of the solution of reducing plastic waste by not producing single-use packaging and items in the first place. Leaders in national government agencies must also realize they have a crucial role to play by enabling strong policy support at the country level; for example, through mandating extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies, and a national ban on single-use plastics.
Delphine Lévi Alvarès of Zero Waste Europe shared the experience in the European Union (EU) where similar policies are being implemented at a regional level. Europe’s shift to a sustainable circular economy is mandating member countries to pursue reduction, reuse, and recycling as priority actions for waste management. Lévi Alvarès said that more than 400 cities and municipalities in the EU have commitments to become Zero Waste Cities. She also explained that producers are obliged by law to cover the costs of plastic waste management and that certain single-use plastics are being phased out as the region pursues a sustainable circular economy. “Zero Waste initiatives in countries like the Philippines are sending a strong message to Europe that the plastics issue must be addressed at the global level. Major manufacturing industries based in Europe and other countries in the global north should eliminate single use plastics in all regions where they work, including Asia.” she said.
GAIA’s Zero Waste Cities Forum is part of several collaborative dialogues among local government officials in the Asia Pacific region to share experiences about Zero Waste implementation strategies. Outside the Philippines, several cities in the region have hosted, or expressed their interest to host, their own Zero Waste Cities events, including Bandung, Indonesia (Zero Waste Cities Conference 2018) and Penang, Malaysia (Zero Waste Cities Conference 2019 later in the year). GAIA, in partnership with grassroots organizations, has been supporting cities in pursuing ecological strategies to promote segregation and reduce waste volumes, specifically plastic pollution, to reduce and eventually eliminate dependence on harmful end-of-pipe waste disposal systems.##
The report “Enabling sustainable cities through Zero Waste: A guide for decision- and policy-makers.” is available here.
The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) is a global network of more than 800 grassroots groups, NGOs and individuals. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. We work to catalyze a global shift towards ecological and environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution.www.no-burn.org
Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) is an NGO that works to promote education and awareness of the people on environment protection and proper waste management, reduction of waste, segregation at source composting and recycling towards a zero waste society.http://www.motherearthphil.org/
By Annie Leonard and Martin Bourque. Originally posted in LA Times.
Any American school kid can recite the common wisdom for tackling our massive plastic trash problem: reduce, reuse, recycle.
But it’s not that simple.
Addressing plastic pollution has to focus far more on reducing and reusing. It is simply not a problem we can recycle our way out of.
People assume that when they toss plastic packaging into a bin, it will get collected, recycled and finally transformed into another plastic product. This is a convenient fiction, actively promoted by the plastic industry.
The reality is that much of the plastic tossed into bins ends up in landfills, or it gets shipped overseas to countries that lack infrastructure to deal with it properly.
If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.
Plastic was never recycled at a high level, and it’s even worse since 2018, when China closed its doors to imported mixed plastic waste. U.S. recyclers have shifted exports to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but those countries lack the capacity to handle the volume we’re sending, which has brought them new environmental problems.
Moreover, despite our willingness to move plastic waste around the world, only about 9% of the plastic ever made has actually been recycled. We just keep making more of the stuff. If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.
Berkeley recently passed a law that moves us a step closer to that, and it’s something that should be replicated across the country. The ordinance does not simply ban plastic foodware, leaving businesses to replace it with other throwaway materials: It rejects throwaway culture altogether.
Beginning immediately, Berkeley will require that accessory items such as utensils, straws, lids and sleeves be provided by request only and that food vendors have compost bins for all customers. In January 2020, the city will also require that all disposable takeout foodware be Biodegradable Products Institute-certified compostable and that vendors charge 25 cents for hot and cold takeout cups. If a customer brings a reusable cup, the charge is not applied. And by July 1, 2020, the ordinance will require that all eat-in dining be on reusable foodware.
These are groundbreaking shifts away from our culture of overconsumption. The Berkeley ordinance stands in stark contrast to a recently announced industry initiative calling itself the “Alliance to End Plastic Waste” and funded by companies including Exxon, Dow, Shell, Chevron Phillips and Procter & Gamble. The industry alliance has promised to invest $1.5 billion in its efforts over five years for things such as encouraging more recycling. But at the same time, the Guardian has reported, some of the companies involved are investing more than $180 billion in new plastic manufacturing facilities.
It’s not that there isn’t still a role for recycling in efforts to reduce trash. Cans, bottles, paper and cardboard are highly recyclable.
But we need to be more realistic about the kinds of plastic that can be effectively collected, processed and then reused. Single-stream recycling, which co-mingles different materials for collection, is convenient, but it leads to increased contamination and thus lower quality recyclables.
Even with increased investment in sorting, recycling will never be able keep up with all of the new types of plastics on the market or the ever-increasing flow of plastic waste. We need to prioritize reduction and reuse, making recycling the last option, especially for single-use items.
That’s why the Berkeley ordinance is so important. It recognizes the need for a fundamental shift in how the things we buy are packaged and served, and that’s the only way we can begin to make a dent in the plastic pollution crisis.
Annie Leonard is executive director of Greenpeace USA. Martin Bourque is executive director of the Ecology Center, which launched the nation’s first curbside recycling program. They are Berkeley residents.
In a derelict warehouse complex plastered with “For Rent” signs an hour from the Malaysian capital, four women squatted on upturned buckets. Their fingernails were cracked and nubby, their headscarves dampened with sweat.
Wielding hair dryers, they heated and peeled labels from a waist-high pile of discarded plastic electric meters. The stickers affixed to each of the plastic round gray casings bore the sun-like logo of a faraway power company: the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
How scrap from California ended up in a junkyard 8,500 miles away, broken down manually by workers earning $10 a day, is the story of the reshaping of the global garbage and recycling system.
For three decades the United States and other industrialized nations have shipped most of their plastic waste overseas — primarily to China, where cheap labor and voracious factories dismantled the scrap and turned it into new plastic goods.
But 12 months ago, China banned nearly all plastic waste imports amid concern that emissions from processing were harming the environment. Many scrap dealers rerouted their cargo to smaller recyclers in nearby Southeast Asian countries, which were suddenly overwhelmed by tides of foreign refuse.
Malaysia became the top destination for U.S. plastic waste, importing more than 192,000 metric tons in the first 10 months of 2018 — a 132% jump from the year before, according to federal government data. Thailand took in more than four times as much American plastic as it did in 2017, Taiwan nearly twice as much.
These and other countries have since announced restrictions on new plastic waste imports, but factories are struggling to handle what’s already arrived. In Klang and Kuala Langat, drab industrial districts close to Malaysia’s busiest shipping hub, giant sacks overflowing with old soda bottles, desktop phones, laptop shells and fan blades have piled up in warehouses and abandoned lots.
“They have become a dumping ground,” said Heng Kiah Chun, a Malaysia campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace.
“Even before the China ban, Malaysia struggled to deal with its domestic waste. It has no capacity to handle waste from other countries.”
The problem in Malaysia is not the inflow of so-called clean plastics — like the electric meters — which are crushed into pellets and resold to manufacturers, mostly in China, to make cheap clothing and other synthetic products.
It is the large quantities of low-grade scrap — soiled food packaging, tinted bottles, single-use plastic bags — that China has rejected, and that requires too much processing to be recycled cheaply and cleanly.
Most of it has ended up in landfills or openly incinerated in violation of local laws, according to residents and environmental groups.
One night in February, residents in Jenjarom, a town southwest of the capital Kuala Lumpur, awoke to a pungent chemical smell and fumes that provoked hacking coughs.
“It smelled like burning polyester,” said Lay Peng Pua, 46.
Some attributed it to the periodic air pollution Malaysia suffers when farmers burn crops in neighboring Indonesia. But Pua, a chemist, knew better. Over the next several weeks, she and a few others traced the smell to a growing number of factories that had cropped up on the outskirts of the town of 30,000 and were taking in truckloads of plastic.
Some of the crude facilities were tucked into oil palm plantations or surrounded by walls of tin sheets. Others made no effort to evade notice.
Driving home from dinner one evening in June, Pua saw smoke rising from a large plant right along the highway — and was hit with that same noxious odor.
“They were doing it every day,” she said. “We felt helpless.”
By then, she and a handful of other volunteers had already counted approximately 50 recycling plants in the area, many of which did not appear to have government permits to handle waste.
Men on motorcycles rode past the facilities, attempting to record their locations on GPS devices. The activists rented a drone to fly over the facilities and capture pictures. Donning chemical-grade gloves, Pua collected water samples from sites where recyclers were believed to have dumped chemicals used to wash contaminated plastic. Tests found the samples contained high levels of toxic metals.
In July, after months of ignoring her complaints, local officials shut down 34 illegal recycling plants in Kuala Langat, prompting a national outcry that resulted in a three-month pause on new plastic waste imports. About 17,000 metric tons of waste was seized, but is too contaminated to be recycled. Most of it is likely to end up in a landfill.
News reports said many of the unlicensed factories were run by Chinese nationals who had shifted their operations to Malaysia due to the ban in China.
Some ignored the new restrictions in Jenjarom and resumed operations a few days later, bringing in generators after the city cut the power. One threatened Pua and her colleagues, texting her that there was a bounty of 100,000 Malaysian ringgit — about $24,000 — “to revenge ur guys.”
Others relocated to places like Klang, where dozens of factories operate with little apparent oversight. One morning recently, down the road from a recycling plant where bales of mixed plastic were stacked behind a blue metal enclosure, flames smoldered from a roadside dump strewn with bottles and food wrappers.
The impunity raised suspicions that some unlicensed importers had bribed customs and enforcement authorities to look the other way. That fit a pattern in Malaysia, particularly under the government of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who lost a reelection bid in May over widespread corruption allegations.
“The previous government was very supportive of China, so some companies found their way in outside the proper channels,” said Sri Umeswara, a consultant for the plastic recycling industry, based in Kuala Lumpur.
“Enforcement was lacking. These Chinese guys took advantage. After the election, the whole thing blew up.”
Some recyclers said the unlicensed companies were merely capitalizing on a business opportunity.
“Rubbish is money,” said Vincent Cheong, a tall, genial 50-year-old overseeing a simple — but legal — recycling operation inside a warehouse whose white walls were pocked with holes.
The Sacramento electric meters arrived there in mid-November, soon after Cheong set up his business, buying and dismantling hard plastic scrap.
With one crusher and a dozen workers — including five Bangladeshi laborers who were breaking large plastic debris with hammers — he could generate about two tons of plastic shards a day to be trucked to northern Malaysia, refined into pellets and sold to a Chinese dealer in Shenzen.
He was earning a few hundred dollars per ton, he said. A large shipment of plastic from the U.S. was soon due in port.
“It’s a good business for us, trying to help the environment,” Cheong said. “But I don’t know why the U.S. doesn’t take care of its own rubbish.”
To environmental groups, the plastic waste crisis illustrates a breakdown in the global recycling system, which for years had been propped up by China’s enormous appetite for scrap. Since 1992, China is estimated to have taken in nearly half the world’s plastic waste.
Still, a study last year found that only 9% of the 83 million metric tons of plastic ever produced globally has been recycled, while 79% has ended up in landfills and 12% incinerated.
Countries like Malaysia — which imported about 550,000 metric tons of plastic waste in 2017, one-tenth of China’s intake — can’t come close to filling the gap left by the Chinese ban and are facing increasing domestic pressure not to be the world’s dump.
The new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed has promised to protect the environment, pledging to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2030.
At the same time, rules are being finalized for a partial ban on plastic waste imports that will reportedly allow only uncontaminated, easily recyclable waste from industrialized countries. Officials say they want to protect a $7-billion domestic plastic recycling industry that depends on imports because Malaysians generally don’t sort their waste when they throw it away.
Activists in Jenjarom said there was a contradiction in buying foreign scrap while calling for an end to domestic plastic use.
“For all these years developed countries relied on China to recycle their plastic, so they didn’t care,” Pua said. “Now China is trying to take care of its pollution problem, so the burden is shifting to us. But recycling is a myth. The root cause of the problem is we are too dependent on plastic.”
With China refusing foreign waste under its new policy, countries are forced to handle their own plastic pollution
As holiday shopping ramps up, so do the dizzying varieties of plastic packaging tossed in recycling bins. And while we wish a Christmas miracle would transform this old garbage into something new, the reality is the waste left over from the holiday shopping frenzy is more likely than ever to end up in a landfill or incinerator. Until January of this year, the United States and other Western countries were foisting their low-value plastic waste on to China, with little concern for the environmental degradation this caused. To protect its citizens from the burden of foreign pollution, in the beginning of this year, China refused to be the world’s dumping ground and effectively closed its doors to plastic waste imports.
China’s new National Sword policy of refusing foreign waste has brought a long-overdue moment of reckoning for the recycling industry, and by proxy, for manufacturers. It’s clear recycling alone cannot come close to addressing the ballooning amounts of plastic waste piling up all over the country. Even before China’s waste ban took effect,only 9% of plastic in the US was actually recycled. No matter how diligently Americans sort their plastic waste, there is just too much of it for the US, or any other country, to handle.
On the bright side, the ban sparked a much needed conversation about improving domestic recycling infrastructure and recycling markets, and has forced both companies and the public to re-evaluate the products and packaging that were previously assumed to be recyclable. But the ban has also been used as a wrongful justification for burning trash in incinerators.
Waste incinerators became popular in the US in the late 80s, until harmful emissions of mercury and dioxins, toxic ash, technical failures, and prohibitive costs soured the public on the industry. However, there are still more than 70 relics left over from that failed experiment which continue to pollute surrounding communities and drain city coffers.
In some cases, recent incineration schemes are even disguised as recycling programs. For example, the city of Boise, Idaho, which was rocked by China’s waste ban, is directing residents to “recycle” their plastic by putting it in a special orange bag called the Hefty Energy Bag. The plastic is then melted to make fossil fuels to burn.
This method, called pyrolysis, or “plastic-to-fuel”, is being pushed by the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical, Unilever, and others who are invested in continuing the status quo of churning out massive amounts of single-use plastic. Not only is this form of incineration the opposite of recycling, it gives people a false sense of security that single-use plastic is acceptable to continue making and using. Instead of coming up with increasingly complicated and expensive ways to deal with plastic waste, why not focus on preventing it from being made in such large quantities in the first place? We simply need less plastic in the world.
Notably, many North American cities are cracking down on nonsense single-use plastic and resisting short-sighted, false solutions like plastic-to-fuel. Plastic bag bans or fees are underway in cities such as Seattle, Boston, San Francisco (leading to a statewide ban), and Washington, DC. Some cities are going even further: Vancouver is introducing a city-wide ban on single-use straws, foam cups, and containers starting June 2019. In addition to bans and fees on problematic products and packaging, several cities are also pursuing legislation that would force companies to pay for managing the waste created by their products instead of foisting disposal costs onto the consumer, thereby motivating them to change their manufacturing and delivery systems to eliminate or drastically minimize waste.
This holiday season, the greatest gift manufacturers can give consumers is the option to buy their products without ending up with a recycling bin full of single-use plastic packaging destined for the burner or the dump. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. China’s National Sword policy gives us the opportunity to kick our society’s plastic habit once and for all and to put pressure on those most responsible for it: not consumers, not cities, but producers.
However, reduction targets missing and collection targets delayed, campaigners warn
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 19/12/2018
After months of intense negotiations, the EU has agreed much-anticipated laws to slash single-use plastics in the EU. The agreed text is a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution, but does not fully address the urgency of the plastics crisis, according to Rethink Plastic and Break Free From Plastic.
“The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans. What’s less laudable is that the plastics lobby – backed up by some governments – was able to delay and weaken the ambition,” said Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe on behalf of Rethink Plastic. “Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step. The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables.”
The final measures adopted  include:
Bans on several single-use plastic items including plates, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups
Ensuring manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-up of several single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts and fishing gear
However, the agreement falls short of what is needed to fully tackle the plastics crisis in key areas including:
No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets
A delay of four years on ensuring 90% of plastic bottles are collected separately – from 2025 to 2029
“The new laws are a significant first blow to the plastic pollution monster” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European Coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement. “However, their impact depends on the implementation by our national governments who must immediately adopt ambitious targets to cut single-use plastics, and ensure producers pay for their pollution. The public call to stop plastic pollution is loud and strong, it is unacceptable to ignore it.”
Tomorrow, December 20, national Environment Ministers are expected to sign off on the agreed Directive. Member States will have two years to transpose it into national laws, which should come into force at the beginning of 2021 at the latest.
A EU-wide ban of single-use plastic cotton buds, straws, plates, cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups
Extended Producer Responsibility schemes meaning manufacturers (including big tobacco companies and top polluters from the packaging industry like Coca Cola, Pepsico and Nestle) pay for the costs of waste management, clean up and awareness-raising measures for certain single-use plastics including plastic cigarette filters – the most littered item in Europe (by January 2023 for most items)
A possibility for EU countries to adopt market restrictions for food containers and cups for beverages
An obligation for EU countries to reduce post-consumption waste from tobacco product filters containing plastic
For fishing gear, an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme and a requirement for Member States to monitor collection rates and set national collection targets
Ensure all beverage bottles are produced from 30% recycled content by 2030
Labelling on the presence of plastics in a product and resulting environmental impacts of littering, and on the appropriate waste disposal options for that product
What’s not so good:
No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets either; instead, countries must “significantly reduce” their consumption, leaving it vague and open
A delay of 4 years in achieving the 90% collection target of beverage containers, from 2025 to 2029, with an intermediary target of 77% by 2025
Allowing for EU countries to choose to achieve consumption reduction and certain EPR measures through voluntary agreements between industry and authorities
A 3 year delay to make sure plastic drinks containers have their caps/lids attached to the containers – from 2021 to 2024
These measures apply to all single-use plastics listed in the Directive’s Annexes including bio-based and biodegradable plastics.
Thank you for your leadership on Zero Waste issues. I am writing to express Break Free From Plastic’s strong support of the Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction, Item #27 on the December 11th City Council meeting agenda. The ordinance represents a brave and necessary step forward in tackling plastic waste and pollution.
We are at a pivotal moment in time. Cities all across the country are drowning in single-use foodware and packaging – primarily plastic – which is costly to clean up, impactful on the local business districts, likely to pollute the marine environment, and often incompatible with municipal recycling or composting systems. If Berkeley is to reach the 75% diversion from landfill goal of AB 341, it will have to do more than recycle and compost. Similarly, to achieve the storm-water permit requirements established by the state and regional water boards, Berkeley and other jurisdictions will need to do more than capture and clean up trash. To reach our goals, a prevention and source reduction approach is needed, targeting the most problematic materials.
Berkeley has a long history of leading waste reduction strategies like the polystyrene ban of 1986 and the Carryout Bag Reduction legislation, which was adopted by Alameda County and has since become state law. It’s time for Berkeley to take another strong stand. Addressing the over-use of disposable foodware is a vital step towards improving both human and environmental health.
This ordinance represents a comprehensive approach: it includes the increasingly popular “straws and utensils on request” policies being enacted in many other cities, with more mandatory measures to move away from a throw-away culture to one where reusable, durable food and beverage containers are the norm. This ordinance will set a new global standard for reducing disposable foodware while bringing many benefits to the business community.
We strongly urge you to vote yes to adopt this ordinance and the associated referrals to the City Manager. It is the right thing for Berkeley, and the right thing for the planet.
Shilpi Chhotray Senior Communications Officer (based in Berkeley, California)