Recycling not enough: Groups call for waste prevention amid global plastics crisis

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2019 06:59 PM

Activists, advocates and officials gather in Penang, Malaysia for the International Zero Waste Conference. Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

PENANG, Malaysia - Activists and advocates from around the world renewed their call for waste prevention, underscoring a global plastics crisis polluting the world’s communities and oceans with non-biodegradable trash. 

Ahead of the International Zero Waste Conference here, representatives from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Initiatives (GAIA), Break Free from Plastics (BFFP), Zero Waste Europe and the Consumers Association of Penang urged stakeholders to work together to limit single-use plastics, citing hazards to health and the environment. 

“Plastic recycling is not enough. There is too much single-use plastic in the world. We have to turn off the tap of single use plastic,” said Monica Wilson, representative from GAIA USA, referring to waste such as water bottles and straw. 

She urged governments around the world to hold manufacturers accountable for the plastics problem, with the problem largely rooted in the failure to design better packaging. Consumers, thus, continue to “rely on throwaway packaging.” 

“It’s time for governments to make corporations pay for the global plastics scourge,” said Wilson, adding that there should be a reduction in plastic production and redesign of packaging to “avoid waste in the first place.” 

Global plastic production has increased 20-fold since the 1960s, with 322 million tons produced in 2015, said Jack McQuibban of Zero Waste Europe. This figure, at the current rate, is expected to double by 2035 and quadruple by 2050. 

In the Philippines, the plastics problem is most apparent in the use of sachets- single-use packs of shampoo, coffee, and other everyday products that are more accessible to most Filipinos. 

GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator Froilan Grate said the use of sachets results in 164 million pieces of trash daily in the Philippines, or 59.7 billion pieces annually. 

A 2015 report showed that plastic packaging accounts for the most amount of plastic produced at 146 million tons, with building and construction materials a far second at 65 million tons. 

Wilson emphasized that waste recycling is not enough, as residual waste- much of it plastics- remain. McQuibban echoed this point, saying there should be a holistic approach to tackling waste, including “community-led, citizen-led approaches to waste prevention.” 

“We should redesign our relationship with nature and resources in particular. We consume in a way that businesses, overproduction has led us to the problems we have today,” he said. 

The groups cited how the need to address the plastics problem has spawned false solutions too. These include relying too much on paper, use of cardboard boxes that also have plastic liners, and incineration of plastic waste that leads to toxic emissions harmful to nature and humans. 

SILVER LINING

But there’s an upside to the narrative, with communities around the world initiating- and succeeding- in zero waste programs. 

In San Fernando City, Pampanga, recycling and a ban on plastics have led to a 20 percent cut in the amount of waste that needs to be dumped in landfills, said San Fernando City Mayor Edwin Santiago in a press conference here. 

The city has been strictly enforcing the national law on waste management, starting with an information campaign and then imposing penalties on individuals, companies, shops, schools and barangays that fail to comply. 

“The secret of this is we did the cooperation of every household, barangay, schools, businesses, private firms. We have to inspire them, not only motivate them,” said Santiago. 

“They’re very compliant because they understand, it’s about their future.”