Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to a new report released on October 21 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Titled From Pollution to Solution: A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, it highlights the dire consequences for health, the economy, biodiversity, and the climate.
“A drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic, is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis overall,” the report pointed out.
Just like climate change and the water crisis, the problem of plastic pollution is gargantuan. And there’s no end in hindsight.
According to the report, plastic currently accounts for 85% of all marine litter. By 2040, it will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of waste into the ocean per year. “This means about 50 kilograms of plastic per meter of coastline,” the report stated.
“Because of this, all marine life, from plankton and shellfish; to birds, turtles and mammals; faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation and suffocation,” the report stated.
Human beings are not spared. “The human body is similarly vulnerable,” it said. “Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt. They also penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air.”
As most plastic ends up in bodies of water, the problem becomes more complicated. “In water sources,” the report said, “this type of pollution can cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer.”
Plastics come in many forms. But the worst among them all are those single-use plastics (SUPs) like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, and the like. “The greatest environmental challenges facing the world” was how British Prime Minister Theresa May described them,
“We have to confront this material and our use of it, because so much of it is single-use disposable plastic and this is a material that doesn’t go away. It doesn’t return to the planet the way other materials do,” Sherri Mason, chair of geology and environmental sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia, told Associated Press.
What about plastic bags? Since they were introduced in the 1970s, plastic bags have infiltrated our lives,” wrote Caroline Williams in New Scientist. “Globally, we carry home between 500 billion and a trillion every year – about 150 bags for every person on earth, or to put it another way, a million every minute and rising.”
In the Philippines, the so-called “sachet economy” has contributed to the proliferation of single-use plastics. “Because they are easy to sell – ribbons of single-use products hang from neighbourhood stores even in the most remote communities – large multinational manufacturing companies continue to market them,” the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) observes.
According to one research group, the Philippines discards 60 billion plastic sachets each year. That’s about one sachet per person per day on a per capita basis.
“The problem with plastics has been escalating for decades, and the Philippines has been identified as the world’s third largest contributor of plastics in the ocean,” WWF said. “Plastic pollution has always been a huge issue in the Philippines with the continuous generation of plastic wastes and poor waste management.”
About 35,800 tons of garbage, which include plastics, are generated each day by Filipinos, according to a position paper written by Alicia Castillo and Suchiro Otoma. “On average, each person in the country produces about 0.5 kilogram and 0.3 kilogram of garbage every day in the urban and rural areas, respectively.”
A news report said SUPs for food and cosmetics are one of the main contributors to plastic waste in landfills and in oceans. Around 40% of all plastic that is produced is used for packaging, and the World Economic Forum estimates that 95% of this is not recycled after its initial use.
That’s horrendous, indeed. “Following the trajectory of plastic production and mismanagement, United Nations reports predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish,” Environment Secretary Roy E. Cimatu said in a press statement.
In the award-winning 1967 movie, The Graduate, the character portrayed by newcomer Dustin Hoffman (who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor) asked for some advice on career direction. “Plastics, my boy. Plastics,” he was told.
Businesses all over the world are heeding the advice.
Plastics “is in our air, our water, our food, our excrement,” Nina Butler, the chief executive officer of More Recycling, a research and consulting company that works with the plastic industry on recycling, was quoted as saying by the media. “It’s very, very pervasive.”
Those SUPs should be banned. Davao City responded. On March 2, the ordinance, “No to Single-Use Plastics Ordinance of 2021,” was enacted. Three months later, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio signed the ordinance.
“We laud the Davao City Government for enacting this much-needed ordinance which will help address the problem of plastic pollution and chart a more sustainable development path for Davao City,” said Commissioner Rachel Herrera of the Climate Change Commission.
She said Davao City is now of the nearly 500 local government units (LGUs) which have ordinances prohibiting SUPs.
“More and more LGUs across the country are taking the initiative to address the problem of plastic pollution, and it is high time for a national law so that action on this front becomes more effective, more impactful, and more sustainable,” she said.