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Views to Ponder: What Dabawenyos need to know about marine litter

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By Henrylito D. Tacio

WHAT DABAWENYOS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARINE LITTER

One of the positive news I read lately was knowing Davao City was named the local champion for marine litter action by the United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN Habitat) of the Philippines.

The country’s largest city – in terms of land area – was cited “for pioneering the development of the City Plan of Action on Marine Litter in support of the Philippines’ National Plan of Action on Marine Litter.” That’s according to a news report released by the City Information Office.

Paul Bermejo, officer-in-charge of the ancillary services unit, was quoted in the CIO press release that the city “earned the honor for being able to implement a localized Philippine action plan for marine litter among other local government units in the country.”

The citation was due to the success of the city’s Bantay Dagat program, which former Mayor Inday Sara Duterte started in 2017 and is still being continued by her successor, Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte.

Bantay Dagat is a city government project wherein volunteers from the community are deputized to guard and conduct coastal and riverbank cleanup every first and third Saturday morning of the month.

When we think of marine litter, we usually think of those plastic bags and other materials made of plastic. But there’s more. As the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) tells us: “Marine litter is any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in marine and coastal development.”

Take the case of cigarette butts. Smoking is dangerous to your health – and yes, even to our environment. The UN describes them as “the most discarded waste item worldwide.”

“Whether flicked on to beaches, tossed in parks or dropped on to streets, many of the tiny, lightweight butts end up in bodies of water, swept there by rainfall and storm water systems,” wrote The Guardian’s Ashifa Kassaum.

I was totally surprised when I learned that those cigarette butts contain some plastic. Cigarette filters, I learned, are made out of plastic fibers, which are made of cellulose acetate. These plastic filters comprised more than 90% of commercial cigarettes, according to Clean Ocean Action’s Kari Martin.

“Plastics don’t break down over time, they photodegrade, which means that the light breaks them into smaller pieces but they don’t eventually go away,” said Martin.

“Marine litter presents a huge problem in our oceans, with some scientists warning that, by 2050, the quantity of plastics in the oceans will outweigh fish,” said the International Maritime Organization.

That’s alarming indeed for us Filipinos. Fish is our cheapest source of animal protein. In fact, the average Filipino eats 98 grams of fish per day and 36 kilograms of fish per year, reports the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Right now, thousands of pieces of trash are estimated to be afloat on every square kilometer of ocean. “The greatest sources of (those trashes) are land-based activities, including waste released from dumpsites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities and ship-breaking yards,” the UNEP reported.

This means that you and I – all of us – are contributors to the problem. Every time you smoke, every time you buy candies, every time you purchase goods from department stores, and every time you eat in fast foods, you are adding to the crisis.

One possible solution to the problem is recycling, the reprocessing of plastic waste into new products. Recycling is a two-stage process: sorting is mainly done automatically with a manual sort to ensure all contaminants have been removed. Once sorted and cleaned, plastic can either be shredded into flakes or melt processed to form pellets before finally being moulded into new products. 

But a report from Greenpeace found that people may be putting plastic into recycling bins – but almost none of it is actually being recycled.

So, what are the doable solutions to this marine litter problem? In its website, the Oceanic Society lists things we can do today to reduce our plastic use:

1. Reduce your use of single-use plastics, which include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, take-out containers.

2. Support legislation to curb plastic production and waste. In Davao City, the “No to Single-Use Plastic Ordinance of 2021” bans the use of single-use plastics and regulates their sale and distribution.

3. Recycle properly. If you can’t reuse them, don’t throw them away. Try to check with your local recycling center about the types of plastic they accept.

4. Participate in a beach or river clean up. In Davao City, Bantay Dagat volunteers are grouped into clusters. Contact your barangay which cluster you can join.

5. Avoid products containing microbeads, which are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and body washes. Avoid products containing “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredients of your cosmetic products.

6. Spread the word. Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem.

7. Supporting organizations addressing plastic pollution.

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