In February this year, hundreds of volunteers participated in a coastal cleanup of Manila Bay, where 45.59 tonnes of garbage were collected.
The waste sector in the Philippines has contributed 7 per cent to the country’s total carbon emissions in 2012, making the shift to a minimal-waste consumption model a key part of the country’s emissions reduction goal.
The Philippines goes through more than 200 million pieces of single-use plastic each day, lending a real urgency to government efforts to adopt a consumption model that prioritises reducing and recycling rather than disposing of that waste.
But while other countries have embarked on a similar transition by taxing the use of plastic, the Philippines can make the shift faster if the government provides incentives to companies, according to experts from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“The Philippines should incentivise companies rather than tax people … rather than punishing them for consuming,” Bradley Busetto, director of the UNDP’s Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, said during the recent Innovate4Climate forum held by the World Bank in Singapore.
Product packaging, especially single-use plastic, contributes to the bourgenoning waste problem in the country that affects its coastal resources and marine life. Retail products sold in smaller quantities packaged in sachets are more affordable, and their continued purchase drives profits for multinational companies in the Philippines.
Globally, carbon emissions from plastics reached 1.8 billion metric tonnes in 2015, according to a 2019 study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Emissions come from the whole life cycle of plastics: from production and transportation, to disposal and incineration.
The Philippines should incentivise companies rather than tax people … rather than punishing them for consuming.
Bradley Busetto, director, Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, UNDP
The Philippines, like the rest of the world, is in a race to reduce carbon emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and one way of doing so is to drastically reduce waste, particularly plastic. The country’s waste sector contributed 7 per cent of its total carbon emissions in 2012, according to the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Climate Analysis Indicators Tool.
“Filipinos use more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags and 45 million thin film bags daily,” the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) said in a report released in March.
The introduction of incentives as a policy intervention to mitigate emissions from the waste sector is an idea supported by Koji Fukuda, JICA’s chief technical adviser.
“For the time being, the government should definitely raise awareness but at the same time there are many companies that are already aware of this movement so [they] do the non-fiscal incentive, like a reward, to recognise their efforts,” Fukuda says.
Such incentives have been floated in Thailand, where potential privileges for investments that focus on environmental protection — a key activity of which is the move to the circular, or waste-minimising, economy — are being studied.
“We cannot continue consuming, producing, behaving in the way we do so far,” said Daniel Calleja Crespo, the European Commission’s director-general for the environment.“We must move from linear economy to circular economy.”
Anti-plastic efforts lack legal backing
The waste problem is being taken seriously in the Philippines, but poor implementation of the National Solid Waste Management Act of 1999 remains a challenge. President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened “war” against Canada over shipped waste that has been rotting in Philippine ports for years. Hundreds of volunteers organise regular cleanups in Manila Bay and other coastal areas in the country.
Last year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cracked down on local government officials who failed to close open-air dumpsites nationwide. Duterte backed numerous waste-to-energy projects last year to address the waste problem and at the same time supplement energy sources. Incineration, however, has been banned in the country since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1999.