ASIA - As the monsoon season rolls across Asia, tropical cyclones from the Pacific buffet the Philippines and spin off either northward to the China mainland or south to the VietNam coast. In central South East Asia, Cambodia and Thailand brace themselves for up to 2,400 millimetres of rain, mostly in the August-September months, and the perennial urban flooding that the monsoon brings.
In 2009, Tropical Storm Ketsana submerged more than 80% of Metro Manila and claimed about 400 lives. Recently more than 1,000 people died when Typhoon Bopha lashed the country for more than a week in July this year.
In 2011 Tropical Storm Nock-ten triggered massive flooding in Thailand as the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins broke their banks inundating the showcase industrial park of Ayutthaya and six other processing zones. The loss of life is estimated to have been 814, while the World Bank assessed the economic damage to be in the region of US$45.7 billion.
India’s annual monsoons dump in excess of 2,000 mm of rain from May to November. Flooding is an annual event; in early September 2013, more than five million people were displaced in Bihar state as a result. Earlier in the year more than 5,700 people died in July flooding in Uttarakhand state, and both Mumbai and the capital New Delhi are regularly submerged.
Although these catastrophes have been annual events in Asia for decades they are now appearing with increasing frequency. Obviously the impact of climate change is generally agreed to be the main cause of storms. But in answer to the escalating urban disasters, politicians across the region have discovered that embracing the science of global warming may not be the messages voters want to hear, so another culprit has to be found: An obvious enemy, one that clogs the sewerage systems, blocks the drains and is plain to all as it floats downstream… the plastic bag is the cause of all the trouble!
Plastic Bag Ban move across Asia
From New Delhi to Manila the ‘ban the bag’ movement has been gaining traction as outright bans on the production and distribution plastic shopping bags are enacted across Asia, and local politicians command the populist high-ground.
In the Philippines, a series of grass-roots campaigns by environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, succeeded in having Manila Ordinance No. 8282 passed on September 3, 2012, prohibiting the use of plastic bags for dry goods and regulate their use for wet goods.
“The threat comes not only from the huge amount of discarded plastic bags blocking waterways, aggravating floods and choking dumps, but also from their toxic chemical ingredients that get dispersed into the environment, contaminating the food chain and ultimately, our bodies,” said a spokesperson for NGO EcoWaste Coalition.
Meanwhile, administration of Makati, the financial capital district and one of the 17 cities or districts that make up Metro Manila, imposed its own ban on disposable plastic shopping bags and EPS food containers on the day the moratorium expired, as part of escalating efforts across the nation’s capital to curb rubbish that exacerbates deadly flooding.
After a widespread publicity campaign leading up to the ban, Makati city environment protection officers began handing out fines of 5,000 pesos ($115) to shops and supermarkets caught distributing the items.
Consumers are given the option of paper alternatives or not using any bags, with supermarkets encouraging shoppers to bring their own.
Although Makati’s official population is just over 600,000, this swells to 3.7 million during office hours when commuters travel to the area.
Makati is now the ninth out of the 17 Manila districts to issue a plastics ban; effectively 6.7 million of Metro Manila’s total population of 13 million people are covered by the restrictions.
A spokesman for Makati’s environmental services department, said cutting down on plastic was vital to stop the clogging of the city’s waterways, which is widely blamed for contributing to floods.
“During our bi-monthly wastewater clean-ups, we found most of the garbage is plastics,” she said.
In Quezon City two environment protection ordinances were enacted in April 2012. The ordinances: SP-2140 (the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance) regulates the use of plastic bags imposing environmental fee for its use, while SP-2103 mandates all businesses that use plastic bags to display in their stores a notice to encourages their customers to protect the environment by bringing their own recyclable/reusable bags.
Currently an estimated volume of 719cu.m (equivalent to 45 ten-wheeler trucks) of plastic bags enter the Quezon City waste stream every day. City officials said, “The single-plastic bags and their typical indiscriminate disposal by the public create significant litter problems that clog up canals and sewerage systems that cause floods”.
The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance will enforce a Plastic Recovery System Fee that charges and collect a fixed amount of two pesos (P2.00) per plastic bag used regardless of its size. The collected fee will be part of Green fund that is intended to fund various initiatives for the benefit of the environment.
Reusable Bag users will be given incentives in a credit scheme, giving points that can later on be used for purchases, and supermarkets will have a Green Lane, a special counter for customers that bring their own reusable bags.
Industry Hits Back
In the face of this legislation the Philippine plastic industry is not taking it lying down – a coalition of industry groups, including the Federation of Philippine Industry, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Association of Supermarkets, Association of Petrochemical Manufacturers , Employers Confederation, Plastics Recycling Industries Council, Packaging Institute of the Philippines, Exporters Confederation, Pollution Control Association and the Polystyrene Packaging Council have taken advertisements in the media demanding the strict enforcement of the National Law; Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003), which considers ‘waste as a resource that can be recovered’ and sets out obligations for municipal authorities to effectively collect, separate and dispose of solid waste.
Although it was passed as a national law in 2000, this waste management law has never been implemented due to power struggles between national and local administrations.
The 14 industry groups argue in their ad that floods are caused not by plastic bags clogging up drainage systems but by climate change and improper waste disposal. “We also have old sewers, lost manholes and a broken garbage collection system.
“The plastic ban does not protect the environment at all! It leads to more paper use, which means more trees cut and higher water and power use. The environment is worse off.”
Quoting data from UK Environment Agency studies and the Technological Association of Pulp and Paper Industries, the industry groups argue that:
- Up to 17 trees need to be cut to make a ton of paper
- One gallon of water is required to make just one paper bag, by comparison, 116 plastic bags can be made using the same amount
- Paper bag production generates double the carbon emissions than does plastic bag production
- A paper bag is 600% heavier than a plastic bag, so it produces a greater volume of trash
“With more cut trees and denuded forests, with more water and energy used, more carbon emissions and more trash, the plastic ban actually harms the environment,” the industry groups contend. In addition, they warn that “almost 200,000 workers of the plastic industry now face losing their jobs.”
Strict enforcement of the Solid Waste Management Act “entails more work but it will make our cities cleaner; our waterways free of all kinds of waste; save forests, water and energy; reduce imports; save jobs; and even create a robust recycling business all over the country,” the groups argue.
It is an argument that has won over least one municipal district: Malabon City councilors have sent their plastic Ordinance back to the drawing board because of serious “loopholes” according to Mayor Antolin Oreta: “The ordinance did not address the concerns of dozens of plastics manufacturers doing business in the city despite the fact that meetings were held with them.”
According to Oreta, the city council originally enacted the ordinance because despite serious efforts of the city to segregate waste materials, plastics still ended up clogging the city’s canals, rivers, and creeks, resulting in flooding.
And therein lies the Asian bag problem: As Asia’s urban populations expand exponentially and put pressure on antiquated poorly maintained infrastructure, local politicians are unwilling to impose or enforce selective waste separation on their constituents, and are unable to fund effective collection systems, clear slums, build efficient sewerage and drainage infrastructure to deal with the annual monsoon that wreaks carnage on their cities.
For more news on the environmental packaging laws being proposed and implemented in Asia, check our Environmental Legislation news section.