Plastic: the great deluge in the 21st century

If you watch Boyan Slat’s TED presentation, you’d hear him wonder at the packaging of biscuits – stored under layers of plastic. That’s what’s bothering me too. After a visit to the supermarket, after I’ve taken food (or non-food) purchases out of their packaging, I’m surrounded by a mountain of plastic waste. And that’s just within two hours after leaving the store. And this just for a day. What about in a week – what’s our plastic waste each? In a month? In a year? For the entire country? For the world?

Most of the plastic packaging are unnecessary. Decision makers along the supply chain need to take a long and serious look at it. It’s ridiculous for stores to offer “Eco-Bags” complete with taglines that transfer the guilt to the consumers, and because people buy it, they make money yet again from sale of these. Meanwhile, they do not green their production and marketing processes. The consumption of plastic is directly proportional to the production and use of plastic in packaging and repacking of goods down the supply line.

Buyers need to take the initiative. I always bring my reusable shopping bag with me. I ask baggers to ditch the plastic bags instead hand them my bag to put my purchases into. What I’m irritated at – this particular store – is its sales people still feel the need to clip a longish paper tag to my bag’s handle similar to that of an airline’s baggage tag as evidence – as if the oh-so-obvious-and-legal-receipt isn’t – that I’ve paid for the goods. I lost it once and told them, you guys, why don’t you stamp my forehead instead? Make it extra large. For the guards to spot it even a kilometer away. Make it difficult to wash out. Make life difficult. But then they’ve become more aware – because when they see me their looks tell me, god, here comes that lady and they’d ask to have my bag. So yes it has to start at one point somehow and sometimes you’re going to look as if you’re insane. But who’s not in some ways? Awareness of waste is manifested in one’s attitude to what’s necessary and not. If it’s not necessary, don’t already. Store managers and owners need to teach their sales people this.

In the provinces, I still see locals bringing their bayong to the market which by the way was what we used for our purchases. Before plastic. Shoe boxes, I leave them in the stores. Let the store managers suffer the headache of wondering what to do with all those boxes. E-waste – consumers should be able to drop or trade or whatever with the store they’ve originally bought the gadgets from. (The lack of such schemes here has paved the way for the informal economy to satisfy unmet need, that is, consumers’ need to dispose their old gadgets.) Plastic water bottles – we should go back to using glass bottles. Like what Thailand and Cambodia do. The plastic gallons refillers store our drinking water in – at the back of my mind, I know, a scientific fact, that water stored in these absorbs the chemicals used in the production of these containers. I’d like to go back to using burnay our grandparents used. Then, water from it was naturally sparkling. In Baguio City, kidney problems are on the rise and it affects even infants. We have to rethink how we are packaging the one liquid we can’t live without.

It begins with awareness of our actions and care for one’s health – what we’re putting into our bodies (I know this is already difficult!). The country’s water bodies are a mess. I’ve only one word for why people dump their waste into these – mindlessness. They don’t “see” that they’re connected to Earth in the real sense – earth from which we were fashioned (for Catholics) and into which we all go, eventually. You don’t pollute your own home or pass it on decaying to your children. The war on waste – plastic waste – isn’t just about waste or pollution. It’s about the human being – it’s survival. Plastic as we have now are like the rats that have overrun Hamelin and which the Pied Piper had to lead away (with the children staying). Should we let plastic bury us in or should we rather take back control of our lives? It’s a choice really, between mindfulness and mindlessness.

So it’s good that Makati City has followed the other eight cities that have legally banned plastic bags and certain plastic containers, and which local government units in the rest of the country should emulate. It has unfortunately come to this — regulation of human behavior because humans have somehow lost it without being told.

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