Press Release
June 5, 2008

June 5 is World Environment Day
Pia: Use 'biodegradable' plastics for NFA rice bags and grocery bags

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today called on more retail establishments and local governments to promote the use of biodegradable plastic bags in order to curb the proliferation of polyethylene plastic bags across the country, and help raise public awareness on their harmful effects to the environment.

The lady senator made her "No to plastics" appeal Thursday to mark the 35th commemoration of World Environment Day.

"Many of us think plastic bags have become an irreplaceable component of modern living; that anything less than it could disrupt or make our daily lives less comfortable," said the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

"But the fact is there are many alternatives to plastics, including reusable shopping bags made of cloth and hemp and more recently, biodegradable plastic bags, which have been proven less harmful with bio-components that can decompose in the natural environment," she added.

In the hearing conducted Wednesday by the environment committee on proposed measures to regulate plastics use, Cayetano welcomed the report of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) that the biggest retailer in the country, the SM mall chain, has started shifting to biodegradable plastic bags for its supermarkets and department stores.

She also cited the pioneering efforts of the municipality of Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, which passed an ordinance last March seeking to regulate the sale of plastic bags and plastic cellophane as bagging materials.

A similar ordinance mandating the use of paper and buri bags and other biodegradable bagging containers in all supermarkets and other retail establishments is now being pilot-tested in Baguio City, she added.

Other sectors can do their share by emulating and adding on to these initiatives, she stressed.

She said the National Food Authority (NFA) can opt to replace the millions of polyethylene bags it uses for distributing one-kilo NFA rice to poor families with biodegradable plastic bags.

The suggestion was first floated by officials from the packaging sector, including the Packaging Institute of the Philippines, Plastics Industry Association, and the Polystyrene Packaging Institute of the Philippines.

One industry leader, Carlito Soon, Vice President of United Polyresins, Inc., pointed out in the hearing that the cost of manufacturing biodegradable plastics was only 5% higher compared to regular plastic bags.

But the slightly higher cost would be minimal, he added, considering that the NFA buys in bulk, or by an average of 400 million bags worth around P200 million for its 1-kilo NFA rice bags.

Official figures show that plastics make up around 25% of the garbage that Metro Manila churns out, while an independent survey conducted by Ecowaste Coalition and Greenpeace on the composition of discards in Manila Bay in 2006 found that 51% were plastic bags, 19% sachets and junk food wrappers, 5% styrofoam, 1 % hard plastics, 10% rubber and 13% biodegradable wastes.

Plastics have also been blamed for clogging up esteros and drainage systems; causing soil and food chain contamination when polyethylene, the main component of plastic, breaks down and releases toxic substances that leach into the soil; and for killing marine and land animals that mistakenly ingest plastics or become entangled in plastic bags.

World Environment Day was started in 1972 by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the opening of the historic Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

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