By Federico Segarra
Manila, June 4 (EFE).- The deficiency in the garbage collection system, the low awareness of the population and the prevalence of individual containers are among the reasons why the Philippines’ 114 million inhabitants throw more than a third of the plastic floating in the ocean.
This data makes the country the largest contributor to plastic pollution in the seas globally, with more than 356,000 metric tons of plastic dumped into the ocean, 35.1 percent of the total, followed very far by India at 126,513) and Malaysia at 73,098), according to a study in the journal Science published in 2021.
Among the top 10 countries in this category, only seventh-placed Brazil isn’t Asian, while the rest in this order, span China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Thailand.
These countries throw 836,488 metric tons of plastic into the sea every year, 82.6 percent of what is dumped in the world, with the Philippines as the most polluting country far behind the others.
Each Filipino dumps more than 3 3 kilograms of plastic a year, 3,000 times more than in Spain and 20 times more than in China.
Manila Bay, where nobody has swum for decades because it is one of the areas with the world’s most plastic pollution, symbolizes this problem that is due to political, socio-economic and commercial reasons.
“The contamination of our seas and rivers with plastic waste is a national emergency. The government considers it a serious problem, but the necessary funds are not forthcoming to implement suitable recycling programs, nor the optimal infrastructure,” Irene Rodriguez, environmental expert at the University of the Philippines, told EFE.
Among the most important factors is the “sachet economy,” as it is known in the Philippines, the custom of Filipinos to buy products such as shampoo, toothpaste, cosmetics or food in small plastic envelopes for individual use.
It was one of the countries where large multinational companies experimented with single-person doses of cosmetic and cleaning product sachets to adapt to consumer habits amid a precarious economy.
A 2019 Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives report identified Nestle and Unilever as the top two companies contributing to plastic pollution in the Philippines.
51 percent of the emission of plastics into the ocean in the Philippines is fed by this type of product, according to Science.
“The ambition to maintain the corporate profits of these business giants” and the “pressure” that these groups exert on the authorities prevents the laws to stop the commercialization of these products from being properly implemented.
According to Science, there is another main explanatory factor why the Philippines stands out superlatively from the rest of the countries in terms of plastic pollution of the seas: the pollution of its rivers and streams, through which all the plastic discarded in urban and rural inhabited areas travels until it ends in the ocean.
Although in China, whose vast territory vastly exceeds the set of islands that make up the Philippine archipelago, only 1,309 rivers flow with large amounts of plastic, 4,820 of the Philippine rivers are highly polluted.
For Rodriguez, the explanation lies in “the large number of informal settlements” that inhabit the areas adjacent to the riverbanks, which “do not have recycling or waste management systems, and where environmental education is scarce.”
“In recent years, forceful legislation has been made to curb the disposal of plastic in the Philippines, but there is no money or political will to create the necessary infrastructure” to help tackle the problem properly, Rodriguez said.
Marian Ledesma, an expert in waste management from Greenpeace Philippines, told EFE that the country also “imports a large amount of plastic” from industrialized countries to later process or recycle it.
The problem, Ledesma said, “is that the Philippines does not have an optimal recycling and processing system and a good part of the plastic that comes from rich countries is of low quality, so this product ends up becoming waste that is discarded” and creates the tides of plastic that drift across the archipelago. EFE