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As ban on plastic bags spreads, Valenzuela stubbornly says 'no'

In Valenzuela, there's still a future in plastics.

With Manila set to implement a ban on the retail use of plastic bags starting September, the number of cities in Metro Manila that do not restrict the use of plastic packaging will be reduced to six—the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, San Juan, Parañaque and Valenzuela.

Among the six cities, it is Valenzuela that appears least likely to ban plastic given its heavy dependence on the industry, according to city officials.

Data from the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) show that as of 2012, there were 224 plastics and rubber manufacturing companies in the city. Flexible Packaging Products Corporation, a supplier of plastic packaging products, was even named one of the city’s top business taxpayers in 2012.

In an interview with Howie Severino on GMA News Tv's “News to Go," Valenzuela City mayor Rex Gatchalian said workers in plastics factories will be the first ones affected should the local government ban the use of plastic bags.

“Maraming pabrika ng plastics sa amin. If I do that (ban plastics), I pretty much spell the end of an industry that employs thousands of Valenzuelaños,” he said.

The new city mayor, whose father is plastics tycoon William Gatchalian, denied he is against imposing a plastics ban because his family’s business will be affected. Although the Gatchalian family owns the 60-hectare “Plastic City” compound in Valenzuela, but the 34-year-old mayor asserted that the family-owned Plastic City Industrial Corp. (PCIC)  has been closed for more than 20 years.

The mayor added that the family has shifted to the production of raw materials for plastic products in Bataan.

“Our family’s business interests won’t be affected kasi nasa production na lang kami ng raw materials at pang-export pa ‘yon. We don’t sell them locally and we’re just minority shareholders there. Isa pa, ang factory nun, wala sa Valenzuela, but it’s in Bataan,” he said.

The mayor, who was formerly Valenzuela’s first district congressman, said he would rather let the owners of plastics companies decide if they should close down or move into a new line of business than impose a ban on plastics that may cause factories to shut down.

“I cannot interfere in the business [matters] of Valenzuela and tell businessmen, ‘O magsara na kayo, maghanap na kayo ng ibang trabaho.’ Nakatali ang bituka nila diyan. It will be their initiative if they want to divest their business interests or start another business,” he said.

Business operations

The Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA) has warned that an estimated 175,000 workers in plastics factories stand to lose their jobs as the business operations of their companies have been badly affected by the ban being enforced by various cities and provinces across the country.

Presently, 11 out of 17 cities in Metro Manila are enforcing ordinances that ban the use of plastic packaging. These are the cities of Makati, Marikina, Malabon, Taguig, Mandaluyong, Pasay, Quezon, Pasig, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas and the municipality of Pateros.

According to Ecowaste Coalition, at least 90 LGUs in the Philippines have passed similar ordinances banning or regulating the use of plastic bags. It expects several localities to follow suit before the end of the year.

Former PPIA President Crispian Lao said last year that the production of plastics factories already plummeted by as much as 30 percent.

“Approximately 500 players (including non-PPIA members), mostly small and medium enterprises [are already] affected,” he said.

Data from CPDO showed that between 2011 and 2012, 100 plastics and rubber manufacturing companies in Valenzuela closed down due to poor business operations.

Anti-littering enforcement is key

Instead of enacting a total ban on plastics, industry leaders are pushing for a stronger implementation of Republic Act 9003, or the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in June released a statement saying that the indiscriminate throwing of trash—and not the use of plastic bags—is the main reason behind the worsening flood situation in Metro Manila.

To solve this, the group said there should be “a stricter implementation of existing laws on anti-littering, waste segregation and collection.”

The group added there should be a concerted effort among all the sectors—the government, business sector and non-government organizations—to establish a mechanism for the segregation, collection and recycling of plastic bags as a more sustainable solution to the clogging of drainage systems in Metro Manila.

Although plastics make up only 16 percent of Metro Manila’s daily trash haul based on data from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), they are often blamed as the culprit behind the floods that inundate the metropolis during the rainy season.

In August last year, a mountain of garbage washed ashore Manila Bay following Typhoon Gener.

According to EcoWaste Coalition’s Basura Patrol, which conducted an ocular inspection of the garbage pile following the storm, among the most visible pieces of garbage it found in the “trash mountain” were plastic bags and scraps, food wrappers and polystyrene materials.

Alexander Umagat, head of MMDA’s Solid Waste Management Group said that while the implementation of a plastics ban in 11 cities did not lead to a significant drop in the amount of trash thrown by the people, it nonetheless reduced the number of plastic waste that MMDA personnel find during their cleanup of drainages and pumping stations.

Umagat said that although the drains “naturally clog” over time due to the accumulation of silt from land and other sources, the presence of plastic makes clearing drainages harder to accomplish.

“Pinapalala ng plastic ang pagbabara ng mga drainage. Nagbabara naman talaga ‘yun dahil sa burak pero kapag nahaluan ng plastic, lalong lumiliit yung capacity ng drainage na mag-hold ng tubig,” he said.

To prevent plastic from clogging the city’s drains, Valenzuela City’s Waste Management Office (WMO) dispatches dump trucks twice a day to collect garbage.

WMO head Marietta Antonio said the local government regularly holds awareness campaigns to educate the public about recycling and proper waste disposal.

The information drive, she said, is particularly focused on encouraging residents to collect recyclable waste and sell it to junk shops and recycling plants.

Antonio said there are currently 250 junk shops and over 90 recycling plants located in the city.

Bayongs instead of plastic

While the chance of passing an ordinance banning plastics in Valenzuela is slim, an environmental advocate believes workers in plastics factories in Valenzuela do not have to rely on the industry alone for their bread and butter.

Sonia Mendoza, chairperson of the Mother Earth Foundation, said factory workers who lose their jobs can turn to weaving bayongs or reed bags for livelihood.

She cited Bangladesh’s thriving jute bag industry as an example of how a country that used to be reliant on plastic factories managed to create a sustainable and successful livelihood option for displaced workers.

The Financial Express reported that the demand for Bangladeshi jute bags has soared following the bans imposed by several cities in the United States on the use of plastic bags. Analysts project the demand to increase 50 times in the next five years and bring in yearly revenues of about $1 billion.

Mendoza said the Philippines can even surpass Bangladesh’s jute bag production if businessmen will invest resources in building factories for eco-friendly bags because the country is rich in indigenous materials that can be used in making reed bags.

“The Philippines is rich in bamboo, buri leaves and other materials that can be woven into bags. If the eco bag industry grows, the bayongs can be manufactured even in the provinces. Hindi na kailangang lumuwas sa Maynila ang mga taga-probinsya,” she said.

But more than teaching factory workers how to weave, Mendoza said Filipinos need to be aware that there are various environment-friendly alternatives to using plastics.

“Our elders were used to using bayongs, but the availability of plastics instilled in us a “throw away” mentality. If people learn to use bayongs again, we’ll have a market for eco bags and businessmen will want to meet the demand,” she said. – DVM/HS, GMA News