Barely two weeks into 2019, local authorities in Lapu-Lapu City were treated to a nasty New Year’s surprise: blood bags, dextrose hoses, dialysis tubes, and other biomedical waste materials floating in the waters off at least four barangays in the area.
While officials wasted no time in investigating which institutions to hold accountable for their disgusting discovery, the shocking incident highlighted the crisis of plastic pollution in the Philippines — a problem that deeply involves both our waters and the local healthcare industry.
For a country so small, the Philippines produces a staggering amount of plastic waste per day. A 2015 study pegs the number at 6,237,653 kg, over four-fifths of which is poorly managed.
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To put things into perspective: the Philippines is the world’s third-biggest contributor to marine plastic pollution, right after China and Indonesia. Furthermore, the combined plastic waste from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam accounts for about 50 percent of all plastic waste found in the world’s oceans.
Drastic action against plastic pollution
Using data from an extensive body of research spanning a decade, international organization Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Southeast Asia developed “Mobilizing Health Care to Prevent Plastic Pollution,” an extensive manual (or “toolkit”) for hospitals.
The toolkit includes local and global statistics on plastic pollution, detailed steps on ideal waste disposal procedures for hospitals, and sustainable strategies for reducing and eventually eliminating single-use plastics in healthcare.
“This toolkit is all about fighting plastic pollution in the healthcare setting,” explained HCWH Southeast Asia Director Ramon San Pascual in an official statement.
“Furthermore, it will aid in understanding and translating into intensified healthcare actions to reduce the harm caused by excessive plastic use in their facilities and strengthen healthcare professionals as advocates for national, regional, and global action.”
The organization designed the toolkit as a primary reference material for hospitals aiming to establish an intensified waste management education program for medical professionals and stakeholders.
A number of hospitals have already expressed their intent to adopt the toolkit, including the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila and the Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center in Marikina.
An inconvenient truth about convenience
Acknowledging that the plastics problem exists is the easy part. Actually executing strategies for plastic waste management, however, is easier said than done.
According to Dr. Glenn Paraso, Executive Director of Mary Johnston Hospital (MJH) in Tondo, plastics see extensive use in healthcare institutions because of the benefits they provide in terms of diagnostics, treatment, and cost-effectiveness.
“A lot of packaging in the hospital is plastic because it’s convenient to use plastic,” said Dr. Paraso, one of HCWC Southeast Asia’s medical advocates, at the official launch and MoA signing for the toolkit on June 4 at the University of the Philippines Manila-College of Public Health (UPM-CPH).
At the event, Prof. Romeo R. Quizon, the Dean of UPM-CPH, also underscored the need for medical professionals and environmentalists alike to heighten awareness on climate change, engage in effective communication strategies, and develop a stronger curriculum for climate-health education.
Tackling the plastic problem, step by step
Dr. Paraso said, however, that MJH has already taken steps towards fighting plastic pollution within the institution.
He detailed a multi-step action plan that involves strengthening the hospital’s waste management policies and implementing committee, setting well-defined goals for decreasing medical waste production due to improper segregation, a biannual education program for the hospital’s employees, and incentives to promote proper material disposal.
The sustainable strategies prescribed in the toolkit present realistic and cost-effective solutions to the very real plastic crisis in the healthcare industry.
“It will really take a culture change for this to happen,” admits Dr. Paraso.
“Can you imagine [what would happen], if we didn’t do anything about it, a hundred years from now?” — LA, GMA News
For healthcare institutions and organizations interested in availing HCWH Southeast Asia’s plastics toolkit for hospitals, you may get in touch with HCWH Southeast Asia by calling +632 9287572 or +632 9262649, or by visiting their official website at noharm-asia.org.