Philippines: Picking up pace in fighting marine plastic pollution post-pandemic

The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-PH)’s No Plastics in Nature campaign with The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila and Norway’s shipping company, the Grieg Group, has taken on the task of combating the immense plastic pollution problem in the country. 

The Philippines accounts for 36 percent of the world’s total plastic waste, according to the United Kingdom organization, the Utility Bidders’ recent Plastic Polluters study.

Czarina Constantino-Panopio, WWF-Philippines’ national lead for the No Plastics in Nature Initiative, told Maritime Fairtrade they have achieved a lot since the passage of the global plastics treaty. The No Plastics in Nature project emphasizes on Reduction, Segregation, Collection, and Recycling.

Czarina Constantino-Panopio, WWF-Philippines’ national lead for the No Plastics in Nature Initiative.

“For the Philippines, getting the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in place is a very, very, very important step. It is also important that the Philippines take part in the important discussions that are ongoing now on an international level,” said Norway’s ambassador to the Philippines, Christian Halaas Lyster, in an interview with Maritime Fairtrade.

Christian Halaas Lyster, Norway’s ambassador to the Philippines. Photo credit: Norway embassy in the Philippines.

The COVID-19 impact

When COVID-19 hit globally, it did not merely affect the health of billions of people worldwide, it also affected the plastic pollution initiative. Panopio said the pandemic took a toll on the initiative with the increase of special waste due to the lockdown. 

The local government units had to adjust their solid waste management system and the plastic waste from e-commerce. It also shifted the focus of partner cities and municipalities on relief operations and monitoring of the health conditions of their constituents.

Gry Larsen, head of sustainability and public affairs, Grieg Group, said to Maritime Fairtrade that most sectors were focused on economic aspects, making it more difficult to mobilize them to bounce back in tackling plastic pollution.

Gry Larsen, head of sustainability and public affairs, Grieg Group. Photo credit: Anita Arntzen/KONTRA Produksjon

Lyster said despite the challenges, working together with a long-term perspective is the only way to ensure they can achieve their end goals.

“That is our goal basically because you cannot change everything through a specific project, but use them to create bigger changes. That is our goal. That is our hope,” shared Lyster.

“Political commitments are very important. That is number one. It is also important to have some kind of economic incentive to support the policies. And I think from our side, we are also a great champion of circular economy policies because that is the way to go. We have to use less of the world’s resources in a smarter way. We have to use them again because otherwise, it is not sustainable.”

Clean ports, clean oceans

Grieg Foundation, in partnership with the Grieg Group, funded the “Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Improving Port Waste Management in the Philippines” campaign, supported by the Norwegian Embassy. They are working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA). Larsen said they have seen an increase in the recycling of plastic waste while plastic waste leakage in nature has lessened. 

“(We) have provided support for specific activities of the project, such as the selection of solutions to implement in the three ports – Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, and Manila – and communities living around the ports. We hope that the ports and communities will continue implementing the activities after the project,” shared Larsen. 

WWF-PH also collaborated with BEST Inc. on the Trash to Cashback program in Cagayan de Oro port where trash cans are exchanged for environmental points used to purchase items and pay for services. 

The collected recyclables are then brought to their partner recyclers. The two partners also established a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Batangas City and improved the facility in Cagayan de Oro City while supporting the barangay solid waste management systems.

“For plastic pollution, we believe that we have some things in place including the global plastics treaty, EPR, RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) which we only need to strictly implement with both reduction and recycling in mind,” added Panopio.

Calicanto materials recovery facility (MRF). The new MRF in Barangay Calicanto in Batangas City, Philippines funded by the Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Improving Port Waste Management in the Philippines project.

Calicanto Vertical farm. The new MRF in Brgy. Calicanto includes a vertical farm where compost made from the residents’ food waste will be used to grow food.

Plaf Bins. The Plastic Flamingo bins made of 100 percent recycled plastic and the waste segregation campaign materials are placed outside one of the port offices.

Sustainable smart cities

The Plastic Smart Cities (PSC) program is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, which includes the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. 

The program focuses on improving policy and governance; facilitating industry roundtables; and supporting entrepreneurial solutions that reduce plastic waste and increase collection, separation, and recycling.

Panopio said: “(Norway has) also been supporting the PSC project – a global movement for cities to implement circular solutions towards addressing plastic pollution. (It) has been critical in the local PSC efforts with selected cities and the maritime industry. 

“In implementing these projects, it is critical to have champions from the national and local governments to ensure the sustainability of the piloted interventions. Having the DENR, PPA, and MARINA to tackle plastic pollution as partners for the port project has been vital in achieving the project’s milestones.”

Lyster said Norway is leading the way in sustainability and is at the forefront of the new plastic pollution treaty. They are a member of the High Ambition Coalition, co-chairing the Ocean Panel, funding the World Bank’s Pro Blue program, and supporting UNDP’s ASEAN projects.

“Even though there is a challenge being the world’s third largest plastic polluter, there is something ingrained in the Filipino mindset to not throw things away, but keep and use them for something else. That (kind of) mindset can be used to push the circular economy,” said Lyster. 

All photos credit except where stated: World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines

Top photo: Waste workers who are part of Plastic Bank’s network received new equipment such as safety gear under the Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Improving Port Waste Management in the Philippines project.

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