CORPORATE CITIZEN

Firms say goodbye to ‘bad’ plastic bags

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Plastic bags do present a compelling cost and convenience proposition to both retail companies and consumers. Not only are they cheap, they are also versatile and sturdy enough to be used over and over again.

It’s no wonder that each year, an estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide, which translates to over a million plastic bags used each minute, according to data from the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Unfortunately, WWF-Philippines says that most of these plastic bags end up in either landfills or bodies of water, posing a serious threat to sea turtles, whales and other endangered marine life that sometimes mistake the discarded plastic bags for food. In the Philippines, discarded plastic bags find their way into canals and narrow waterways, thus contributing to the regular flooding of towns and cities.

That these plastic bags are bad for the environment cannot be disputed, says Gregg Yan, communications manager of WWF-Philippines.

“Typically made from polyethylene, which is derived from natural gas and petroleum, plastic bags don’t biodegrade—they photo-degrade and break down into smaller and more toxic particles on a molecular level to contaminate both water and soil. The danger is real and alarming: in a planet where everything is connected in very fundamental ways, these chemicals enter the food system to eventually poison the human body,” explains Yan.

Fortunately, the Philippines is finally waking up to the potential adverse effects of the continued use of plastic bags, and various groups as well as individuals are taking serious steps to limit or stop outright the use of plastic bags.

In January 2011, for example, Muntinlupa City became the first major urban center in the country to implement a ban on the use of plastic bags and other non-biodegradable materials. A city ordinance prohibits establishments from using, offering or selling plastic bags as packing materials for dry goods as well as wet goods such as fish, meat and poultry.

At the same time, there is a pending bill in the Senate seeking to prohibit groceries, supermarkets, public markets, restaurants, fast-food chains, department and retail stores from using plastic bags, in order to curb pollution and help the country manage its ecological resources.

According to Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change: “Plastic bags end up as litter as they make their way to landfills, drainage and bodies of water, taking decades to decompose and damaging marine life when dumped in the sea.”

Some of the country’s leading retail companies have been offering an alternative that will make Mother Earth smile—recyclable, reusable and fashionable shopping bags.

Since 2007, mall giant SM Group and the Rustan’s groups have been encouraging their customers to use their specially designed recyclable bags to replace or minimize the use of plastic bags.

SM started with its “SM Greenbag,” which has morphed through the years into the SM Ecobag.  Rustan’s and Shopwise centers, meanwhile, have their own version of earth-friendly shopping bags made of fabric, and  customers earn reward points or discounts for using them.

According to the WWF, using recyclable bags is a good first step to take toward making plastics bags history.  “WWF believes that reducing the use of plastics is something everyone should do. Bring a reusable shopping bag at all times and keep it neatly tucked within your bag. Be more aware as a consumer and demand that corporations provide clients with alternatives such as biodegradable paper bags. In the end, it becomes a matter of choice,” Yan says.

But most of the country’s small and medium-sized retailers, however, find it financially daunting to switch to paper bags or recyclable bags, thus the move to go into the next best thing, which are bio-degradable plastic bags such as those used by Golden ABC, which operates brands such as Penshoppe, Oxygen and Regatta.

“Penshoppe and other Golden ABC brands are using paper bags but for some stores, we have been using oxo-biodegradable plastics for a number of years.  This is the latest in plastic degrading technology and has distinct advantages over biodegradable plastic bags.  Oxo-biodegradable plastic degrades best when they become litter. If the plastic is used properly it will also last many years, but once it becomes litter it could degrade in under 12 months. Oxo-biodegradable plastic will also not release methane as it degrades,” says Golden ABC chief executive officer Bernie Liu.

“Part of GOLDEN ABC’s (GABC) commitment to nation-building is protecting the environment we live in.  We have executed energy efficiency measures and environmentally friendly practices in our stores and have embedded these in our corporate operations through our CSR platform (GET UP) by also partnering with WWF-Philippines in environmental education,” Liu adds.

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