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How the Manila Bay clean-up can have a global impact

It takes a concerted effort to keep our oceans clean
10:47 AM March 22, 2019

On January 27, 2019, a big coastal clean-up conducted by an estimated 5,000 government workers and volunteers, reportedly collected 11 truckloads of garbage. Still, there is much work to be done, with the clean-up as a starting point and a very good one at that.

In what is now called “The Modern Battle of Manila Bay”, the Department of Interior and Local Government has issued Memorandum Circular No. 2019-09, mandating 178 LGUs and 5,714 barangays to conduct weekly clean-up drives.

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The clean-up activity did not happen overnight; the plan for Manila Bay’s rehabilitation was initially ordered by the Supreme Court in 2008 after a group that called itself “Concerned Residents of Manila Bay” filed a case at the Cavite Regional Trial Court against government agencies in 1999 for their “continuous negligence in keeping Manila Bay clean, well-maintained and pollution-free”.

Aside from the Manila Bay, the other bodies of water in the country have been given long overdue attention. Companies have been doing their corporate social responsibility programs at coastal communities in order to try and mitigate the effects of solid waste pollution, particularly plastic that has been improperly disposed of.

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Local moves, global impact

Initiatives such as clean-up drives and more efforts should be done – and quickly – to stop our seas from being overrun by plastic waste. According to a study called Stemming The Tide: Land-based Strategies for a Plastic-free Ocean which was released in 2015 by global advocacy firm McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, plastic debris is now emerging as a new, truly global challenge because of its longevity, ubiquity, and sheer volume. It is estimated that some plastic products retain their original recognizable form 400 years after being discharged into the ocean.

The study cites a 2015 article in the journal Science, which highlighted the urgency of preventing unmanaged plastic waste from reaching the ocean, a problem known as plastic-waste leakage.

The research further suggests that the majority of plastic enters the ocean from a small geographic area, and that more than half comes from just five rapidly-growing economies—China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. “These countries have recently benefited from significant increases in GDP, reduced poverty, and improved quality of life. However, increasing economic power has also generated exploding demand for consumer products that have not yet been met with a commensurate waste-management infrastructure,” it notes.

This report suggests that coordinated action in just these five countries could significantly reduce the global leakage of plastic waste into the ocean by 2025, meaning the short-term, medium-term and long-term steps by private and public sectors in the Manila Bay and in other places in the country will have an impact not only on local waters but also on a global scale.

Consistency is key

Large amounts of waste or litter are abandoned in public places, where it awaits decomposition, burning, or use as animal feed, the study says. “Much of this uncollected waste is directly deposited into and around rivers and other water bodies that present direct pathways into the marine ecosystem; on average, roughly a tenth of waste deposited in or near waterways is plastic.” It adds that in short, simply collecting waste into a management system significantly reduces its chances of leaking into the ocean. But waste-management systems are not yet an airtight way to prevent plastic-waste leakage.

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What needs to be done is for citizens to be more conscientious about where they throw their trash and making sure that the recyclable garbage that is collected from households and commercial establishments find their way to recycling facilities.

Another needed component to achieve this is through projects by the manufacturers as well, to complement public initiatives such as the clean-up drives. One group that addresses this need is the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS). Its members include corporations involved in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), large industry groups, and environmental NGOs, whose initiatives are supported by the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC).

PARMS tries to look at comprehensive ways to address the challenge of plastic waste, including more efficient retrieval processes, and then finding ways to recycle and repurpose plastics, as well as creating a market for the recycled material and increasing recycling rates. Design and product development also play their part, where industries are now looking into moving away from single-use disposables to recyclable single-use items.  

More helping hands

With more Filipinos knowing the importance of proper waste management and recycling, there will be less plastic pollutants which can be carried by the tides from our seas to other places in the world. The Manila Bay clean-up efforts, which is planned to be a weekly activity, has already yielded results.

People have begun flocking to the previously neglected site, to enjoy the world-famous Manila Bay sunset. It will take more work until the Bay is restored to its former glory, but with more hands helping out, the target of having the waters “swimmable” again is possible.

According to the Metro Manila Development Authority, clean-ups are scheduled every Saturday at 7 a.m. along Baywalk, the seaside boardwalk on Roxas Boulevard. Volunteers are encouraged to bring gloves, boots, a water jug, mask, cap or hat, and extra clothes, just in case.    

The movements that are happening now are proof that the plastic waste problem should not be tackled by one sector alone. It is a concerted effort that takes cooperation and commitment from all sectors of society, from each citizen, to each business, and ultimately the policies and enforcement of government.

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TAGS: Manila Bay Clean-Up, The Modern Battle of Manila Bay
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