The environmental, health and economic costs of plastic bags are widely-known and unchallenged: among others, they block drainages and cause flooding, choke marine and land animals, are a blight particularly in tourism and coastal areas, waterways and public spaces, and take up valuable space in waste disposal facilities where they will persist for hundreds of years. In addition, the production and distribution of plastic bags contribute significantly to climate change. Because of these negative effects, hundreds of measures around the world have been taken since 2002—the year when the first national ban on plastic bags was enacted in Bangladesh—to reduce or regulate their usage.
In the Philippines, cities and municipalities, businesses and the general public have also acknowledged the negative effects of too much reliance on plastic bags and are now more accepting of efforts to regulate their usage. Currently, there are at least 20 cities and provinces in the Philippines that have some form of policy to regulate the use of plastic bags. In addition, business establishments around the country are allowing the use of, or offer non-plastic options such as customer-owned reusable bags, used carton boxes or paper bags. Existing policies to regulate plastic bag use range from plastic levies to outright bans.
A few notable cases of plastic bag regulation are:
Siquijor (Provincial Ordinance No. 06-2018)
Siquijor is an island province in the Central Visayas composed of 6 municipalities. In October 2018, Siquijor passed a provincial ordinance which regulates the use of plastic bags for secondary packaging and prohibits the free distribution of plastic bags as primary packaging. Effective February 1, 2019, the ordinance also requires customers to bring their own bags when shopping, prohibits the sale of new plastic bags during Sunday, and prohibits the use of cellophane for cooked food and water. Effective May 2019, the ordinance prohibits the use and sale of Styrofoam and other disposable containers.
To be effective, the ordinance was supported by a Provincial Executive Order (No. 2019-ZSV-002) which mandates the creation of a provincial environmental task force to implement Siquijor’s SWM program and plastic use ordinance. The ordinance has been well-received by the public, and enforcers have observed that even tourists are complying.
San Carlos, Negros Occidental (City Ordinance No. 14-53 series of 2014)
In 2014, San Carlos City passed an ordinance regulating the use of plastic cellophane, t-shirt bags and expanded polystyrene or Styrofoam as packaging materials for food and beverages. The ordinance also encourages the use of alternative packaging materials for food and beverages, and encourages citizens to bring their own bags for shopping. The ordinance has been successful in transforming even the city’s wet market as a plastic-free zone—vendors use traditional leaves to wrap wet goods such as fish and meat.
The ordinance was effective in raising awareness about the impact of plastic and Styrofoam. Enforcers have noted a marked decrease in the number of violations, from 52 cases in 2015 to 27 cases in 2017.
City of San Fernando, Pampanga (Plastic-Free Ordinance No. 2014-008)
The City of San Fernando has been consistently hailed as a Zero Waste model in the Philippines and around the world. CSFP boasts of an 80% waste diversion rate, which is the highest in the country and possibly in the Asia Pacific region. To strengthen their bid to become a fully ZW city, CSFP passed an ordinance in 2015 that seeks to regulate the use of plastic bags and polystyrene, while promoting reusable bags.
CSFP implemented the ordinance in stages, beginning with multi-stakeholder consultations with concerned sectors such as retailers, institutions, business establishments and the general public. They road-tested the implementation of the ordinance among citizens by initially implementing Friday as plastic regulation day, gradually working towards full implementation in about a year. Because of efforts to consult stakeholders, compliance rate currently stands at an impressive 85%.
However, the lack of a comprehensive national policy to regulate plastic bags have proven to be problematic for cities and municipalities that are trying to reduce or regulate plastic bag usage within their jurisdiction. Cities and municipalities with regulatory policies but are next-door neighbors with others without plastic bag policies find that their efforts are easily circumvented by citizens, who bring plastic bags from outside their cities and dispose these bags locally, adding to local waste management costs. A lack of uniformity in policies also create a lot of confusion for citizens, who may find themselves penalized for a lack of awareness about what is allowed in one city and what is not allowed in another. Cities that are also seriously implementing waste recovery and reduction programs find that there is nowhere to bring collected residual waste, plastic bags primarily, and they are left to resort to undesirable practices such as bringing plastic residual waste to cement kilns.
In other instances, a ban on t-shirt bags have allowed for an increase in the use of other forms of plastic packaging such as the plastic “labo”, a transparent plastic bag without a handle that is mostly used as primary packaging for food and small amounts of grocery items. In Navotas where t-shirt bags are banned, the city has noted a marked increase in the usage of “labo”.