A PROPER disposal plan should be drafted and strictly implemented, environmental experts said, as government mulls ending the use of face shields for the general public, the only country in the world to do so in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The mass stoppage of using face shields will definitely add to our plastic problems in the country, and that’s a big strain on our waste management systems,” Zero Waste campaigner Marian Frances Ledesma of Greenpeace Philippines told BusinessWorld via Viber call.
Ms. Ledesma, along with Plastic Flamingo (Plaf) Communications and Marketing Associate Allison Audrey Tan, said local governments, particularly the barangay level, should be at the forefront of the disposal plan while receiving both technical support and financial assistance from the national government.
It is important for the government to issue ordinances or regulations around how each barangay should be collecting and properly disposing of these face shields, said Ms. Ledesma.
“What LGUs (local government units) need right now is guidance on how to get disposed face shields to the right facilities, and how to safely collect them from households to make sure the waste pickers are properly protected during that collection and disposal process,” she added.
Under Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001, LGUs are supposed to lead the implementation of proper waste disposal with policies on segregation, recycling, and reuse.
Many LGUs, however, have yet to fully comply with the 20-year-old law, including the establishment of barangay-level material recovery facilities.
Ms. Tan said LGUs must provide a consolidated list of recycling centers to inform people how to properly dispose of the face shields.
“It’s not an overnight thing, we have to slowly implement that and make it a behavior or a lifestyle,” she told BusinessWorld in a separate Viber call.
Environment Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda did not immediately reply to inquiries on the government’s face shield disposal plan.
The government should consider recycling face shields more than dumping them in landfills or bodies of water, said Ms. Ledesma.
Ms. Tan cited a study by Ocean Cleanup indicating that 1,600 rivers worldwide are accountable for at least 80% of marine pollution, of which 30% come from Philippine rivers.
The environmental experts further warned that any recycling methods that involve incineration and burning should be avoided since they will release toxic emissions that lead to cancer, respiratory issues, and developmental side effects for pregnant women and young children.
Ms. Tan suggested plastic extrusion, which is already being done by Plaf’s recycling facility. It is the process in which plastics are melted then molded to different materials such as eco lumber to build homes, furniture, and other products.
Meanwhile, Health Care Without Harm Asia Executive Director Ramon San Pascual told BusinessWorld that there is no longer any way to create value to plastic waste.
“That is the reason why the call is to ban single-use plastic.”
There is nothing that can be done but to cope and learn to avoid or refuse the use of unnecessary materials, he added, noting that a disposal plan should have been considered by the government prior to implementation.
“Most of it is a knee-jerk kind of response, without long-term planning and a cohesive holistic attempt to address effectively the pandemic,” said Mr. Pascual.
Similarly, Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said plastics are not recyclable. “It is not degradable; it only turns into microplastics.”
This is why manufacturing should be stopped from the source, she added, noting that legislation to ban single-use plastics at a national level was needed.
The Philippines’ current medical waste is beyond the existing capacity for treatment, storage, and disposal, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in Sept.
It said the country produces about 15,383 metric tons of medical waste per day, and over 5.6 million metric tons per year.
“The generated health care waste, as of June 20, 2021, approximately increased (by) 11.30% of the total capacity of the existing TSD facilities nationwide,” Environmental Management Bureau Assistant Director Visminda A. Osorio said in an earlier Senate hearing.
The task force handling the coronavirus response has already forwarded its recommendation on face shield use to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who is expected to decide soon on policy adjustments.
Several cities — including Manila, Muntinlupa, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao — have already scrapped the use of face shields except in medical facilities.
“Face shield becomes a cover-up for the inadequacy of the government in terms of the holistic, effective response to the pandemic,” Mr. San Pascual said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan