August 3, 2012
Southeast Asia is seeing more calls to ban plastic bags, and Lilia Casanova has a front-row seat to the debate in the Philippines. Casanova, a board member of the Solid Waste Management Association of the Philippines, said she does not agree with the local governments in her country that have banned or restricted bags. But she said she understands the motivation. Bags get blamed for contributing to environmental problems such as clogged drains, street flooding and harming marine life, she said. "I understand the problem, in metro Manila, every time it rains the streets are flooded," said Casanova, who nonetheless wrote an essay in May for the Asian Scientist Magazine titled "Donít Ban Plastic Bags, Use Them Wisely." She believes the bag bans demonstrate that Asia, with a few exceptions, comes up short in managing solid waste. Itís a hot topic. Environmental groups in the Philippines last month called for extending the patchwork of local bans nationwide. The government in Vietnamís largest city, Ho Chi Minh, in May said it wanted to ban free plastic takeout bags. And Malaysia last year began a nationwide one day a week ban on free bags in most stores. One local government there, in Penang, took it a step further with its own seven-day-a-week ban. Bag ban advocates in Southeast Asia say growing wealth and more people are leading to more trash. Malaysia, for example, has seen its waste generated go from 17,000 metric tons in 2002 to 25,000 tons today and likely 30,000 by 2020, with 95 percent sent to landfills, according to government figures.