By: Steve Toloken
September 4, 2012
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (Sept. 4, 1 p.m. ET) — Several Philippine industry groups have banded together to run advertisements in major papers denouncing the growing number of plastic bag bans by local governments.
But one plastics association believes industry should accept a nationwide bag fee rather than risk more restrictive local laws.
Fourteen business groups in the Philippines, including those representing plastics, general industry and supermarkets, took out full-page ads in major newspapers Aug. 31 to oppose the bag bans, saying they unfairly blame plastic and fail to get at the root cause for litter and solid waste problems.
The groups say they want to raise public awareness of problems with banning plastic, but the increasing popularity of bans and other restrictions is leading one Philippine plastics group to support a national law imposing fees on bags as a better alternative to a patchwork of tougher local bans.
At least 20 cities in the country have passed different kinds of bans or restrictions on plastic bags, ranging from fees on bags to outright bans, which is confusing consumers and causing plastic bags to lose market share to paper bags, said Crispian Lao, the past president of the Philippine Plastics Industry Association, in a telephone interview.
That’s pushing PPIA, which also helped organize the ad campaign, to accept legislation currently in the lower house of the country’s legislature that would impose fees on plastic bags.
The law also would allow consumers to get a free bag if they bring back an old bag, and it would promote biodegradable bags.
“It’s something the industry can live with rather than an outright ban,” Lao said. “There are a lot of local ordinances coming out in support of bans or regulations of plastic bags.”
“It has become politically popular for the mayors to ban bags,” he said. “We are pushing for a national law… We don’t mind if the stores charge a fee.”
PPIA President Peter Quintana said the ads follow up other work the industry has done to oppose bag bans, including meeting with local governments. But they took out the ads to bring more attention to their position.
“We felt this was no longer enough,” he said. “There are local governments that do not invite us to their meetings.”
The advertisement does not address specific legislation, but rather suggests that the government should increase enforcement of waste management and waste segregation laws to control litter, and it said the increased use of paper bags actually harms the environment.
The ad was taken out by 14 groups, including PPIA, the Association of Petrochemical Manufacturers of the Philippines, the Packaging Institute of the Philippines, the Polystyrene Packaging Council of the Philippines, and the Metro Plastics Recycling Industries Inc.
As well, several general business groups signed on, including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., the Federation of Philippine Industries, Inc. and several associations representing supermarkets.
Quintana said all the groups generally support the PPIA position of a nationwide fee on bags and other regulations. He said labor groups worried about losing jobs in the plastic bag sector are discussing running their own ads opposing bag bans.
The industry ad questions the environmental credentials of paper bags, saying they use more water to produce – one gallon of water used to make one paper bag can make 116 plastic bags – and that paper production has double the carbon emissions of producing plastic. It said paper bags are 600 percent heavier than plastic bags, leading to more trash.
“With more cut trees and denuded forests, with more water and energy used, more carbon emissions and more trash, the plastic ban actually harms the environment,” the ad said. “The plastic ban does not protect the environment at all. It leads to more paper use, which means more trees cut and higher water and power use. The environment is worse off.”
Most of the public comments connected to a story on the ads on the website of the Philippine Star newspaper, however, supported bans. Commenters cited the need to reduce waste and cut down on plastic clogging drains and contributing to flooding.
Other commenters advocated for reusable bags to replace both paper and plastic, and said the problem is a lack of discipline among consumers about their waste habits.
Lao said most paper bags in the Philippines are imported while most plastic bags are produced domestically, leading to local job losses if the plastic bans continue. He said the industry has seen a 20 percent drop in demand for plastic bags, and that paper imports have gone up 45 percent in the last year.
Quintana said 175,000 people are employed directly and indirectly in the Philippine’s plastic bag sector, although he said he did not know how many work directly in the sector.
The restrictions already in place have hurt plastic bag manufacturers, causing them to scale back work from six days a week to four or five, Quintana said.
The sector has been helped somewhat in recent years, however, by increasing exports, and has seen more exports as anti-dumping duties from the United States and Europe make bags from other Asian countries more expensive, he said.