Manila participates in the annual switching off of lights for one hour at Earth Hour 2024 at the Kartilya ng Katipunan on Saturday, March 23. (Photo by Rainiel Angelyn B. Figueroa/ The Varsitarian)

THE PHILIPPINES switched off lights in this year’s Earth Hour with a plea to combat plastic pollution that has become a major culprit of flooding and biodiversity loss.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines) hosted the annual event at the Kartilya ng Katipunan monument in Manila on Saturday, March 23. This is the 16th year the country joined Earth Hour, in which darkness enveloped participating places from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. to raise awareness about climate change.

Angela Consuelo Ibay, WWF-Philippines national director for Earth Hour, told the Varsitarian that organizers zeroed in on plastic pollution because the Philippines is the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste.

“We know that in the Philippines, around 35 percent of plastics we generate get leaked back into the open environment,” Ibay said. “That’s what we want to be able to reduce.”

In November, the United Kingdom (UK)-based Utility Bidder revealed in its study “Plastic Polluters” that Filipinos emitted an average of 3.30 kilograms of plastic waste per person into the ocean.

In a separate study, the UK’s University of Portsmouth and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University collected over 40,000 plastic pieces in over 56 sites, including Manila Bay and Pag-asa Island. Most of the retrieved plastics in Manila Bay were food packaging and sachets.

The average Filipino uses about 600 sachets yearly, including packaging for coffee, shampoo, and soap, according to Ibay.

We’re working with manufacturers, with the business sector, and they’re trying to look for solutions as well,” she said. “We hope that we can find alternatives. But for waste, that’s already there, [and] we need to find ways that they are managed well.”

A policy brief from the United States’s Duke University warned of severe consequences if stakeholders mismanage plastic waste.

“Waterways and drainage systems quickly become clogged by waste runoff, threatening the livelihood and sanitation of residents, particularly during heavy periods of rain,” the brief, published in February 2022, stated.

The University of Portsmouth said coastal ecosystems, including mangrove habitats, are at risk of destruction if plastic pollution remains prevalent.

Smart city

Ibay said Manila was chosen as this year’s venue for Earth Hour because of its commitment to the WWF-Philippines’ Plastic Smart Cities initiative, which aims to reduce plastic waste leakage into the ocean by 30 percent this year and 100 percent in 2030.

“[W]e work closely with the City of Manila to ensure that they themselves are on board,” she said. “They have a mobile materials recovery facility that they’ve established so that if there’s waste, people [can be reached] through social media channels.”

In his remarks during the Earth Hour program, Manila Vice Mayor Yul Siervo touted proposed ordinances being discussed by councilors to fight plastic pollution, including limiting plastic use in wet goods and prohibiting styrofoam food packages. He said the capital is one of the most vulnerable cities to the effects of climate change.

Ang pangangalaga sa ating kalikasan ay ‘di nakaatang sa ating gobyerno, kung hindi sa bawat isa sa atin,” he said. “Sa pamamagitan ng pakikibahagi sa Earth Hour at pagpatay ng ating ilaw ng isang oras, nagiging bahagi na tayo ng pandaigdigang kilusan upang masiguro na maganda ang kahaharapin nating kinabukasan.

Ibay, a lawyer, underscored the need for robust implementation of environmental laws, such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, to ensure sustained progress against plastic pollution.

“Our challenge is that we have good laws, good intentions, and some good initiatives, but the monitoring cannot be as consistent as we want, and I think that’s where we need to push for,” she said.

“We want to ensure that beyond Earth Hour participation, people do act and implement climate actions, even at their place of work, in their houses, and they do it consistently,” she added.

Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. This year, more than 190 countries gave one hour for the planet. With reports from Karis M. Tsang


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