MAP Insights


A Plastic-Free Future

written by Ms. CHIT U. JUAN - June 4, 2024

A plastic-free future really starts with us — in our homes, in our place of work, and wherever we conduct business like stores and factories. We have already read about plastic leaching into our groundwater, and we hope for plastic-free fish and food, in general.

What we have not processed in our minds is that paper may not be the only solution to switching from plastics. We learned during a recent webinar organized by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Environment Committee, that even paper is not as easily recycled as we thought it to be.

We had a good speaker in Crispian Lao, President of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling & Material Sustainability and Vice-Chair of the National Solid Waste Management Commission, about misconceptions related to recycling. I was so surprised to know that food boxes soiled with grease can no longer be recycled or fed to recycling mills. Instead, they end up in landfills along with unsorted trash. I also learned that paper cups used for takeout beverages are in the same situation. They cannot be recycled. Think about all the paper cups we use in cafes and take out delivery orders!

Mr. Lao further shared that plastic cups are easily recycled as are biodegradable plastic shopping bags (though I am all for using paper bags because they so easily degrade and are taken by recyclers to make them into recycled paper). The speaker agreed we need to mount an information campaign for consumer awareness on what is recyclable and what is not — in our country, that is. Our paper manufacturers and plastic factories using recycled materials are in need of raw materials, in this case, used paper, boxes, and recyclable plastic.

Our cities jumped the gun and banned the use of all plastics, so everyone switched to paper packaging. Especially during the pandemic lockdowns when “home delivery” was the only way to order food. Vendors used so much plastic and paper packaging to protect food lest they receive complaints about how it was packed for delivery. The e-commerce sites (e.g., Lazada and Shopee) use so much bubble wrap to protect the merchandise lest they receive complaints or requests to return or exchange. Imagine all the bubble wrap these outfits use — where will they go after you unwrap your orders? Apparently, this bubble wrap can be used by recyclers — but only if it is sorted along with other plastic materials.

There are collection points for plastic which we must be aware of. There are also collection points for e-waste or electronic waste. What MAP can do is to spread awareness about these drop off points in the city. Then we teach our staff and our households to segregate trash into recyclable and not recyclable trash.

But is a plastic-free future really possible? It starts with education and segregation. It is followed by infrastructure and supplies, like segregated waste cans in public places and private offices. It should be followed by an information drive which to this day is fragmented and lacking.

If we want to live sustainably, we must address it from the start of any cycle. Start with the design in mind. Then execution demands that we think of how the product will be disposed of and how we will be able to recycle most if not all the stuff we use.

This is applicable even for clothing. We should stop using fast fashion as these items will end up in landfills, too. Polyester clothing feels hot in our already hot weather. We should shift to cooler fabrics like cotton and linen.

Ultimately, what we need is to change our lifestyle habits — what we eat, what we wear, what we use — and help to make our future plastic-free and sustainable.

We can also start reducing our garbage for collection by our village, condominiums, or homeowners’ association which ends up in landfills anyway. How do we reduce our garbage? At home, we must segregate and teach all our staff to do so. In the office, we must segregate or have a Materials Recovery Facility or MRF.

Solid waste management is not for the government to work on alone. It is every citizen’s responsibility to do waste segregation and reduce waste if possible. We are running out of landfill space, and we are also not optimizing recyclable materials. Meanwhile, recycling mills lack materials to process because people do not segregate or sort usable trash from the non-usable.

What we need is basic education in achieving a circular economy from start to finish of our business cycle, no matter what trade we are in.

We thank MAP Environment Committee Chair Regie Casas — a solar king himself — for spearheading this initiative to teach consumers, like us, about Solid Waste Management. We thank Mr. Lao for an enlightening presentation, the recording of which is still up on MAP’s social media assets for replaying to our stakeholders.

Sometimes, we think that since the laws have already been made, that takes care of everything. But implementation is needed as with all good laws. And education is paramount if the whole citizenry is to be involved to solve our solid waste issues. How do we start? We start with ourselves and then cascade to our teams. But awareness is job No. 1.

We can dream of a plastic-free future and a sustainable environment if we start at home and in our offices with design in mind. Then execution demands that we think of how the product will be disposed of and how we will be able to recycle most, if not all, of the stuff we use.

Chit U. Juan is the co-vice-chair of the MAP Environment Committee. She is also the president of the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. and Slow Food Manila (