Waste Management in the Philippines

April 11, 2024

This blog post highlights the Philippines' struggle with plastic waste management, despite having national and local policies in place. The key issue identified is the historical focus on downstream solutions (waste collection and disposal) rather than upstream solutions (preventative measures). The introduction of the Extended Producers Responsibility Act (EPR) in 2022 marks a significant shift. This law mandates plastic producers to minimize their environmental impact by: 1. Redesigning products to use less plastic 2. Reducing overall plastic use 3. Substituting virgin plastic with recycled content This upstream approach, combined with existing downstream efforts, offers a more comprehensive strategy for tackling the Philippines' plastic pollution crisis. The success of the EPR law is being closely monitored, raising hope that the country can become a leader in plastic waste management.

In 2023, the Philippines was the biggest culprit of global ocean plastic waste. There are many reasons the waste management practices in the Philippines cannot contend with its waste, and in this article, we propose one explanation.

The Philippines has enacted national policies like the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, and local laws like Single-Use Plastic Bans. The reforms exist. But the problem–barring implementation–lies in the approach of the policies. When it comes to plastic waste management, there are two modes of action: Downstream and upstream.

The former operates at the end of the plastic’s lifecycle. In simpler terms, plastic waste is dealt with only once it’s thrown out. Examples of downstream solutions include segregation, collection, recycling, and disposal.

Filipino waste workers segregate heaps of garbage. Photo credit: GMA News

Meanwhile, the latter deals with plastic before it even becomes waste; preventative measures are taken in the stages of design, production, and distribution of plastic products to minimize their environmental footprint. One such example of tihis is reuse and refill models such as the social enterprise Glassia Water who are pioneering upstream models in Vietnam.

Glasia Water refill operations in Vietnam. Photo credit: Glassia Water

For a long time, all of the country’s interventions have been focused only on downstream solutions–that is until the Extended Producers Responsibility Act lapsed into law in 2022. The introduction of EPR in the Philippines is an attempt to provoke change in the current plastic waste management in the country by enacting both downstream and upstream solutions.

For the first time in Philippine history, producers are mandated to minimize their plastic footprint before their products get to consumers. This entails points of action such as redesigning products to require less plastic, reducing plastic wherever possible, and substituting new materials for recycled ones.

With the EPR law now in effect across the country, many are hoping it will change the score on the Philippines’ plastic pollution crisis and prove that even the country that has the highest rate of plastic waste can turn the tide.

Sources: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/41846/EPR_withepaper.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y