One of the simple rule changes that has been long adopted among most developed countries that we Filipinos still haven’t found the urgency to do for ourselves is the active discouragement of the use of single use plastic bags and the shift to reusable ecobags.
We’ve been trying it on and off (mostly off) for more than a decade already, but our political and business leaders seem to be unable to gather the determination to make their constituents or customers pay for plastic bags, so that the latter will be forced to bring their own bags when shopping. The only ones ballsy enough so far to charge for their paper bags are a few fast fashion retailers, and based on the general reaction towards their initiative, a lot of us are still too lazy to bring our own bags and expect to be provided with the free packaging that ultimately adds to our already egregious trash problem that is wreaking havoc on our environment.
The Philippines is already among the top contributors of ocean plastic waste in the world. Our refusal to cooperate and make the effort to bring our own reusable bags when shopping, even when the rest of the world has been doing it for years already, must be a significant factor. Yes, our dependence on plastic sachets is probably a bigger reason for that, primarily because sachets are basically impossible to reuse, while grocery plastic bags are still somewhat reusable, but this added usage of plastics still ends up as plastic waste in the end.
In the end, if we are serious about reducing the globally top-ranked quantity of plastic waste we generate, we have to somehow force ourselves to use less plastic. And for that to be effective in a nation of more than 100 million hard headed and entitled people, that initiative will have to come from our leaders and policy makers.
In many first world nations, its citizens know that they will have to pay extra for plastic bags or packaging, and that is why most of them bring their own reusable bags when they know they are going shopping. Note that in most developed countries, its people use public transportation more, so they don’t just leave their reusable ecobags in their cars in case it is needed, but they actually go about their errands with ecobags ready.
It is interesting to see how Filipinos are totally capable of having their own folding ecobags ready when outside the country, even bringing their own stash from back home, but once we are come back, we revert back to our lazy, entitled, and irresponsible selves who expect free plastic packaging to be provided when we go to almost any store, from the wet market all the way to the high street.
At this point, there is no hope in expecting the average Juan dela Cruz to voluntarily use ecobags consistently. While a very small minority may have taken it upon themselves to acquire the habit, a vast majority simply will not do it on their own, especially if there is no compelling reason to do so. Note that for Filipinos, saving the planet or reducing plastic waste do not count as compelling reasons. The only thing that will make us act accordingly is if plastic bags are banned completely (hopefully not) or if we are charged the plastic bag tax.
That is why this is an issue that has to be addressed by our business and political leaders who must make the decision to be unpopular today for the sake of the future. The politician who no longer makes plastic bags free will be making life inconvenient for those who have become dependent on it. Doing so would be like cracking down on illegal parking, consistently implementing traffic rules, clearing sidewalks, or making commuters walk more than 20 meters by instituting jeepney stops. If you come to think of it, that would be like making our public officials choose not to propagate a dynasty or engage in corruption.
Imagine the horror of having our cities led by leaders who add more rules to our already miserable lives, telling us that those rules will sting at first, but if we keep on following, the general quality of life can and will see improvements. Why should we ever put such monsters in charge of our communities and its future, when we can have magical unicorns who can solve everything that ails this nation with the concepts of ‘unity’ and ‘love’, with no accountability whatsoever?
Anyway, enough ranting. For those of us who have tried a life where you bring your own reusable bags, the thing about it is that you quickly discover that it really is no big deal and you eventually get used to it. Those who have cars can keep a few ecobags in the trunk so it’s always handy, and those who don’t have a car will simply have to remember to bring a couple of those bags along when running errands. During days that you forget the bag, just pay the damn fee for one. It’s not rocket science and terribly inconvenient so I personally don’t see why the people who can do something about it are so afraid of making us do our part to cut down on waste and build a better society/planet for the future.*