In The Loop
By Cheska Firmalo
It is no secret that the Philippines suffers from the problem of plastic pollution. Despite the passing of the Solid Waste Management Act in 2001, landfills and litter on streets are commonplace. With the country being a signatory to several environmental agreements, there is little initiative when it comes to sustainable development (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, 2000 and DENR, n.d.). The Philippines’ title of being the world’s third largest contributor to ocean plastic is indicative of the many issues that the country faces with regard to not only plastic, but the larger problem of environmental sustainability and waste management (Porcalla, 2018)
All In One Direction
The current model of the linear economy has incentivized big corporations to excessively extract natural resources such as water, metals, and oil to manufacture materials and products such as plastic without a care for the environment. With the goal of endless economic growth, sustainability and resource management are set aside at the cost of the environment and the communities that depend on it (Whittaker, 2019). The excessive extraction of natural resources and the production of waste has resulted in numerous man-made disasters in history, such as the Marcopper mining disaster (Dizon, 2019). It is also a large contributor to environmental pollution, the destruction of ecosystems, and the climate crisis that we are experiencing today. Given that the world’s producers and manufacturers are the ones providing virtually everything we use in our daily lives, this linear mindset trickles down to individual lifestyles, thus systematizing the linear economy and way of living. There seems to be no way out.
Going Around In Circles?
Photo from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, taken from the World Economic Forum report on Circular Economy
Big problems require big solutions. In contrast to the linear model, the circular model has no beginning or end. It started gaining traction in the 1970s, forwarded by scientists, designers, and businesses who wanted to find creative, nature-based ways of tackling our waste problem. Several approaches have been developed, such as the Cradle to Cradle, Performance Economy, Biomimicry, Industrial Ecology, Blue Economy Systems, and Natural Capitalism (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, n.d.). The goal of these ideas is to “close the loop” between two cycles: the biological cycle (natural processes that provide resources for the economy) and the technical cycle (the recovery and restoration processes of goods and components). Doing so will create an effective, sustainable economy that will benefit both large and small organizations, businesses, the environment, and society (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, n.d.)
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there are 3 general principles to the circular economy:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
The circular model is a way for us to align our world and our lifestyles with the way the Earth has been taking care of itself for the past million years. In the same way things grow, live, and die to be used as nutrients for the soil, we have to design our lives and businesses in a way that we produce as little waste as possible and feed back into the natural resources that we use to manufacture our daily items. This looks like companies using renewable energy, producing green packaging, clothes and shoes made from ocean trash, and appliances with parts that can easily be repaired (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2011). Since these businesses provide us with our needs and almost everything we can buy, it is important to hold them accountable so we can have eco-friendly change be doable for all people.
The circular model shows that everyone, from companies to individuals, has a role to play in taking care of the planet. In the Philippines, we can see how businesses have helped to turn the tide for sustainability. Startups such as The Plastic Flamingo and Humble Sustainability help divert trash by collecting plastic (and virtually anything non-biodegradable, for Humble) to use in creating new products (The Plastic Flamingo, n.d. and Humble Sustainability, n.d.). Another successful social enterprise, Rags2Riches, works with community artisans to create handwoven bags and accessories out of scrap fabric, while also providing them financial opportunities and jobs (Santiago, 2020). Unilever Philippines has also made much progress, using recycled plastic in their product packaging and collecting plastic sachets with the help of paid junk shops and waste workers (GMA News, 2020). While these are all admirable initiatives, these still need to be institutionalized for circularity to be made accessible for all people, nationwide. There is a long way to go and we need institutional change, especially from the government, but this doesn’t mean all our efforts are to be thrown away. From small change comes collective action.
An Act Providing for an Ecological Solid Waste Management Program, Creating the Necessary Institutional Mechanisms and Incentives, Declaring Certain Acts Prohibited and Providing Penalties, Appropriating Funds Therefor, And for Other Purposes . Rep. Act No. 9003, (January 26, 2001) (Phil.).
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