Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Jill Tambal, a fisherman from Cavite, speaks with great dismay. “Plastic ang nahuhuli namin, hindi isda at alimasag,” he shares.
This is how the fifth episode of “ACTIVATE: The Global Citizen Movement” opens: a few words from a struggling lower-class worker that weigh as much as the plastic waste they are able to gather everyday.
Plastic pollution has long poisoned Philippine waters, including the newly-revived Manila Bay, Pasig River, and the rehabilitated Boracay Island. Today, it poses a threat to local, small-scale fisherfolk, negatively affecting their livelihood. While we see our very own fisherfolk suffer the consequences, we also come to understand that we ourselves have taken part in the global plastic waste.
“ACTIVATE: The Global Citizen Movement” is a six-part documentary series by National Geographic and Procter & Gamble (P&G). It focuses on the Philippines and our alarming plastic pollution problem, citing the country as one of the top three countries contributing to the global ocean plastic waste, next to Indonesia and China.
Titled as “Ending Plastic Pollution,” the episode shows “the critical role of multi-sectoral collaboration” in coming up with a solution to the nationwide solid waste problem, in such a way that every sector and citizen would actively participate. International organization Global Citizen worked with actor Darren Criss in bringing its campaign to the Philippines to collaborate with grassroots activists to urge three local government units in Metro Manila to become zero-waste cities by 2030. Singer Pharell Williams also partnered with the organization in starting the first petition to hold corporations accountable and push for actual corporate responsibility in regard to their contribution to the global plastic waste.
Featured experts also shared the statistics and research surrounding the issue. A study by the Ella McArthur Foundation reveals that, by 2050, plastic will outweigh the fish found in our oceans globally. World Wildlife Fund director Erin Simon shares that an estimate of at least one dump truck of plastic waste enters the oceans per minute, resulting in 8 million tons of plastic in just one year.
United Nations General Assembly president Maria Fernanda Espinosa notes that 60 million people depend on small-scale fisheries around the world, with 90 percent of them living in developing countries such as the Philippines.
“It is up to the local governments to manage the waste, but those communities might already be in poverty and they might not have enough funding to pay for that. They may be focusing on putting roofs over their head or food on the table, and so that makes it really complicated when you ask them to prioritize waste,” says Simon.
P&G and other well-known multinational companies will likely keep their top ranks as biggest plastic polluters so long as they “continue to churn out single-use plastic to package their products.”
This is especially true for the Philippines, as middle- and lower-class citizens are drawn to patronize products offered in small-use packages, or tingi-tingi, since these are what most Filipinos can afford. Proper waste management cannot be easily and effectively implemented due to this continuous usage of single-use plastics, since it would be insensitive at best for local government units to simply ban such products to avoid consumption.
While our citizens and local government units play crucial roles in resolving the plastic waste crisis, at the forefront of this problem are consumer goods companies that produce single-use plastic packaging. Global brand audits conducted by independent organizations prove this to be true.
P&G, which co-presented the documentary, ranks as one of the top polluters worldwide, according to the first volume of the Global Brand Audit Report released by the Break Free From Plastic movement. Whether the “ACTIVATE: The Global Citizen Movement” documentary series is a form of damage control or a public record of the company’s commitment to become environmentally conscious is up for debate, but Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigner Abigail Aguilar thinks the project is not enough for the company to redeem itself.
In an interview with CNN Philippines Life, Aguilar commends the documentary series for “going [in] the right direction” in handling the problem through a multi-sectoral approach. Despite these efforts, Aguilar says that suggested and undertaken solutions from P&G and other fast-moving goods companies remain “short-sighted” and “not ambitious enough”.
Aguilar cites P&G’s Ambition 2030 sustainability goals, a commitment to “reduce global use of virgin petroleum plastic in its packaging by 50 percent by 2030” and refers to it as “obviously not the kind of innovation the world needs to truly tackle this global crisis.”
P&G plans to achieve these goals through means of “lightweighting, increasing their use of recycled plastic, driving conversion to more concentrated product forms, and when it makes sense, using alternative materials.” With these steps taken, the use of “over 300,000 tons of virgin plastic” is expected to be avoided.
According to Aguilar, recycling alone cannot solve the current scale of the plastic problem. “Recyclable does not mean it will be recycled. We know only nine percent of the plastic produced has been recycled since 1950 while corporations continue to increase their plastic production. [Companies] need to commit to reducing the production of single-use plastic and invest in alternative delivery systems such as reuse and refill.”
She also explains that lightweighting will not be an effective solution. “What we need first and foremost is reduction,” she explains.
Regardless of alterations in plastic packaging, and even a global campaign such as “ACTIVATE: The Global Citizen Movement,” Aguilar says that P&G and other well-known multinational companies will likely keep their top ranks as biggest plastic polluters so long as they “continue to churn out single-use plastic to package their products.”
Watch the documentary here.