By Smitty Smith
Observations from the Street
Here are some thoughts about plastic pollution and bottle deposit and redemption. The Philippines is rated the third largest plastic polluter to the world’s oceans after China and Indonesia. While researching on this topic, I was overwhelmed by the statistics and the differences in the numbers. So let’s take it to the street. It is not difficult; it is downright impossible to walk down most any street in Metro Manila and not see empty plastic beverage bottles – most of the time, plenty of glass bottles as well. One cure for this is bottle deposit and redemption. Many countries already employ this practice as a way of curbing not only pollution but also waste of raw materials.
Here in Manila the only bottles that have deposit on them are some glass beer and soda products. I have paid zero deposit in large grocery stores, sometimes 1.5 pesos 2 pesos or 5 pesos for a 330 ml bottle. The one-liter bottles are usually 5 pesos. No consistency. When trying to return these bottles, you need to have a receipt to prove you bought the bottles there. You sometimes feel these 24-hour convenience stores don’t want to deal with the bottles or in the case of overcharging for deposit that they want to make a profit rather than return your money.
If plastic and glass beverage bottles are to be effectively eliminated from the garbage and pollution stream, they need to have a value placed on their proper disposal. Saying it is good for the planet is not enough. The proper management of a bottle redemption program for Metro Manila or the entire country of the Philippines is absolutely necessary. There are thousands of jobs to be created, plenty of spaces to become litter free, and plenty of money to be made.
A law could be passed that on a specific date – say, Earth Day 2020 – all beverage containers of 500 ml and less made of plastic or glass will have a 2-peso deposit charge. All containers 501ml and up will have a 5-peso deposit. These charges are collected by the originator (manufacturer or importer) of these beverages and recharged down the merchandising chain.
When the end consumer returns this container to the store or a redemption center, they receive a full and consistent refund. Here is where the jobs and the money come in. It is customary that the originator, who makes the largest profit on the products, pay 1-peso extra for a handling fee to the store that redeems the bottles. This covers the expense of rent, electricity, labor, etc. for the redemption center.
Not all stores have the space or ability to deal with all the bottles. Redemption centers will spring up dealing only with empties. Government oversight can be paid for by imposing a quarter-of-a-peso fee on all redemptions. This still leaves three quarters for the store. Any bottles thrown on the ground will be picked up by people in need. This has the potential of eliminating millions of bottles from our land and oceans every year.
The Philippines can be the leaders in eco-tourism in South East Asia by continuing and speeding up it’s efforts for a cleaner greener Philippines.
Next time, I want to focus more on job creation. Just a thought from the street.
Smitty Smith is an accomplished restaurateur of 36 years in New York and has a deep passion for environmental conservation. He has found love in the Philippines for its people, its islands, its natural beauty, and its rich organic produce.