I was doing my research last year on sustainability and environment policies when I came across an article written by Joe Hoekstra, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund. Hoekstra was discussing how much humanity has been exceeding the biocapacity of the Earth, saying that “humans are living too large on a finite planet.” The article was written in 2013, but I think it is still relevant now.
A few years back, a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nostril went viral online. This caused several efforts and movements, one of which to note is of The Last Straw movement. Several organizations have fought for the ban of single-use plastic since then. While this can be considered as one step forward, it seems as though it is distracting us from the real problems.
Now that humans are consuming more plastics than ever, one of the problems this has brought is proper waste management. If we will be talking about plastics alone, there is an estimated eight million metric tons of plastics entering the ocean every year because of improper waste disposal. It takes hundreds to thousands of years for plastic items to decompose. Given the state of our planet now, what would humans see in a thousand years? Will this planet even live through another millenium.
More consumers have turned to lead conscious lifestyles. Grocery stores are now using cardboard boxes and are even encouraging patrons to bring their own bags. With more people refusing (or being forced) to use single-use plastic straws, vendors after vendors are now offering an alternative. The straw people now carry on the go is either made of bamboo or metal, but with the latter opening even more discussions about how it is apparently posing the same or even more danger to the environment in some other way. This, I think, is where it gets dangerous.
The move to make the “sustainable” life easier to maintain has been commercialized. So much so that we can observe this by seeing how much metal straws are being sold by different suppliers on DLSU Facebook groups alone. Businesses and corporations have even taken advantage of consumers who want to use less plastic, introducing new products. Just recently, Starbucks even designed a new lid for their cups (which is, by the way, still made of plastic) so that their customers would not have to reach for straws. How are we so sure that this move is backed up by sustainable business practices within their own company? Getting good raves can go a long mile when you are in the business sector. It’s an easy way to gain publicity.
Straws and single-use plastic are only the tip of the iceberg. That iceberg will slowly melt if we do not also act soon enough on other problems causing the planet to deteriorate. The real question I beg to ask is: are we really changing the world and saving the environment by refusing to use plastic straws?
No, the real problem lies in how there is little to no supervision on proper waste management. I want to be clear here: I do not have anything against the use of metal or bamboo straws. But if we are really pushing for change and reformation for the sake of sustainable living, then we should talk about policies and regulations. While there are existing laws in the Philippines that cater to the protection of the environment, it is not being implemented properly. We have existing programs and we have existing laws to further put this movement forward. Instead of creating new ones from the ground up, let us make sure that the ones already in paper are being given attention to and being implemented. This is something we should ask for from our national and local governments.
But the rules and regulations have to be equated still with self-discipline. Boracay will be open to the public anew in its pristine state. Sadly, only a day after its “soft opening,” photos of trash strewn everywhere are seen. As always, environmental laws are nothing if we don’t resolve the issue of lack of discipline of the populace. That is the problem.