Plastic ban stifles Philippine vendors

DAVAO CITY — Agdao Public Market is fringed with long queues every morning. These are not eager shoppers. They’re vendors waiting to get their daily ration of biodegradable plastic bags.

“It’s really hard, we have to adjust to the whims of the cellophane trader. They (traders) only gives us two packs for each of us,” said Josalle Linasam as she plucks the leaves of spinach she sells in her stall.

Linasam, 31, has been lining up everyday for the past two weeks for her 100 bags, ever since Davao banned non-recyclable plastic bags.

“So when sales are high, we would run out of plastic bags because it’s not easy to just buy more,” Linasam lamented.

Davao lawmakers passed the ban on non-recyclable plastic in 2009 but the city only started to enforce it this year. Anyone caught breaking the law pays a fine of P300 (US$7.16). 139 violators were punished two days after the ban was implemented, news reports here said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) says the bulk of garbage in waterways, mostly plastics in 2011 reached 17,087 kilograms.

“And it’s exactly why this kind of plastic is prohibited. When disposed improperly, they clog the waterways and cause flooding when there’s torrential downpour,” said Jim Sampulna, DENR’s regional chief in Southern Mindanao.

Joseph Felizarta, Davao’s environment officer,pointed to another reason to ban nonbiodegradable plastic: to lessen the impact of climate change since it releases dioxin, a highly toxic compound.

“If nonbiodegradable plastics are also thrown into sanitary landfills, it produces methane gases,” Felizarta added.

But the bid to deal with climate change and pollution is also creating unintended consequences.

“Our expenses have increased and we are facing a deficit,” said Linasam.

At the Bankerohan market, a thirty-minute jeepney ride from Agdao Public Market, vendors echoed the same sentiment. Fruit vendor Cinderella Ronquillo, 62, says her profit “now goes to the (biodegradable) plastic.”

Two packs of 50 cellophane bags, says Ronquillo costs her P64 (US$1.51) a day. Two packs of nonbiodegradable plastic would only cost P40 (US$0.96). Now, the premium she pays is cutting into her average daily income of P780 (US$18.64).

Small traders talk about how they’ll make ends meet. Now they wonder whether the law is there to help the environment — or just to single out wet market vendors who struggle to put food on the table.

“We can’t do anything. We have to follow it or else we will have to pay fines,” said Linasam.
(Mick Basa/Asian Centre for Journalism)

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