By Rhaydz B. Barcia
LEGAZPI CITY --- Every day, Rohniel Estevez, chief operation officer of Integrated Coastal Resource Management (ICRM) of Legazpi City, devotes his time as guardian of the sea.
Rohniel, along with his men -- Dabbie Olimpo, rescue diver, Christian Talde, diver, and boat captain Rachel Belaza -- while patrolling Albay Gulf also collects wastes made of plastic that have been washed to the sea.
The plastic wastes are usually found in the waters off Barangays Dap-Dap, Puro, Victory, and other neighboring coastal villages along Albay Gulf, especially in the months of December to May during the season of northwest monsoon, or “amihan.”
But even after the northwest monsoon, plastic wastes are still seen floating on the surface and made an eyesore along the shoreline of the 5-kilometer Legazpi City Boulevard. The boulevard is a favorite spot for visitors and tourists, both foreign and local, for dining, refreshment, jogging and other exercise under the backdrop of perfectly-coned Mayon Volcano.
Before going underwater for coral transplanting, Rohniel and his team work together as scuba basurero, or garbage collector. They’re carrying “silo” trapnets and several empty sacks for the clean up drive that happens not only during the observance of World Environment Day and World Oceans Day but on any day.
“We are facing a hard time cleaning up the seas as plastic wastes from the open seas are washed away into Albay Gulf during Amihan season affecting the coasts off Puro, Dap-Dap, Victory, Pigcale, and other neighboring coastal communities,” Rohniel lamented.
The problem on plastic wastes according to Estevez is even made worse by wastes coming from river channels that connects to the river system in Legazpi City and end up in the ocean, he added.
He said that residents and village officials within the river channels of the upper towns like Daraga shuld be aware that the plastic wastes they indiscriminately throw into the river channels also find their way into the sewage system in Legazpi.
Estevez suggested that village officials with river channels should put up a trapnet to prevent the wastes from going to the seas. He said that barangays and communities should penalize violators of environment laws.
“All areas with river system should also clean up and put trapnets to prevent the wastes from flowing into the sea. We can prevent plastic waste pollution if only all residents and local officials act together for a clean and safe environment,” he said.
According to Estevez, Albay Gulf will be cleared of wastes starting this month until October as the wind direction changes during southeast monsoon or “habagat.”
“Starting this month to October, Legazpi City Boulevard will be cleared out of trash again as all kinds of waste will be transferring to neighboring towns and sadly into the seas,” he said.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, the Philippines is one of the top sources of plastic trash dumped into the sea, contributing 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste and half a million metric tons of plastic-waste leakage per year.
The United Nations reported that each year, at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans -- the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute. The Philippines, according to study, is ranked 7th highest in the world for plastics that have ended up in the ocean.
Metro Manila’s Pasig River is also listed among the world’s top 10 river channels that transport plastic wastes to the sea. Paasig River had been declared biologically dead since 1990.
To dissuade the use of single-use plastics, World Environment Day and World Oceans Day share the same theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution.” For both days, the UN will focus on plastic pollution causing harm to our marine resources, and what we can do as individuals to reduce plastic consumption.
In a study made by United Nations Development Program, Andrew Hudson of UNDP said that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced on earth to date, 2.5 is still in use, 5.8 was used once and of this, 0.7 incinerated, 0.5 recycled, and 4.6 discarded.
That (8.3 billion MT) is equivalent to about 1 ton of plastic for every human being currently on earth, and ten tons of plastic for every ton of human.
Half of the plastic ever produced on earth -- 3900 million metric tons - was produced in just the past 13 years. At least 4.8 to12.7 million metric tons (of the 300 million MT produced globally) of plastics now reach the ocean each year.
This is an equivalent to about 1 truck of garbage being dumped into the ocean every minute, according to UNDP study.
Plastic on the surface of the ocean may be a relatively small portion of total volume of plastic in the ocean, where most of it may be found at the bottom of the ocean, according to Hudson.
Ingestion and entanglement are worse than chemical contamination for larger marine fauna (seabirds, turtles, mammals), and fishing gear, balloons, plastic bags, and plastic utensils are the biggest problems.
It said that behavioral evidence suggests marine organisms are not just ingesting microplastics by accident but actively seeking them out as food. Producing 1 kg of plastic releases about 2-3 kg of carbon dioxide.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) also reported that the annual economic damage of ocean plastic pollution is placed at about $13B.
A study estimated that rivers contribute between 410,000 and 4 million metric tons a year to oceanic plastic debris with 88 to 95 percent coming from eight rivers in Asia – the Yangtze, Yellow, Hai He, Pearl, Amur, Mekong, Indus, and Ganges – and two in Africa – the Niger and Nile.
Another recent study using different datasets and methods estimated that 1.27 to 2.66 million metric tons of plastic waste is entering the ocean every year from rivers, with 67 percent of that from the top 20 polluting rivers – 15 of which are in Asia.
Study also found that 11 billion plastic items are in the Asia-Pacific coral reefs. Likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic.
As to global recycling practices, it said that plastics recycling rates vary widely in highly developed countries: 9 percent in the United States,26 peercentt in Europe, and 73 percent in Japan..
Researchers found a 30 percent drop in plastic bags on the seafloor around Britain after they were banned in EU countries. Many countries, from Sri Lanka to UK to Kenya to Costa Rica, are taking steps to reduce plastic pollution by banning single use items such as plastic bags, styrofoam cups, among others.
The United Nations calls on world leaders the need to step up and incentivize the public and private sectors with innovative policy and regulatory instruments on bans against single use items, container deposit laws, and price support for recyclers.
Plastic using industries have a major role to reduce, redesign, recover, recycle –to harmonize standards that minimize plastics pollution.