Highlights from the Circularity Assessment Protocol in Manila, Philippines
Authors: Jenna Jambeck, University of Georgia and Anna Oposa, Save Philippine Seas
Over 3,000 litter items (e.g., food wrappers, cigarette butts, plastic fragments, etc.) were painstakingly identified and counted by Save Philippine Seas (SPS) in Metro Manila in early 2021. The litter items, at an average density of 112 items per length of a city block (100m) are like clues leading to a menu of interventions to prevent plastic pollution. But they are just part of the picture.
While plastic pollution continues to be discussed at the highest levels of government and global organizations, cities and communities are the front lines. Developed by the Circularity Informatics Lab at the University of Georgia, the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP) is used by cities. Local knowledge and expertise are the foundation of the information that the community uses, with additional data collected in partnership with CAP collaborators. Partners and teams build relationships through learning methods together. Open data collection is an important part of the process; data contributes to a global open dataset. A CAP for the Metro Manila area was funded by the USAID Municipal Waste Recycling Program. The CAP model consists of seven spokes, and at the center, the system is driven by policy, economics and governance with key influencers including non-governmental organizations, industry and government.
Data Collection and Findings
SPS served as the local implementing partner (LIP) conducting fieldwork in three cities within Metro Manila, Philippines. Field work included product and packaging assessments in stores across the city; key stakeholder interviews with government, industry, and non-profit organizations; material type characterizations for consumer plastic items; cost analysis of reusable products and alternatives to plastic available in the city; visual audits of recycling contamination; identification of public waste and recycling collection bins; and litter transects in three categories of population. Key findings from each spoke of the CAP include:
- INPUT: There is a mix of local and international sources for plastic manufacturers. All international companies have local distributors, which provides an opportunity to engage the local counterparts for proper collection, alternate delivery systems, and education campaigns.
- COMMUNITY: There is a general acknowledgement and recognition of Metro Manila’s plastic pollution crisis. Respondents from dining establishments, stores, and local governments have mixed reactions to a proposal for a single-use plastic ban, citing cost implications and lack of alternatives and resources as barriers for implementation.
- PRODUCT DESIGN: The majority of the product packaging from dining establishments and stores were designed to be single-use (e.g., to-go cups and utensils, plastic bags, sachets). In recent years, governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations have promoted the switch to paper-based packaging and reusable bags.
- USE: The majority of the product packaging from dining establishments and stores came in single-use plastic packaging and in multi-layer film. Volumes of single-use plastic packaging increased due to impacts of COVID-19 (e.g., prohibition of dining in, food delivery services, and concerns for cross-contamination). Plastic bags and glass and plastic containers (PET) are commonly reused, but multilayer film used for household goods are disposed of.
- COLLECTION: The waste collection rate in Metro Manila is reportedly at 85%. These services are free for all Metro Manila residential and commercial areas as part of the government mandate. Compliance to the “no segregation, no collection” provision under the national law remains low.
- END OF CYCLE: Metro Manila lacks waste management infrastructure, which contributes to the leakage of solid waste into the environment. Increasing segregation at the source could curb the amount of waste leakage.
- LEAKAGE: The majority of litter items collected through the Marine Debris Tracker app were food plastics and tobacco products. These items have low to no value for collection and recycling.
Workshop and Opportunities
In a July 2021 workshop across sectors of government (primarily Quezon City), private sector NGOs and waste management, overlying barriers to progressing on opportunities to reduce plastic pollution were identified collectively:
- human behavior change,
- societal norms within plastic/waste management,
- economic tensions, and
- infrastructure limitations.
Workshop participants also envisioned a future free of these barriers and the values they held with how to reach these visions. These values are: accessibility, accountability, inclusivity, and the development of intuitive participatory logistics over time. A selection of opportunities outlined below are described with these barriers, values, and input of workshop participants in mind. More opportunities are provided in the full report.
Input (and Leakage)
- Change the default behavior and societal norms of commercial establishments (e.g., cafés, schools, restaurants, supermarkets). This means not automatically offering single-use plastics, providing an opt-out option or offering products without packaging.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Corporations should be accountable for their packaging. Cites and communities should not hold 100% of the burden of waste management – it can be a shared responsibility between companies, government, and community-members.
- Develop audience-segmented, gender-based programs and behavior change campaigns. Implementing organizations must consider how programs and proposed actions and behavior changes affect different target groups, as these have different impacts on women, children, and disadvantaged groups (e.g., persons with disabilities; informal waste pickers; coastal communities). Applying a gender and human rights lens that is inclusive to programs and policies is necessary to mitigate negative outcomes.
- Develop campaigns and programs on other topics in SWM besides single-use plastics and use diverse communication channels besides social media. Examples that could be pursued: modeling sustainable behavior, such as using reusables, on popular media (teleseryes, movies, vlogs); how to segregate at source; and how to compost at home.
Material and Product Design
- Invest in packaging redesign. Brand owners and manufacturers can redesign packaging to ensure that it is recyclable or reusable. Similar to other places globally, limited options exist for recycling multi-layer packaging, a common material used in packaging in Metro Manila.
- Invest in alternative delivery systems. Refilling models offer a promising and sustainable solution. While the Philippines runs on a sachet economy, the principle of selling and purchasing goods in small quantities can be applied in refilling systems, where the consumers will buy only what they need and what they can afford. There are 800,000 to 1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and the wide adoption of a micro-refilling system for household essentials could be accessible and inclusive while reducing the burden of plastic and packaging waste management.
- Enforce segregation-at-source and “no segregation, no collection” provision at the barangay level. The barangay is the smallest administrative unit in the Philippines. By decentralizing waste collection to the barangay level, waste workers are able to build closer and more personal relationships with residents at the household level, encouraging higher compliance.
- Develop infrastructure that includes intuitive participatory logistics. Research from the DENR shows that compliance to the waste management infrastructure required by RA 9003 is still below 40%. Having more sanitary landfills, MRFs, recycling facilities, composting facilities, and infrastructure for reverse logistics would encourage higher compliance to existing laws and prevent leakage of wastes into the environment.
It would be beneficial for all sectors to build and nurture multi-sector, interdisciplinary partnerships. In Metro Manila, environmental conservation organizations and advocates are the most active actors in the waste management and circular economy spaces. While they have had considerable gains and successes, other organizations and types of expertise must be integrated for a diverse, systemic, and sustainable approach. Examples of potential groups that could collaborate with environmental conservation organizations are gender and labor groups, and, academic institutions and economists. LGUs and corporations could work with industrial designers, materials engineers, supermarket chains, and sari-sari store owners to ensure that alternatives are affordable, durable, and intuitive. Policy changes should incorporate support for a just and socially equitable transition.
The full Report is available here. The authors would like to thank the government and community for participating in the CAP and workshop discussions.