This Article was prepared for the Bacolod-Negros Occidental Bakers Association (“BACNOBA” or the “Association”) to present the viewpoint of bakery owners and stakeholders in the bakery industry in Bacolod City on the proposed “Ordinance Prohibiting the Use, Sale and Provision of Plastic Bags as Packaging Material in Bacolod City, and Prescribing Penalties Thereof.” (the “Proposed Ordinance”) This Article not only highlights important public interest issues that will be adversely affected by a total plastic bag ban, it also suggests changes, additions and clarifications in the Proposed Ordinance that the Association believes will lead to a clearly-crafted and balanced law, which then will lead to its better implementation.
At the outset, it must be stressed that the Association is not opposed to the passage of ordinances that aim to address and solve environmental issues. However, such efforts must not be undertaken at the expense of matters that are of equal importance to the public interest.
- I. FOOD SAFETY, HYGIENE AND PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Bakeries supply bread and bread products, a basic commodity consumed by the public at large in large quantities.
A primary concern in the supply of bread and bread products to the public is how to provide such products in a safe, hygienic and sanitary manner. Providing bread and bread products to the general population of Bacolod with a strict regard to food safety is a matter of utmost importance to our Association.
At present, the use of plastic bags is the only viable means for bakeries to safely supply bread and bread products to the general public on a large scale.
Plastic food packaging offers the benefit of keeping bread and bread products well sealed and fresh. Food grade plastic wrap and plastic bags eliminates contact between food products and the air, substantially minimizing its contact with airborne pathogens such as mold and bacteria that can make the people who consume them seriously ill. Plastic food packaging helps keep bread and bread products moist, thus increasing their shelf life by preventing them from becoming dry and brittle.
Substitution of plastic bags with alternative packaging materials suggested in the Proposed Ordinance, such as woven bags (bayong), cloth bags (katsa), paper bags and other similar materials (e.g. banana leaves, taro leaves, etc.) is not a feasible option in the mass production and packaging of bread and bread products.
An important quality of plastic packaging is the fact that it is non-porous, as opposed to paper-based packaging, which could result in contamination of the bread or bread products it contains. This is why most, if not all perishable food products in supermarkets, including bread and bread products, are sealed in airtight plastic packaging.
We strongly believe that without a viable alternative for a hygienic, sanitary and safe way of storing food and perishable goods such as bread and bread products, the blanket ban of the use of plastic in all establishments, including bakeries and other establishments manufacturing breads, bread products and other like goods will pose serious health and public safety issues.
Until and unless the present technology and economies of scale can provide a feasible substitute to plastic that would allow the mass production and packaging of bread and bread products safely, bakeries should be allowed to use plastic bags in the packaging of bread and bread products, and thus should be exempt from the coverage of the plastic bag ban.
- II. A LOCAL PLASTIC BAG BAN WOULD BE UNDULY OPPRESSIVE TO BAKERIES BASED IN BACOLOD
If the words of the Proposed Ordinance are strictly followed to the letter, Bacolod-based bakeries are prohibited from “utilizing, selling or providing plastic bags as packaging material.”
Applying this prohibition to one of the basic commodities provided by bakeries, i.e., a loaf of bread, would mean that local bakeries will have to use paper bags or the other alternatives allowed by the ordinance to be able to sell loaves of bread in their stores, or in supplying groceries, supermarkets and other third-party distribution outlets.
However, in order to deal with the food safety risks posed by shifting the packaging from plastic to non-plastic, either Bacolod-based bakeries will simply not be able to supply bread on a large scale and limit sales to selling bread fresh from the oven only, or contend with the inhibitive costs of supplying the same products in paper bags or boxes. Not only are paper bags or boxes costlier, they are also bulkier and heavier, and thus cost more to transport. The higher costs of production will inevitably lead to higher prices, which will then ultimately prejudice the consuming public.
Consider also that this blanket prohibition applies only to local establishments. Thus, all non-Bacolod based bakeries will still be able to supply groceries and supermarkets bread and bread products in plastic packaging at much lower costs than local bakeries. This automatically creates an unfair competitive advantage in favor of non-Bacolod based bakeries not covered by the ban to the extreme prejudice of the local bakeries. Such an outcome would be highly unjust and unduly oppressive to the bakeries in Bacolod, which we believe, is not one of the intended results of the Proposed Ordinance.
- III. A THOROUGH ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ANALYSIS MUST BE MADE ON THE EFFECTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT OF A TOTAL PLASTIC BAN
One of the key elements in the Proposed Ordinance is the substitution of the use of plastic bags as a packaging material with woven bags (bayong), cloth bags (katsa), paper bags and other similar materials (e.g. banana leaves, taro leaves, etc.).
Of the alternatives given, paper bags are the most likely to be used because of their ready availability. Mass production of the other packaging materials suggested are currently not available at the large scale required in food production and packaging.
This leads to the question: is paper truly better than plastic?
Paper, like all commodities, also has a negative environmental impact. Studies have in fact revealed that the use of paper bags cannot be considered as a “greener” alternative to plastic bags.
As early as 2005, the government of Scotland prepared a comprehensive report comparing plastic bags and paper bags. (the “Scottish report”) The Scottish Report revealed that “(A) paper bag has a more adverse impact than a plastic bag for most of the environmental issues considered.”
It was noted in the report that paper bags scored particularly badly with respect to “water consumption, atmospheric acidification (which can have effects on human health, sensitive ecosystems, forest decline and acidification of lakes) and eutrophication of water bodies (which can lead to growth of algae and depletion of oxygen).”
It was further stated in the report that paper bags “are anywhere between six to ten times heavier than lightweight plastic carrier bags and, as such, require more transport and its associated costs. They would also take up more room in a landfill if they were not recycled.”
A full copy of the Scottish Report is available at the official website of the Government of Scotland. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/57346/0016899.pdf)
The Scottish Report is consistent with the findings of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), which has published a comprehensive report entitled: “The State of the Paper Industry.” The EPN states in the report as follows:
“[T]he paper industry’s activities — and our individual use and disposal of paper in our daily lives–have enormous impacts. These include loss and degradation of forests that moderate climate change, destruction of habitat for countless plant and animal species, pollution of air and water with toxic chemicals such as mercury and dioxin, and production of methane–a potent greenhouse gas–as paper decomposes in landfills, to name just a few. (Page IV)
One of the most significant, and perhaps least understood, impacts of the paper industry is climate change. Every phase of paper’s lifecycle contributes to global warming, from harvesting trees to production of pulp and paper to eventual disposal. (Page V)
The climate change effects of paper carry all the way through to disposal. If paper is landfilled rather than recycled, it decomposes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. More than one-third of municipal solid waste is paper, and municipal landfills account for 34 percent of human related methane emissions to the atmosphere, making landfills the single largest source of such emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified the decomposition of paper as among the most significant sources of landfill methane. (Page V)
Please see http://www.environmentalpaper.org/stateofthepaperindustry/confirm.htm for a complete copy of the report.
The following statistics in a study made in the United States show that paper bags are harder on the environment than plastic bags.
- Americans use about 10 billion paper bags, which results in the cutting down of 14 million trees.
- Four times the amount of energy is used to manufacture paper vs. plastic bags.
- 98 percent more energy is used to recycle paper vs. plastic bags.
- 70 percent more air pollutants than plastic bags
- 50 percent more water pollutants than plastic bags
While brown paper bags are recyclable, onlya small fraction of the bags used at 10 to 15 percentare being returned to recycling plants. Moreover, the manufacturing of new brown paper bags utilizes very little recyclable material.”
(Please see http://earth911.com/recycling/paper/brown-paper-bags/facts-about-brown-paper-bags/)
Paper bags, if not recycled or disposed of properly, will fill landfills more quickly than plastic bags because they are heavier and bulkier. The production and recycling of paper bags consumes more energy and water than the production and recycling of plastic bags. While plastic bags are being criticized for being non-biodegradable, the decomposition of paper bags release methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is even more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
At this juncture, we must emphasize that our Association is not an advocate of the use of plastic. Bakeries use plastic bags in the mass production and packaging of bread and bread products by reason of necessity, not preference.
However, we must express our dissent to the passing of an ordinance that would require us to use a material that is just as or even more damaging to the environment than plastic bags. While plastic as a packaging material has negative impacts on the environment if disposed of improperly, so does the use of paper bags. An ordinance which promotes the use of paper bags as an alternative to plastic bags will derail, rather than aid, efforts to address the serious environmental problems faced by our City.
IV. STRICT IMPLEMENTATION OF WASTE MANAGEMENT LAWS
It must be stressed that any kind of packaging, whether plastic or paper, will end up filling our landfills and clogging our waterways if not recycled or disposed of properly.
The problem is not the amount of plastic bags or packaging material we use per se. The problem is, first, the fact that our community as a whole produces too much garbage; and second, the garbage is not being properly disposed of.
Given the problem, the solution is clear: existing solid waste management laws should be strictly implemented.
It is our understanding that Republic Act No, 9003 or the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000” already addresses the serious ecological problems posed by the excessive garbage accumulating in our landfills and clogging our waterways through “proper segregation, collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of solid waste through the formulation and adoption of the best environmental practice in ecological waste management.”
An aspect of the Proposed Ordinance that we fully support is its stated objective of changing the attitudes of the people of Bacolod with respect to littering and pollution.
We note however that while banning plastic bags might change people’s behaviors, it will not necessarily change their attitudes towards social responsibility. The garbage problem will not go away if people persist in disregarding waste management laws. Our streets and landfills will still be filled with garbage, albeit of a different kind, if paper bags are used instead of plastic bags. Unless solid waste management laws are strictly implemented, our problem with garbage and the myriad of troubles that come with it will remain.
We strongly believe that community-wide, long-term and sustainable projects that promote, inculcate and incentivize the principles of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, coupled with vigilant implementation of solid waste management laws in place will effectively address the ecological problems brought about by the excessive garbage the people of our City produce.
V. AN ORDINANCE THAT PROVIDES FOR CLEAR DEFINITIONS, EXEMPTIONS AND COVERAGE.
Considering the matters of public interest that would be adversely affected by a total ban on the use of plastic bags by all business establishments, it is our position that the Proposed Ordinance should be revised so as to provide for a partial ban only, with clear definitions with respect to its application and coverage.
Distinctions should be made between the various kinds of plastic bags being used, as well as the intended use of the plastic bags. For instance, in the ordinance passed by Muntinlupa City in Metro Manila, only the use of plastic bags on dry goods was prohibited while the use of plastic bags on wet goods was regulated.
Similarly, in the City of Santa Monica in California, USA, a ban on plastic bags was made to apply only on “carry-out” bags, which was defined as any bag provided by a retail establishment at the point of sale to a customer for use to transport or carry away purchases, such as merchandise, goods or food, from the retail establishment.
(A copy of the Santa Monica Ordinance can be viewed at this site: http://plasticbagregulations.com/2011/03/santa-monica-single-use-carryout-bag-ordinance/#more-119)
An ordinance prohibiting the use of plastic bags should apply only to the provision of “carry-out” plastic bags by business establishments at the point of sale.
This would be consistent with the declared policy in the Proposed Ordinance of encouraging the public to bring their own bags when shopping, thus encouraging the environmental principle of reusing commodities, which results in turn in a reduction of waste.
As explained above, plastic bags have become such an integral part of food preparation, preservation and packaging that imposing a blanket ban on all use of plastic bags will cripple the food industry which services the mass market. Given that plastic bags are indispensable in the safe and hygienic mass production, packaging and distribution of bread and bread products, it is our position that exemption of bakeries from the plastic bag ban is justified.
While the objective of the Proposed Ordinance is commendable, a blanket ban on all use of plastic bags as packaging material by all business establishments, without qualification, would yield negative effects on public interests that could outweigh any potential benefits that the total plastic ban can bring.
Our Association believes that revisions should be made in the Proposed Ordinance duly incorporating the points raised in this Article that are vital matters of public interest.
Through reasoned and reasonable public discourse, we believe that the local legislators will be able to craft an ordinance that will effectively address the serious ecological problems faced by our City, with a balanced regard to public health and welfare, as well as the concerns of the business community and our local economy.
“Environment Group Research Report, Proposed Plastic Bag Levy – Extended Impact Assessment Volume 1: Main Report.” The Government of Scotland.
“The State of the Paper Industry.” Environmental Paper Network.
“Facts About Brown Paper Bags.”, Earth911.com.
Ted Duboise, “Santa Monica SINGLE-USE CARRYOUT BAG ORDINANCE.”plasticbagregulations.com.