PAPER PLEASE

The first time I heard the choices I wasn’t quite sure how to react. I had never heard that line before and, foolishly thinking that I’ve heard everything at 18, I found it a bit odd. But my mum had an answer for it.

“Paper or plastic?” asked the cashier at Safeway before bagging our groceries. My mum chose paper.

Picking between a paper bag and plastic bag wasn’t a choice to be made in the Philippines then. Our groceries, for instance, would automatically be placed in a plastic bag that was lined with a thick carton (cut neatly from discarded boxes of detergent etc) so that the bottled items would stand straight. Other stuff like new books and clothes were also placed in plastic bags. Thoughts of going green or being environmental never figured collectively in the global psyche back then.

Fast forward to 20+ years later, being environmental friendly is now a politically correct attitude expected of global citizens. In Indonesia, segregation of plastic, paper and organic materials are in place like in Global Prestasi School, which, on a similar vein, is a regular practice in Singapore. The streets and malls of Singapore are lined with colourful hard-to-miss recycling bins. Another Earth-saving method is having shoppers using eco bags in a bid to cut down the use of plastic, which is in place in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. TV host – WW- Philippine ambassador – model Marc Nelson, for a brief period, promoted the scheme in his Twitter, and, if I remember correctly, upped the ante by announcing he’d swim in a panda outfit if he failed to get 50,000+ followers for the plan. Meanwhile, my mum conscientiously brings eco-tote bags every time we set out for the malls or the supermarket.

The local government of Quezon City is a plastic-free zone now

The local government of Quezon City is a plastic-free zone now

The practice of using paper and reusable/recyclable bags instead of plastic bags is now successfully implemented in the Philippine – at least in Quezon City since September 2012 because of the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance through ordinances SP-2103 and SP-2140. SP-2103 instructs business establishments to display conspicuously signs reminding shoppers to bring their own eco-bags. SP-2140 meanwhile controls the use of plastic bags of businesses and levies fees for failure to follow it. Consumers are also charged an extra PhilP2.00 for asking for a plastic bag of any size for their items. The extra PhilP2 will go to the Green Fund, a fund intended to “fund various initiative for the benefit of the environment” according to http://www.quezoncity.gov.ph.

Moreover, Quezon City is also Styrofoam free based on ordinance SP-2127. The use of polystyrene packaging materials is prohibited and carries concomitant penalties for violators. For city employees and visitors, penalty ranges from a warning letter to a fine of PhilP2, 000. For concessionaires and vendors, the first offence carries a PhilP500 fine; PhilP1, 000 for the second offence; and PhilP2, 000 fine plus cancellation of business/operating permit for the third offense.

Amazement overwhelmed me when we were at Rustan’s on Timog Avenue. The cashier probably thought I was slow because it took a while before I could respond to her question – “Mayroon ho kayong dalang reusable bag?” (Do you have a reusable bag?).  I looked askance to my mum, who, like 20+ years ago, had the answer: We had eco bags, but it might not be enough for the items we bought so we’d like to have the rest placed in paper bags.

The new eco-friendly bagging system is growing on me. I wasn’t surprised anymore when the lady at National Bookstore taped the paper bag of the box of ice breaker I bought or when the umbrella I bought from SM North Edsa was wrapped in SM wrapping paper. Perhaps focus can be shifted to ironing out certain kinks. National Bookstore, for instance, can work on issuing shorter receipts to save paper. SM Group of malls on the other hand should get their SOP right. SM North wraps items while SM Cubao says they don’t wrap anything in paper anymore. Good thing I had a reusable bag with me for my blouse and cotton foot covers that I bought at SM Cubao.

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