The world marks International Coastal Cleanup day today amid a killer pandemic that environmentalists say has exacerbated solid waste pollution. In the Philippines, the Climate Change Commission has warned against the pollution resulting from increased consumption of disposable face masks, latex gloves and other personal protective equipment or PPE during the coronavirus pandemic.
As in all types of waste, the problem lies in improper disposal, whether in households, offices, commercial or industrial establishments and health centers. There are protocols governing the disposal of waste from hospitals and other health facilities. Pathological or biohazardous wastes are supposed to be segregated from recyclable materials such as paper and plastic, with special care given to the disposal of the pathological waste. Apart from hypodermic syringes, cotton buds and bandages, used COVID testing kits, discarded face masks and PPEs fall under this category.
For households and non-health establishments, there are also laws and local ordinances governing the proper disposal of different types of waste. Strict enforcement of the laws and ordinances must be complemented by the provision of facilities for garbage disposal in public places, with waste segregation encouraged. This is being done in shopping malls and other commercial establishments, but they are still lacking in common public areas. If there are sanitary garbage bins in strategic spots such as bus stops and public markets, there will be less incentive for littering.
Better solid waste management is also needed at the community level including informal settlements. It’s a challenge but it shouldn’t prove impossible to promote proper waste disposal among informal settlers and marginalized fishing communities in coastal areas. This is the task of local governments and barangay personnel.
International Coastal Cleanup Day is also being marked today amid debates over the development of a manmade “white beach” in Manila’s Baywalk area. The 500-meter stretch consists of a meter-thick layer of crushed dolomite laid over a foundation that employs Geotube technology to prevent the reclaimed area from being washed into the sea in the first storm. The so-called Boracay in Manila – meant as a showcase in the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay – is set to be unveiled today. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has defended the project and appealed to the public to give it a chance.
Additional waste arising from the pandemic should not aggravate the problem of coastal pollution. The pre-pandemic responses needed for dealing with the problem remain the same: lifestyle changes and the effective implementation of policies to promote sustainability.