Philippines financial district bans plastic bags

The Philippines financial capital banned disposable plastic shopping bags and styrofoam food containers Thursday, as part of escalating efforts across the nation's capital to curb rubbish blamed for deadly flooding.

After a widespread publicity campaign leading up to the ban, Makati city environment protection officers began handing out fines of 5,000 pesos ($115) to shops and supermarkets caught distributing the bags.

Rowena Rosario, who sells hot meals at a sidewalk stall, often packed in plastic bags, said the city ordinance was making life difficult.

"Most of my orders are take-out. Now, I have to use paper bags but what if the food has a lot of sauce? No one is going to bring plates here," she said glumly.

There is strong resistance to the ban, particularly amongst the poor, said Xenelit Camarce, one of the ban enforcers who spoke to AFP after inspecting a public market.

"A lot of people, especially those sidewalk vendors, they are still using it. But the ones really complaining are the customers, those buying fish and chicken," she said.

While Makati, one of 17 cities or districts that make up Metro Manila, still allows food to be wrapped in plastic, it has banned the bags that shops and restaurants traditionally issue for free.

Styrofoam food containers and plastic cups are also banned.

Consumers are given the option of paper alternatives or not using any bags, with supermarkets encouraging shoppers to bring their own.

"We have issued a lot of tickets," Makati environment officer, Danny Villas, told AFP.

Tow-truck crew member John Regalio shrugged with resignation as he bought juice drinks poured into paper cups instead of inside sealed small plastic bags, the preferred local way of serving beverages to customers on the go.

"The plastic bags held more juice. And you didn't have to worry about spilling anything. But what can you do when it is the law?" he said.

Makati is home to many of the country's foreign embassies, biggest corporations and banks, swankiest shopping malls and about 2,900 restaurants.

Although its official population is just over 600,000, this swells to about 3.7 million in the daytime when thousands of commuters travel to the area to work, city officials said.

Makati became the ninth out of the 17 areas to issue the plastics ban, meaning 6.7 million of Metro Manila's population of 13 million people are covered by the restrictions.

Prexy Macana, project officer of Makati's environmental services department, said cutting down on plastic was vital to stop the clogging of the city's waterways, which is widely blamed for contributing to floods.

"During our bi-monthly wastewater clean-ups, we found most of the garbage is plastics," she said.

June is the start of the rainy season in the Philippines, and Metro Manila has already endured heavy flooding, although none of it deadly.

The worst floods to hit the capital in recent years occurred in 2009, when Tropical Storm Ketsana submerged more than 80 percent of the city and claimed about 400 lives.

Another 100 people died in August last year when heavy rains lashed the city for more than a week.

Sonia Mendoza, coordinator of the anti-plastic group Eco-Waste Coalition, said the Makati ban did not go far enough as biodegradable plastic bags were still allowed.

"They still litter and they do not really bio-degrade. They just become small pieces but they are still made of plastic.....We will still have a throw-away mentality with garbage and floods everywhere," she said.

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