WASTES pose a broad challenge that affects human health, livelihoods, the environment and prosperity. Waste pollution, especially from plastics, is pushing our planet further to the brink of irreversible loss and damage.

The convenience associated with the use of plastics is a double-edged sword that has led the world to double its plastics production over the last 20 years. More than 400 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide every year, a third of which is used only once.

If that is not concerning enough, the equivalent of over 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes every day. This is primarily why our seas and oceans are choking with mismanaged plastic wastes, which end up infiltrating even the food we eat.

Millions of Filipinos rely heavily on coastal and marine resources, which are affected by marine plastics today. Its emerging economy contributes to increased plastic generation. This is alongside the permeation of the “sachet economy” that most Filipinos are used to, partly driven by the small purchasing capacity of most of the population.

The Philippines is considered one of the main contributors to marine plastic pollution in the world. Annually, the country generates 2.7 million tons of plastic waste, of which over 500,000 tons end up in seas and oceans every year

The current linear economic model also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the chain. Material handling and use — from extraction, processing, manufacturing, delivery, use and disposal of goods — are accelerating climate change further. The “business as usual” model is more wasteful and makes inefficient use of materials and finite resources. This stresses our waste management system and poses huge environmental, economic and social costs.

Left unattended, these wastes will continue to pile up and choke our soil, waterways and seas, and result in the degradation of our ecosystem and increase public health issues. In turn, these will affect the production potential of resources upon which millions of Filipino households depend on.

To address this seemingly unsurmountable challenge, one solution stands out: transitioning to a circular economy.

The principle and practice of circular economy have shown promising results in breaking the cycle of plastic pollution. Numerous developed countries have launched innovative solutions — from nature- to technology-based — to tackle the plastics problem.

A major push in this campaign is the enactment of Republic Act 11868, or the “Expanded Producer Responsibility (EPR) Act.” This new legislation widens the environmental accountability of enterprises for the entire life cycle of the goods they produce, especially in the post-consumption stage — by strengthening recycling, reuse and resource recovery — and is thus a significant pillar of the policy environment for circular economy.

For the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the circular economy is a key pillar of engagement in the Philippines. In addition to our work for the NPOA on Marine Litter, we supported the DENR in the development of implementing rules of the EPR law, the establishment of the EPR Registry and organizational assessment to fulfill the law’s requirements. Moreover, the UNDP engaged with five cities to pilot-test priority circular economy solutions. These were all made possible with the Japanese government’s support.

Furthermore, through the support of the European Union and led by the DENR, a new program called the “Green Economy Program in the Philippines” was launched recently. Through this program, the UNDP, in collaboration with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, will work with 20 local government units in their “greening” journey and circular economy transition. Targeted support to 40 more LGUs is envisioned to be added to the program.

These are all aligned with the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which commits to a 75-percent GHG emission reduction and avoidance by 2030. The NDC identified the circular economy and sustainable consumption and production among the key mitigation measures against climate change that would bring about several benefits, including green jobs and investments, while ensuring a just transition.

The author is the UNDP Philippines’ resident representative.