Shopping and Stepping Out

Green Living | Are we done with plastic bags?

Supermarkets are also cashing in on the plastic bag ban in various parts of Metro Manila. For a price, recyclable non-woven bags like the ones shown here are being sold as an alternative to plastic ones. Photo by Ana Valenzuela,

The eco bag is the new “it” bag. Or, something like it.

Just as designer bags are a form of status quo—a mark of a woman’s hard work or a pricey love offering from a husband or lover, eco bags, on the other hand ( no pun intended here), are the new statement bags.

There’s just something about an eco bag inside a woman’s designer bag that trumps all that guiltlessness and makes way for an “I hear you, Mother Earth” moment. Designed in different colors and printed with various designs and statements, an eco bag is the new arm candy of the socially-conscious consumer.

Thanks in part to the direct effects of global warming and the recent ordinance set by cities in Metro Manila to regulate the use of plastic bags and encourage people to bring their own recyclable bags when they go shopping.

With this regulation in full swing, green living advocates and local governments hope that it will change the public’s mindset towards more responsible consumption. Buyers, of course, would now think twice before purchasing even such a small item such as a can of tuna or a pack of cotton buds.

Are we willing to hold a brown bag full of emergency groceries or will we take the guilty route instead and pay P2 for a plastic bag?“Since the full implementation of the ordinance, it was observed that more and more people are now bringing their own reusable eco bags.

In Quezon City, people are now more aware that if they do not have a reusable eco bag, there will be a Php2 charge for every plastic bag that they will consume, and which will be used for green initiatives,” Federika Entoy, head of Quezon City Hall’s ETWNT, said.

What we know for sure, is that forgetting to stash an eco bag in one’s everyday bag leads to an unwanted collection of eco bags piling up at home!

One consumer, Joba Botana, 25 years old and a resident of Makati shares that using brown paper bags and eco bags are okay when shopping for clothes and other necessities, however, when  doing grocery that might ensue some problems.

“The weather here is erratic. So if you get caught in the rain, good luck to you,” she says. “Not all people have cars when doing grocery. Some just walk, even when you are just commuting kawawa pa din, so dapat pag nag-grocery okay lang ang plastic, since it is recyclable, pwede naman gawin basurahan right after.”

Another consumer agrees. Lulu Nario, 55, often gets her grocery items from Quezon City stores, she told, “It’s ridiculous. If plastic bags are totally banned, why do they allow its use for Php2?”

Nario stresses that there are specific items that need to be packed in plastic, and retailers can use plastic that is biodegradable. “More importantly, a law on proper disposal should be passed,” she adds.

Still, retailers, especially mall tenants, have been supportive of the ordinance. “Their concerns are mainly on how they will operationalize the provisions of the ordinance,” said Entoy. Retail shops have carried out the ordinance as well.

One company has taken the ruling in full stride. In fact, even before the ordinance has been passed, SM Food Group, (Hypermarket and Supermarket) has taken the initiative to ban plastic bags with its Join the My Own Bag (M.O.B.) campaign every Wednesday, a day where plastic bags are not issued to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags for their groceries.

However, this advocacy experienced birthing pains as well. “When we started Join the M.O.B., we experienced a dip in sales and drop in basket size during M.O.B days,” confesses Olivier A. Guevara Ads and Promo SM Hypermarket.

Guevara says that they have expected this sort of reaction from shoppers, “It was expected from shoppers to refrain from shopping as much on a Wednesday because they have to pay for plastic bags.

“But we knew we had to start somewhere,” he recalled. “Eventually our hard work paid off; the number of regular SM Greenbag users increased. It signaled a shift towards a green lifestyle.

“Now, we see more and more people bringing different kinds of bags such as SM’s recyclable shopping bags, bayongs, and bags from other retailers,” noted Guevara.

Retail stores in Metro Manila observe the plastic bag ban with their own take on recyclable shopping bags. Photo by Ana Valenzuela,

Direct effects
According to a Waste Characterization Study (WACS) released in 2004, the city’s waste stream is comprised of 12% or 151,080 kgs of plastic bags per day. This is equivalent to 719 cu m. or 45 10-wheeler truckloads being sent to the landfill each day. Now there are 350 quarterly monitoring reports from relevant retailers that have been reviewed and from these, about 160,000 pieces of used plastic bags have already been recovered from the waste stream.

In Makati City, the result of WACS conducted in November 2011 revealed that at least 38% of waste being generated by the city is made of plastic. With the ordinance being enforced, the decrease in trash was visible.

“To this date we have reduced 44% of waste that the city disposes to the landfill. This is due to our effective waste diversion projects,” said Danilo Villas of the Department of Environmental Services of the Makati City Government. “Based on our recent inventory, several big establishments have started to modify their packaging materials to comply with the executive order issued by the city government.

“Although it may be more expensive to use eco bags at the start since one has to purchase the bags, we will get used to it,” Kris Bayos, another consumers commented. “It is a way to discipline us shoppers to recycle because, if not, we will be forced to pay extra for use of plastic, or if we forget to bring our eco bags when we are shopping.”

The ordinance is slowly being felt, first with the implementation of paper bags and shoppers bringing in eco bags. Time would only tell, specifically come rainy season—when recent severe floods have been notoriously attributed to plastic bags clogging drains—if the ordinance is indeed doing us good.