Going Circular to #BeatPlasticPollution

By Dr. Selva Ramachandran, UNDP Philippines Resident Representative

June 7, 2023
UNDP Philippines/Orange Omengan
There is an increasing call globally and in local communities to address the problem of waste or the “throwaway culture.” Waste poses a broader challenge that affects human health, livelihoods, the environment, and prosperity. The waste pollution, especially from plastics, is pushing our planet further to the brink of irreversible loss and damage. 


The convenience that is 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, with one third of which used only just 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 single day. This is primarily why our seas and oceans are choking with mismanaged plastic wastes, which end up infiltrating even the food that we eat.

With the Philippines being an archipelagic nation, millions of the Filipinos rely heavily on its coastal and marine resources, which today is affected by marine plastics. Its emerging economy contributes to the increase in 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. 

In the case of plastics, the waste problem has grown exponentially. The Philippines is considered as the 3rd largest contributor in the world to marine plastic pollution. Annually, the country generates 2.7 million tons of plastics, in which over 500,000 tons end up in the seas and oceans every year. According to the Department of Natural Resources (DENR), the daily waste generation in the Philippines has increased to 61,000 metric tons (MT) from only 16,000 MT in 2016.

The current linear economic model, which follows the “take-make-dispose” process, is also contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions across the chain. Material handling and use – from extraction, processing, manufacturing, delivery, use, and disposal of goods – is further accelerating climate change. 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 will result to the degradation of our ecosystem and the increase of public health issues, in turn affecting the production potential of resources upon which millions of Filipino households depend on. 

If we continue this path, we will find it difficult to reverse the damage our generation has done to Earth. The future generation will inherit a planet full of wastes. Such a dim scenario, isn’t it?

But this does not have to be the case. 

To address this seemingly unsurmountable challenge, one solution stands out: Transitioning to 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-based to technology-based - to tackle the plastics problem. 

The circular economy approach enables us to extend the lifecycle of products, thus minimizing our material footprint, reducing wastes to a minimum, and more importantly, open massive economic opportunities in the value chain. These new industries involve manufacturing materials for sustainable packaging, recycling, reuse, sharing, refurbishing, and repairing, among others. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recognized this, and embedded circular economy as a key strategy in the National Plan of Action for the Prevention, Reduction, and Management of Marine Litter. 

A major push in this campaign is the recent enactment of the 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.

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

This year, the celebrations for World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, and the Philippine Environment Month remind us that our individual actions on plastic pollution matter. The steps that governments and businesses are taking to tackle plastic pollution are a direct result of our actions.

It is time to accelerate our efforts and transition to a circular economy. This means designing products and services that can be reused, recycled, or composted at the end of their life.

It is time to #BeatPlasticPollution.