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POV Philippines by Jon Joaquin

Bottled up

by Jon Joaquin

It comes as no surprise that in Davao City the single biggest cause of street flooding during heavy rains is single-use plastic water bottles. According to Auxiliary Services Unit (ASU) head Paul Bermejo, the teams that clean the city’s canals “usually get a lot of plastics, especially water bottles that clog the canals.” Other plastics are there, of course, like shopping bags, candy wrappers, and those tiny sachets that contain anything from shampoo to instant coffee to shoe polish, but the ASU singled out water bottles as the main culprit. Oops, sorry, that’s incorrect. The main culprits are, of course, humans who throw their water bottles anywhere.

This is kind of ironic given the Davao’s reputation as a clean city. Here we take pains to look for garbage bins, holding on to our trash until we find one. I never actually see anyone throwing trash on the streets, unlike in Manila where, in the year I spent there in 2018-2019, it was a regular sight for me to see pedestrians dropping their plastic cups on the sidewalks or car passengers literally throwing out their fast-food takeout trash from their windows. Here in Davao City the streets are generally clean; even Roxas Street, site of the popular Roxas Night Market, which is put up at 6:00 p.m. daily, is clean after the market closes at midnight.

Of course as street floods go, Davao City has relatively minor ones, and they usually subside after an hour or so. There have been some big ones in the past, including the one in 2011 that killed 31 people and submerged entire subdivisions in floodwater, but most of the time they are the kind that one can usually wait out until they dry up. This means our trash problem is not as big as in other urban areas like Metro Manila or Cebu, but the floods do happen, and as the rainy season sets in, we need to acknowledge the reason so that we can work for the solution before it gets worse.

The first thing to admit is that plastic water bottles do end up in the canals. It doesn’t matter how they get there; they’re there, and we need to put a stop to it. One simple solution is for people to stop or at least minimize buying bottled water. I personally bring my own water bottle, a thermostatic one that keeps the water from home cold. The problem is that it holds only half a liter, and I can finish that in basically one sitting. When my water runs out, it’s difficult to find a place to refill. Even the mall food courts in this city don’t have water fountains where one can fill up.

I’ve been talking to some business owners here trying to convince them to put up water stations in their premises where people can refill their bottles for free. Most of them agree it’s a good idea and that it won’t really cost them much, but so far, none of those I’ve talked with have implemented it. There are, however, two restaurants in two malls that have placed water stations outside their doors inviting people to drink up for free. It may be a marketing strategy, but you have to admit it’s a good program. Now when I go to those malls I know I don’t have to bring my water bottle since I could always go to these places for a drink of water.

But two restaurants aren’t enough. The city – whether it’s the government or the private sector – needs to discourage Davaoeños from buying bottled water. Davao already pioneered the ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags in 2012, and Mayor Sara Duterte has said many times that one of her priorities for her second term (which started in July) is the protection of the environment. I don’t think banning plastic water bottles completely is a solution since there are still valid reasons to manufacture, sell, and buy them. But there should be a program to wean the people from plastic bottles, and it will take the whole city to do it.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at jonjoaquin@gmail.com.

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