Republic Act 9003 or The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, provides for a comprehensive system for the setting up of solid waste management mechanisms from the national up to the barangay level. The clear provisions of RA 9003 consist in establishing mechanisms for collection and recycling. Polystyrene is a thermoplastic or a polymer that turns to liquid when heated and solidifies when cooled sufficiently. Polystyrene is 100% recyclable and the DOST has partnered with PPCP to develop melting ovens that facilitate the recycling process. This invention has garnered several awards for the DOST in various competitions and has reached its third generation of development.
The option for substitute materials under RA 9003 requires a scientific process for selection and identification of what will be substituted. The framework used by local ordinances violates this fundamental requirement of the national law. RA 9003 provides for a scientific process to identify non-environmentally acceptable products or NEAP. This process, which needs to be managed by experts in the scientific community needs to undergo thorough analysis of the product and its possible substitutes. At present, the NEAP list has not been formulated so no one can claim that a material is not environmentally acceptable.
The law provides that any decision to prohibit certain packaging types and products must be supported by available scientific, environmental, technical and economic information and technical studies through, but not limited to life cycle assessment and economic analysis. It also provides for consultation with affected industries.
The current situation where banning has been implemented in effect allowed local ordinances to pre-empt the study of the National Solid Waste Management Commission. Furthermore, Article 4 of Section 29 of RA 9003 provides that even if a material has been listed as a NEAP, it shall NOT be prohibited unless the Commission first finds that there are alternatives available, which are available to consumers at no more than ten percent (10%) than the product being substituted. The current ban on polystyrene has led to its substitution by alternatives that, to our estimation, cost 2, 3, 4, and even 5 times the cost of the Polystyrene product that is being banned. Moreover, the environmental impact of the alternatives being used have not been established such that adverse effects could very well be the result of irresponsible substitution especially if these substitutes are imported from China and other countries where food-contact certifications and quality assurance mechanisms could be absent.
A life cycle study of Polystyrene foam plates and poly-coated paper plates shows that the polystyrene products have a favorable environmental impact compared to paper products. Polystyrene foam uses significantly (50%) less energy during its life cycle principally because polystyrene foam is 90 TO 95% air and uses 2.5 times less material. Greenhouse Gas emissions are significantly (50%) less with Polystyrene Foam. The Solid Waste impact of Polystyrene foam is significantly less.
Given the environmental, economic and health superiority of polystyrene to potential substitutes, the ban on Polystyrene effectively forces restaurants, business establishment and consumers to use alternatives that have a higher environmental impact which could lead to a worse situation for solid waste management and health concerns.