One of the most famous Gorillaz’s albums is entitled Plastic Beach. And one of the most famous songs of Radiohead is entitle Fake Plastic Trees, and it describes a fake plastic town. Seems like those artists have some kind of inclination to plastic places.
Well, we are not going to do a music review about it now, but we are going to talk about ‘almost’ similar thing. Here, we are going to talk about Plastic City. Valenzuela, an area outskirts of Manila, is the place dubbed to be the Plastic City.
Not because its beauty that inspired those artists to make plastic-themed songs, nor because the city is built entirely from plastic. But because the city is filled with plastic waste, that the condition is so pathetic and unhealthy.
Well, that’s not it to talk about. With recent China’s plastic waste import ban, this city is predicted to get even worse. Will the people in this city survive the condition? Here in this article we are going to talk about it.
Before talking about the newest condition of the town, let’s first talk about how this city that used to be another normal city became a Plastic City. Valenzuela is a city with plastic manufacturing as its trademark since decades ago.
The local government is under the leadership of Sherwin Gatchalian, the son of William Gatchalian. William Gatchalian itself is known as plastic king, with possession of 60 hectares of “Plastic Estate” in the city itself.
This is the reason why banning plastic didn’t seem like an option for the citizen in the city, even though 11 of 16 other cities located in Metro Manila have done it. But that’s not the only case here, because locals in Valenzuela are also practicing plastic ‘mining’ from the dumpsters located all around the city.
In fact, plastic recycling and manufacturing is one of the main jobs in the city. There were 324 plastic and rubber manufacturing companies in the city where locals worked in 2011, according to a survey conducted by Valenzuela City Planning and Development Office.
The locals’ dependence to plastic makes it almost impossible to ban plastic. “Here in Valenzuela, we should regulate and not ban (the use of plastic bags) for it will greatly affect the industry and jobs will be lost,” said Ceasar Peralta of the Clean and Green Office.
Making plastic waste their main source of money is not a healthy choice. Plastic is known to harm the environment, and somehow plastic waste in Valenzuela also makes its way to harm locals when it is burned down.
“It gets suffocating in the evening. We have to close our windows despite the heat and bury our noses under our blankets when we sleep,” Rosalie Esplana, a local resident of Valenzuela, explained to The Guardian.
The problem is, this process of burning plastic waste down is not a small job. Instead, it is carried out by huge plastic recycling plant owned by STC Enterprises located near Esplana’s house. Locals said that the emission has caused several health problems to their family members.
They fully neglect the fact that people in Valenzuela is living in the middle of mountains of trash. The mountains of trash are either the source of plastic waste to be recycled or waste leftovers after the plastic has been ‘mined’ by them.
Lingering coughing is one of the symptoms, but still there is no further data about what kind of illness it actually is. The owners of the plants deny the fact that their recycling process is causing the illness, thus they do not support further examination about it.
STC Enterprises is not the only company to deny the impact of such activity. Most of them believe that instead of poisoning the environment and the people, they are actually building the city with the money they can get from the plants.
Ignorance Or Denial?
Ironically, the reason why they think that they are doing good deeds to the environment is because they are recycling plastic. But whether or not they consider piling up plastic waste before recycling it and their process of burning it down is not good for the environment and locals’ health is still unknown.
“We are doing something good for the environment, right? We understand there are issues. But nobody is checking the positive impact that we are contributing to the society,” said Sherwin Koa, manager of Citipoly Industries to The Guardian.
But having such kind of point of view is not wrong for local people in Valenzuela. Indeed, those locals depend a lot on the existence of the companies economically, and without them it means that either they have no job or they have to recycle the waste all by themselves.
The presence of mountains of waste, with 20% of it was registered as plastic waste, obviously bad for the environment. Peralta said that plastic waste is responsible for huge flooding during rainy season in Valenzuela by blocking water canals.
We all know that those people need solution to their ‘plastic addiction’. That’s why, many international bodies are trying to work with local government to intercept the process from the very beginning of the process by directly convert the plastic to something.
In example, Nestle and local government are trying to pull a waste management program called “May Balik sa Plastic” which will allow street sweepers to swap plastic for free groceries. In addition to that, public school students can also swap plastic for gift certificates.
By doing this, they are able to simply bypass the amount of plastic to enter landfill and add up to the mountain of plastic. Plastic mountains in Valenzuela has become a greater problem since China’s plastic import ban because it might bring more plastic to the city and grow the mountain bigger.
Even the son of ‘King of Plastic’, which is also the major of the city, Sherwin Gatchalian said that importing plastic will ruin the ‘balance’. “I think we have enough waste in the country to process, reuse and recycle. We don’t need waste from abroad,” Gatchalian said.
From this point, we can speculate that even Gatchalian already knew that there is too much plastic in the city itself, and the ‘balance’ didn’t exist. But since it is economically important for most locals, they just cannot simply erase it from their lives.
A regulation to decrease the amount of plastic waste entering the city is needed, such as what the local government have worked out together with Nestle. But education about plastic waste management and its health risks are not less important.
“Isn’t this the practice that we desire when it comes to plastic? Recycle, reuse and repurpose, rather than throw it directly to the sewer and let it go out in open sea? Regulation is key. If problems persist, the companies can be shut down. I just shut down one last week,” the major explained.