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Plastic manufacturers claim paper bags unsafe, too

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12:04 AM March 19th, 2012

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March 19th, 2012 12:04 AM

MANILA, Philippines—As more and more cities and commercial establishments shun plastic bags, the plastic industry launched an offensive against its alternatives: the brown bags and newspapers.

Crispian Lao, the spokesman for the plastic industry, said on Sunday that wrapping products and foods in brown bags and recycled newspapers would be unsafe for consumers, a statement that environmental groups said was “inaccurate.”

Lao said, “We are raising this fact not to bring down paper but to point out the unintended and costly consequences of the plastic ban, which in most instances has denied the public a cheap food-grade wrapping material.”

He noted that brown paper and newspapers, aside from using waste paper that could have been picked up from anywhere, contain chemicals from production that could contaminate food.

“That is why you will notice that if you order french fries or pizza, the food itself is not in direct contact with the brown paper or carton packaging. In the case of pizza, wax paper holds the pizza underneath but the top cover might still get in contact with the food unless, as some outlets do, a plastic item is provided to hold it up,” he said.

Lao’s statement came as local government units in Metro Manila have started to prohibit the use of plastic bags in wet markets and other commercial establishments to reduce the rubbish that clog up the streets and cause floods during rainy days.

National agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Metro Manila Development Authority have also called for a metro-wide ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam in packaging and handling items and food products.

According to the MMDA, the metropolis generates 8,400 to 8,600 tons of trash per day, accounting for about 25 percent of the country’s daily solid waste generation of some 35,000 tons.

In the Senate, Sen. Miriam Santiago has filed a bill that aims to ban plastic bags regardless of their composition, either regular or degradable plastic bags while promoting the use of reusable bags.

But Lao said plastic bags, which he called food-safe and considered kinder to the environment, should not be blamed for the city’s trash problems.

“Our irresponsible ways of disposing of plastic and other waste is to blame, not plastic. We are the problem; we are also the solution,” he said.

Local governments, he said, must instead enforce waste segregation. “Banning plastic misses the problem completely. It is an egregious mismatch between problem and solution.”

Meanwhile, the Ecowaste Coalition scoffed at Lao’s arguments for plastic use, saying they were “inaccurate.” Paeng Lopez, a campaigner for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said plastic bags have been more dangerous to the environment than paper.

Plastic products are made from petroleum, a dwindling natural resource requiring carbon-intensive extraction, transportation, and refining, according to Lopez.

He said many plastic products were not food-grade and were made with hundreds of chemical compounds that the industry refused to divulge.

Lopez said “there is no point in pitting paper to plastics.” Ecowaste, he said, has been calling for the use of reusable bags among Filipino shoppers.

There is practically no danger for different products to be thrown in one bag as consumers usually wash their produce before using it, according to Lopez.

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