Joshua Mendoza

Published: April 22, 2024

This article marks Earth Day 2024, observed on April 22. This year's theme is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ emphasizing the urgent battle against plastic pollution.

The Philippines should target the root of the country’s plastic problem—manufacturers—instead of taxing consumers for plastic use, an environmental organization said. 

The Philippine Department of Finance (DOF) wants to curb plastic pollution and its impact on climate change by proposing an excise tax on single-use plastic (SUP) bags, including commonly used ‘ice,’ ‘labo,’ and ‘sando’ bags.

According to the DOF, the tax is expected to increase the price of ‘labo’ and ‘sando’ bags by around 40 centavos per piece. 

The initiative aims to generate P31.52 billion in revenue between 2025 and 2028. The funds will be allocated to the environment department’s solid waste management programs.

During his second State of the Nation Address, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also called on Congress to enact an excise tax on single-use plastics, with corresponding bills currently pending in both the House and Senate.

A girl scavenges plastic trash along the polluted streets of Block 1 Baseco where they LGU of Manila drops trash in front of people’s houses. The trash littered along the streets came from the polluted sea of Manila bay that’s washed inward to the residential area during high tide. (Jilson Tiu/Greenpeace)

However, Greenpeace Philippines zero waste campaigner Marian Ledesma said that taxation measures to address plastic pollution should target producers and enterprises, not burden consumers. 

“A tax that puts the costs on consumers does not change a broken system depending on disposable items that eventually become an overwhelming amount of waste,” Ledesma told Climate Tracker Asia in an email interview.

“While there’s an element of motivating consumers to change their behavior if they’re paying, it’s unfair to pass on the costs to consumers because the manufacturers and businesses are the ones reaping the gains/profits of creating plastics, and consumers are simply forced to use whatever is available on the market,” she added. 

Ledesma stressed that policies should target the source of the problem and put pressure on manufacturers ‘as they should be responsible for the products they’re imposing on consumers.’

She added that banning SUPs is a more effective way to rid the country of pollution coming from plastic bags, which could also motivate consumers to shift to reusable alternatives as seen in other countries.

Tax vs ban

University of the Philippines economist Professor Toby Monsod explained the purpose of the excise tax is to ensure people who use products bear the full cost of their negative impact. However, she emphasized the necessity of accurately estimating these environmental impacts and their associated costs.

“How much tax will really hurt in the sense that it will really capture the negative externalities from the use of plastic bags? This is what I would include in measuring. How many times do you have to change the flood control system because it’s clogged with plastic bags? It may not be the weight of the plastic bag, but the volume [of the SUPs] that clogs pipes,” she elaborated.

Monsod also questioned why an implementation of an excise tax has been chosen rather than an outright ban of plastics, which is being implemented in some places in the country and has already been effective in areas like Rwanda and Bangladesh.

READ MORE: New plastics audit report lists top sachet-producing brands polluting Asia

Fund reuse systems

For Ledesma, sachets are a ‘bigger plastic problem’ as they comprise 52% of the country’s residual plastic waste stream.

“The government should start imposing taxes or fees instead on large enterprises covered by the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law, and that could support a transition to refill and reuse systems as alternatives to single-use plastics like sachets or plastic bottles,” Ledesma said.

To mitigate the effects of the excise tax on SUPs among small businesses, Ledesma recommended that a portion of the funds should be dedicated to helping micro and small enterprises to transition away from plastic bags.

She cited the efforts of the local government unit of San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, wherein they helped market vendors source banana leaves to wrap wet goods, and in Baguio City, where vendors used old newspapers when plastic bags were banned.

“MSMEs themselves can shift away from plastic bags and actively promote reusable bags. They can require consumers to bring their own bags to avoid having to pay for alternative materials. Some may be able to provide discounts, promos, and other rewards for customers using reusables using the budget that would have been dedicated to purchasing plastic,” Ledesma added.