The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is actively involved in formulating and implementing legislation and campaigns to address a wide range of environmental issues. One of the key challenges it has been tackling is plastic pollution, which is being addressed through the implementation of programs, projects, and laws such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, also known as Republic Act 9003.

There has been a growing response from individuals, academe, civil society, and local government units (LGUs) to address this environmental crisis. The LGUs in particular play a vital role in implementing and enforcing this law, and one exemplary LGU that is championing the cause of a plastic-free community is the Municipality of Oras in the province of Eastern Samar.

Recently gaining recognition as the "Bayong Capital of Eastern Visayas," the Municipality of Oras has taken significant steps to combat plastic pollution, which has long been a major problem for this third-class municipality. Under the new administration led by Mayor "Mano" Roy C. Ador and with the support of the constituents, they have crafted a new ordinance named "Ordinance Alas Onse." This name signifies the momentous occasion when the ordinance was fully approved on November 11, 2022, at 11 A.M.

Through Ordinance Alas Onse, the Municipality of Oras aims to further intensify its efforts in minimizing plastic pollution and promoting a sustainable environment. This demonstrates their commitment to addressing the challenges posed by plastics and their dedication to creating a cleaner and healthier community for all residents.

The Ordinance Alas Onse

The ordinance known as "Ordinance Alas Onse" has been implemented in the municipality of Oras to regulate the use of plastic cellophane and sando bags as packaging materials, as well as the utilization of polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, for food and beverage containers. This regulation applies specifically to Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

This was passionately pushed through as Mayor Ador expresses concern over the increasing visibility of plastics and garbage, which has resulted in dump trucks being filled with plastics three times a day. In response, Mayor Ador has called upon constituents to assist in controlling plastic pollution within the community.

Furthermore, Oras, which encompasses 18 barangays and 2 sitios along the Oras River, has been facing the issue of indiscriminate disposal of different types of plastics and non-biodegradable waste into the river and its surroundings. This has led to the obstruction of waterways during heavy rainfall, resulting in flooding in those areas.

Mayor Ador reveals that approximately 20 thousand pieces of plastic are disposed of in the river each month.

After thorough research and inspection, it was discovered that the public market, together with businesses and stores, significantly contribute to the excessive use of single-use plastics.

To address this issue, the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Oras has devised an ordinance that regulates the usage of any form of plastic in business establishments, stores, and public markets. Additionally, the ordinance introduces the use of "Bayong" bags to encourage locals to use them when purchasing items or carrying groceries from the market and other business establishments.

Bayong Production

Bayong is a type of woven bag made from dried leaves of the "Bariw" plant, a species of Pandan that is abundant in the town of Oras. This traditional craft is carried out by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Oras, particularly women's groups who have received skills training from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with support from the local government unit (LGU) of Oras. Over time, this training has been extended to other CSOs, including senior citizens groups, farmers organizations, and single mother groups.

The production of bayong not only promotes environmental sustainability but also provides additional income opportunities for local residents, particularly housewives who support their husbands and families. Annie Anna Roncales, a member of the Tawagan Fenaora Women's Association, expresses the productivity and financial benefits derived from bayong making, stating, "In bayong making, we find ourselves very productive, earning an amount to buy for our family's needs.

To encourage the use of bayongs as an alternative to single-use plastic containers, the LGU purchases each piece of bayong from the CSOs for P100. These bayongs are then distributed to every family in the municipality. The goal is to have "One Bayong, One Family," and this initiative has already been implemented in most parts of the town. As of early August 2023, approximately 10,000 bayong bags have been distributed out of the total 15,000 families.

Mayor Ador emphasizes the environmental benefits of bayong, highlighting its biodegradability and safety for consumers. He promotes the use of bayong as a handy and eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. While the LGU has implemented a regulatory ordinance to limit the use of plastic bags, it allows their use from Mondays to Wednesdays until every family and household is provided with bayongs.

To ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials for bayong production, the LGU is collaborating with the Department of Agriculture to cultivate and preserve the Bariw plant locally. This partnership aims to reduce sourcing costs for bayong makers.

Significant Change

The implementation of Ordinance Alas Onse, which restricts the use of plastics, has brought about significant positive changes in the community of Oras. Mayor Ador reports a noticeable reduction in garbage collection and a decrease in the presence of rodents and insects due to improved waste segregation and disposal practices. The support of market business owners and vendors has also been crucial to the success of this ordinance. In addition to the environmental benefits, they profit from the sale and disposal of eco bags.

The LGU continues to raise awareness about the harmful effects of plastic and encourages the use of eco-friendly bags and bayongs through daily announcements in the market area. The impact of Ordinance Alas Onse has extended beyond Oras, as people from neighboring towns now bring their own eco bags when shopping at the Oras public market.

The LGU expresses gratitude to the residents for embracing the change and challenges brought about by Ordinance Alas Onse. They encourage the use of bayongs or any eco-friendly bag when visiting the market or making purchases. Oras' bayongs have gained international recognition through online purchases, and a Bayong festival is being planned to showcase the town's reputation as a producer of bayongs. Mayor Ador shares the aspiration of making Oras a tourism destination and eliminating floating plastics in their bodies of water. The implementation of Ordinance Alas Onse aligns with this goal. Despite the anticipated challenges in addressing plastic pollution, the LGU remains determined to minimize plastics in the community, recognizing that environmental goals are intertwined with economic progress. Bayong and eco bag usage are seen as solutions to mitigate climate change and address local unemployment. The LGU of Oras takes pride in being at the forefront of combating and managing plastics, with the hope that future generations will benefit from their development plans and goals as they implement the ordinance.