By Jennifer C. Tilos
Silliman University (SU) is aggressively pushing for a more systematic way of curbing the volume of garbage generated on campus and strictly regulating, if not eliminating, the use of plastics in the University.
This came after visiting scholar and adjunct professor in the University Dr. Jorge Augustin Emmanuel, a Filipino-American scientist who played a key role in the battle against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, was invited to give a brief lecture on “The Global Crisis of Plastic Pollution.”
This lecture segued into preparations of the University to address the mounting problem of plastics on campus.
These include a research on the impact of plastics and an upcoming institutional campaign against the use of plastics that envisions Silliman as a “zero waste” university.
Dr. Emmanuel shared some findings in scientific reports which reveal that many people do not really know or lack some knowledge on the presence of plastics in food, water and even air.
“The microplastics that we are eating and breathing today are because of the people who had dumped plastics 50 years ago,” Dr. Emmanuel said.
He added that without any intervention from the present generation, the problem gets worse and the impact of microplastics on the health and living conditions of future generations is greater.
“Today, we are producing about 400 million tons of plastics a day – much more than what was being produced 50 years ago. This means that the waste that we are producing today will be affecting our great, great, great grandchildren 50 years from now.
They will be eating this in their food and water and will be breathing it in their air at even larger concentrations than we do,” he shared.
According to Dr. Emmanuel, by their very nature, plastics attract persistent organic pollutants found in air or water, when broken up to microplastics, they do more harm.
“Toxic substances in the environment preferentially absorb on the surface of microplastics,” he added, making it easily digestible by marine life, like fishes and crustaceans.
And as they are invisible to the naked eyes, these microplastics, along with toxic substances, become part of the meal and are unconsciously ingested.
As Silliman gears up to be a model university in its waste management, the adjunct professor who handles courses at the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences, College of Engineering and Design and Graduate Programs proposed three measures that Sillimanians can do on a personal level: (1) don’t use plastic water bottles; (2) stop using straws; and (3) stop using plastic bags.
In her message, Silliman President Dr. Betty Cernol-McCann reinforced the rationale behind the presentation of Dr. Emmanuel and asked the audience: “What has the advocacy for breaking free with plastics got to do with all of us?”
“Everything. This is happening. It is largely because of us, and it is getting worst. At this point, we are into damage control but our damage control will only be as strong as the weakest link in our University,” she said.
Dr. McCann confirmed plans “to bring about changes in the way we deal with plastics and other wastes that we now use and dispose in our campus.”
Dr. McCann urged everyone: “let us all cooperate in this endeavor.