The Danish company makes billions of Lego pieces a year, and in 2021 began researching a potential transition to recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which needs about 2kg of petroleum to make 1kg of plastic. ABS is used in about 80% of Lego blocks.
“It’s like trying to make a bike out of wood rather than steel,” said Tim Brooks, Lego’s head of sustainability, referring to how the non-oil-based material was softer and demanded extra ingredients for durability, as well as greater energy for processing and drying.
The “level of disruption to the manufacturing environment was such that we needed to change everything in our factories” to scale up recycled PET use, he said. “After all that, the carbon footprint would have been higher. It was disappointing.”
The company said in 2021 it had more than 150 people working on sustainability. But Lego’s chief executive, Niels Christiansen, told the FT the toymaker “tested hundreds and hundreds of materials” but could not find a “magic material” to solve sustainability issues.
Instead, Lego aims to make each part of ABS more sustainable by incorporating more bio-based and recycled material. Christiansen said the group will triple spending on sustainability to $3bn (£2.45bn) a year by 2025 while promising not to pass on higher costs to consumers.
A south-east Queensland plastics spill in which 40,000 small discs were flushed into the ocean could threaten birds and marine life for years to come, an expert says, amid criticism of CSIRO’s handling of the breach.
A CSIRO spokesperson confirmed on Thursday that 40 litres of plastics known as biomedia were accidentally discharged from the Bribie Island Research Centre on Monday afternoon, with many washing up on nearby Woorim beach.
The biomedia is about the size of an M&M, and is non-toxic and used in the filtration of water for aquaculture research, the spokesperson said. It was released accidentally into a wastewater well and discharged into the sea.
“The breach was addressed immediately to prevent the further release of biomedia and CSIRO staff have been involved in clean-up efforts on the beach.”
But Dr Shima Ziajahromi, an expert in the impact of microplastics in waterways, said the clean-up should not be limited to the beach and that the surface of the ocean should be skimmed.
“There’s a lot that would have already transported further in the middle of the ocean because of the winds and currents,” she said.
Ziajahromi said the spill was the worst she had heard of in Queensland – and would remain a danger to animals for a long time.
“It’s very hard to clean up the ocean. Plastic can remain in the water for thousands of years,” she said.
“As plastic breaks down, they get even more harmful because they will be available to the smaller organisms that can be mistaken for food … even zooplankton can ingest them.”
Darren Jew from the Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association (Biepa) said locals had been working tirelessly to clean up the plastic as turtle nesting season approaches.
“At low tide on Tuesday, I walked about 100m [on Woorim beach] and got maybe 50 pieces,” Jew said.
“Over the summer we will have critically endangered loggerhead turtles nesting on our beaches and the migratory shorebirds that are on their way back for the summer roosting period.”
The pieces of plastic are small enough that they could be mistaken for crabs by the shorebirds or swallowed by turtles, according to Jew.
“We know that seabirds ingest a lot of plastic out in the ocean, so our concern would be they’re going to suffer a similar fate in this instance,” he said.
The Biepa president, Richard Ogden, said while it was inspiring to see up to 100 community members come together to clean the beach, they should have been informed sooner.
“I was really unhappy that it was community members who blew the whistle on this and that it was only because of people out on the beach seeing these little bits of plastic that we were alerted to it,” Ogden said.
The state MP for Pumicestone, Ali King, said she had been contacted by many locals angered by the spill.
“People are feeling really frustrated … they’ve been telling me they would like the CSIRO to be able to provide some assurances that nothing like this will happen again,” King said.
“When it comes to any plastic in the environment, people here on Bribie are very alive to the risks to wildlife and that is why they’ve found this event distressing.”
The CSIRO spokesperson said aquaculture research had been conducted at the site for 12 years without incident, and the organisation had well-established protocols in place around the environmental management of its facilities.
The organisation acted “immediately” to repair work to the pipe within an hour and took part in the clean-up, they said.
They did not confirm if CSIRO would undertake cleaning of the water surface but said it was “acting on advice on a range of mediation and clean up responses”.
“The biomedia beads are non-toxic and are a type of plastic that is highly stable and will stay intact while the clean-up is progressing,” the spokesperson said.
They said the amount of plastic released was “negligible” when compared with the polystyrene spill resulting from the Brisbane floods.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Daf) said “a range of measures will be considered by the department and CSIRO to determine the most suitable method to prevent a recurrence.”
The hills that circle Skopje keep citizens safe when smog grows thick, but they also trap the toxins that make its air among the most menacing of any city in Europe.
The mountains are the only escape, says Katarina, a 33-year-old accountant, as she walks home from an evening hike. “I was wearing a mask for air pollution before Covid.”
Dirty fuel, bad design and tricky terrain have for decades choked the capital of North Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic of 2 million people in the middle of the Balkans. The city sits in a valley where ageing factories whirr next to homes and offices. In winter, when people stoke stoves with waste wood and rubbish, warm air rises up to meet the cold and heavy mountain air above, forming a lid that traps pollution close to the ground.
The clouds last for days if the wind does not blow. “It feels and tastes like burnt plastic,” says Dragana Gjurcinoska, a 29-year-old event manager at the Panoramika hotel at the foot of the Vodno mountain.
Skopje is home to three of the most polluted districts on the continent, a Guardian analysis based on modelling of European air quality data has revealed. Together with cities across the western Balkans and in Poland, it is one of Europe’s hotspots for particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM2.5. Some of these fine particles slip through the lungs and into the veins, riding the bloodstream through the body and wreaking havoc on the organs they meet.
A study in 2018 found the air in Skopje was so clogged with pollutants that residents died two to three years earlier on average than they would without this “largely preventable” environmental factor.
If you convert it into economic terms, the cost to society “is very, very high”, says Mihail Kocubovski, a co-author of the study and the head of the environment team at Macedonia’s institute of public health, which pegged the social cost of Skopje’s air pollution between €0.5bn and €1.5bn. “It is much better to pay €1 [on prevention], let’s say, and to save €5 or €10 not spent on health issues like morbidity, mortality and sick days.”
By cutting PM2.5 pollution to the EU’s recommended limit micrograms per metre cubed, the researchers found, Skopje would avoid one in every five hospital trips for heart and lung disease. If it hit a stricter limit of 10 micrograms per metre cubed from the World Health Organization – which has since lowered its limit to 5 micrograms per metre cubed and declared no level of air pollution to be safe – the city would halve such hospital visits.
On the streets of Skopje, people say they fear not just for their own health, but also that of their families and friends.
“My mother has asthma, my husband has upper respiratory problems, and me as well,” says 30-year-old Sara Carikj Jakimovska, a technical adviser at a waste management consultancy and mother of a two-year-old. “The last three years my nose has been clogged all the time and I have trouble breathing.”
Angela Zdravkova, a 25-year-old medicine student who works part time in a bookshop by an intersection of two seven-lane roads, says it is common for vulnerable people to wear masks in winter. “I mostly worry for the kids and the elderly.”
For some residents, bad air is an extra reason to leave the country, along with the low wages and corruption that have fuelled a brain drain to the EU. More than 90% of young people in North Macedonia want to move abroad, a survey from the nonprofit Youth Alliance found last year. The economy is hit further because the air deters foreign workers and tourists, and keeps residents stuck at home.
From the Panoramika hotel’s sixth floor Sky Bar, Gjurcinoska says the bar’s biggest advantage is the view. But on the worst days, she says, gesturing toward the city’s terracotta roofs and rolling hills, the pollution is so bad “you cannot see Skopje at all”.
A small comfort for older residents is that the smog is now grey, not black. A few decades ago, Skopje burned even dirtier fuels that spewed sulphur dioxide. During what scientists call temperature inversions, when a layer of warm air forms a lid over the city, the sticky sulphur clung to water vapour in the air and made black smog that caked cars with a layer of soot. The city has since banned petrol that contains sulphur and swapped its district heating plants to run on gas instead of oil.
“It was terrible,” says Kocubovski, remembering the last big black smog event in January 1993. “It was very difficult to breathe, the people were suffering.”
PM2.5 pollution has also fallen slightly in recent years as warmer winters mean people need to heat less. But experts say there has been little effort to help households swap to cleaner fuels. Between a quarter and a third of people in North Macedonia cannot keep their home warm. Two-thirds of Skopje’s residents burn wood, often using low-quality fuel in inefficient stoves, with some burning rubbish when they cannot afford anything else.
Bojana Stanojevska Pecurovska, the president of the nonprofit Centre for Climate Change, says the city should extend its district heating network to all settlements, help people make their homes more energy efficient and regulate the moisture content of firewood. “It’s a social issue, and no one is dealing with it as a social issue.”
As well as heating houses cleanly, experts have called for stricter controls on factories and traffic. They have also criticised haphazard construction. When Skopje was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963, the city was rebuilt with corridors that let air flow from east to west, blowing pollutants out through the valley. But in recent decades, locals say, buildings have sprung up in places they shouldn’t, blocking crucial airways and leaving residents to choke.
From a bench at a crossroads in the industrial Aerodrom district, the 30-year-old software engineer and opposition city councillor Gorjan Jovanovski points to three white skyscrapers whose top floors poke above the smog in winter. “They’re the only ones tall enough to rise above the temperature inversion, so if you’re rich enough, you can buy your way out.”
What is harder to understand, he says, is that the children of the elites still breathe the same air when they go to school.
Jovanovski rose to prominence after developing an app to aggregate air quality data that became popular in Skopje and several other Balkan cities. But the increased citizen awareness did not translate into cleaner air, he says. In 2021, he and other disillusioned environmental activists ran for local office and won two of the 45 seats on the city council.
With air pollution, he says, “we’re all aware, we know how to track it, particularly during winter time. The problem is the awareness seems to have stopped at the gates of the government.”
The city council did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, it is not just Skopje’s problem, says Jovanoski, opening up the air quality app and pointing to other cities in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. “If you look at the map during winter, in Europe you see the iron curtain in air quality.”
What are the worst types of plastic for the environment?
The worst types of plastic for the environment are those that cause the most degradation to natural resources, ecosystems, and organisms. This degradation can come in many forms such as:
Contribution to Climate Change
Direct Threat to Life
Plastics with these characteristics are the most threatening:
Made for single-use
Containing toxic additives
Break down into micro-plastics
Production is energy intensive
Difficult or unable to recycle
Prone to wildlife ingestion or entanglement
The environmental impact of different types of plastic can be judged based on various factors, including how long they take to degrade, their potential for recycling, and the toxins they might release. Here are some plastics often considered particularly detrimental to the environment:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Often simply called “vinyl,” PVC is notorious for both its production and disposal. The production of PVC releases toxins such as chlorine gas and creates dioxins, which are persistent organic pollutants. PVC items can contain harmful additives like phthalates, which can leach over time. It’s less commonly recycled than other plastics.
Polystyrene (PS): Commonly known as Styrofoam, this type of plastic is used for items like coffee cups, take-out food containers, and packaging peanuts. It can take hundreds of years to decompose and is not widely recycled. When burned, it can release toxic styrene gas.
Non-recyclable plastics: Not all plastics are easily recyclable. Plastics labeled as #3 (PVC), #6 (PS), and #7 (often a mix of various plastics) are generally less recyclable than others, leading to higher chances of them ending up in landfills or the environment.
Microplastics: These tiny plastic particles, often less than 5mm in size, originate from various sources. Some come from the breakdown of larger plastic items, while others, like microbeads, are manufactured at this small size. They’re particularly concerning because they can easily be ingested by marine life and make their way up the food chain.
Single-use plastics: While these can be made from various types of plastic, their short-lived utility combined with a long degradation period makes them especially problematic. Common examples include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, and bottles.
Plastics with toxic additives: Some plastics contain additives to give them specific properties, such as flexibility (like with phthalates in PVC) or resistance to UV rays. Over time, these additives can leach out, posing potential health risks to animals and humans.
Plastics that degrade into harmful compounds: Some plastics, when breaking down, degrade into harmful compounds. For instance, when PET bottles degrade, they can release antimony, a toxic chemical.
Oxo-degradable plastics: These plastics are designed to break down faster than conventional plastics when exposed to UV light or heat. However, rather than fully degrading, they often fragment into tiny microplastics, contributing to the microplastic pollution issue.
Efforts are ongoing to reduce the production and use of these harmful plastics. Some alternatives, such as bioplastics or innovative recycling methods, are being researched and developed to replace or improve traditional plastics. However, the most effective strategy often involves a combination of reducing plastic usage, recycling, and switching to more sustainable materials.
Labels such as “BPA Free” and “Phthalate Free” can be helpful in finding products that are safer than conventional alternatives, but just because a product makes a claim doesn’t guarantee it is accurate.
There’s a significant difference between a product that has been tested and certified vs a product that is making a claim on its own. Being able to distinguish between the two can be the difference between you thinking you’re getting a safer product and you actually getting a safer product.
Products generally fall into 3 categories:
Label with A Claim
Product is not making a claim and probably hasn’t been tested.
The product manufacturer or retailer is claiming the product meets a certain criteria such as “BPA Free” but it isn’t backed-up with a certification.
The product has been tested and received a certification.
What is a product certification?
A product certification is a process through which a product is evaluated and verified to meet specific standards or criteria set by a regulatory authority, a standardization body, or a professional organization. Once the product meets the necessary standards, it is granted a certification mark, which can be displayed on the product or its packaging. This mark acts as an assurance to consumers, other businesses, or regulators that the product meets the claimed standards or qualities.
Common Certifications & Labels Found On Plastic Products
Here are the most common labels you may see on plastic products and how to distinguish between certified claims vs general claims.
You may see product markings that indicated “BPA Free” but the majority are self-imposed labels not third party certifications.
Products marked with “BPA Free” are indicating that there is zero BPA within them. This is an optional label most brands use for marketing. Since a company can be penalized for falsely labeling their products, most get a third party test before adding the “BPA Free” label to their products and they can generally be trusted.
There’s a small chance that a product labeled “BPA Free” still has BPA in it, but it is not likely. It’s more likely that the product contains a BPA substitute which is just as dangerous… see below for more details.
Along with the “BPA Free” label, you can also look to see what type of plastic the bottle is made from.
Label “7” is a catchall for “all other plastics”.
1 – PETE
2 – HDPE
3 – V
4 – LDPE
5 – PP
6 – PS
7 – Other
The “7” label is a good indicator that the product may have BPA-containing plastic.
Note that there are several very similar chemicals of the Phenol family such as BPS and BPF that are often used in lieu of BPA. This allows a product to claim that it is “BPA Free”, even though it contains chemicals with a very similar structure and therefore very similar health implications.
The only certification for BPA and alternative phenols is issued by Ineris. This label indicates that the product has been tested and is certified not to contain BPA, BPS, BPF, and several other phenolic variants.
You’re not likely to see this label on consumer products because it is voluntary and an added expense for the producer. At this time the best way to avoid Phenols is to avoid plastics in category 7 and to follow brands you have researched and you trust.
There are currently no certification marks indicating phthalate-free products, but some products may have labels indicating their packaging and/or product is phthalate free. The best approach to avoiding phthalates is to read the product label and follow brands you’ve researched and trust.
The Philippines is renowned as one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hotspots. This indicates that the country is home to an exceptional number of endemic plants and wildlife species, which faces serious threats and exploitation. Among the country’s 7,641 islands, one island has recently captured attention due to the discovery of a long-hidden battle – Sibuyan Island.
Sibuyan Island is a stunning paradise and home to a significant portion of Philippine endemism. It boasts crystal-clear waters, dense rainforests, breathtaking waterfalls, and magnificent mountains teeming with life. Unfortunately, this paradise’s ecosystem is now under the threat of alleged illegal mining operations. Larger mining corporations, supported by power and money are overshadowing the local community and silencing the underrepresented minority.
This ongoing battle for Sibuyan Island has already resulted in tragedy. In 2007, a former environmentalist from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines and a town councilor in Sibuyan, Armin Marin, was shot dead by heavily armed guards after leading a rally against a mining attempt that could destroy Sibuyan’s precious ecosystem. Recently this year, a clash between the authorities and a human barricade attempting to stop another mining operation has left two locals injured, one town councilor arrested, and countless others affected. There are also alleged cases of public teachers on the island being held with their rights to participate in any anti-mining activities, and students being forced to issue public apologies for opposing mining on the island.
Today, as the fight against mining continues, these corporations promise job security, wealth, and development through unsustainable actions. But beneath these enticing promises lies a critical question: What will be the true cost of these actions? What will be the price paid by the environment and the community? And when will people fully grasp the importance of balancing development and environmental preservation?
This article presents an in-depth case study that delves into the environmental and social conditions of Sibuyan Island amidst alleged illegal mining activities. The study highlights the imminent environmental risks, sheds light on marginalized perspectives, and emphasizes the urgent necessity for proactive measures to protect Sibuyan’s delicate ecosystems.
Sibuyan Island is located in Romblon province, Philippines. It covers an area of 445 square kilometers and is often referred to as the “Galapagos of Asia” due to its unique blend of natural features. Towering above the island’s lush greenery is the infamous Mount Guiting-Guiting, a magnificent peak that reaches a height of 2,058 meters, attracting hikers and mountaineers from around the world. Sibuyan Island is home to dense virgin forests that are filled with endemic plants and animals, including the rare and endangered Philippine hanging parrot (Loriculus philippensis bournsi) and the endemic Sibuyan pitcher plant (Nepenthes sibuyanensis).
There are about 44 waterfalls on the island, connected by clear rivers and streams that flow through its beautiful valleys, including the well-known Cantingas River, considered one of the cleanest rivers in the world. These water bodies supply enough fresh water to the local communities and farm irrigations. Beneath the surface, Sibuyan Island’s marine ecosystem thrives with vibrant coral reefs and a wide range of marine life, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers, and a food basket for local communities. The table below shows the summary of protected areas and biodiversity of Sibuyan Island.
700 vascular plant species – 54 of which are endemic to Sibuyan Island144 species of trees recorded – 10 of which are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” or considered endangered species. 33 of the tree species on the island are endemic to the Philippines.
83 wildlife species found on the island are endemic to the Philippines – 4 of which are endemic to Sibuyan.18 of the recorded wildlife species on the island are on the IUCN “Red List” or considered endangered species. 130 bird species recorded.
Natural Resources and Minerals
Sibuyan Island is well-known for its mineral-rich soil, which holds significant deposits of valuable resources such as nickel, chromite, and copper. These minerals have attracted entrepreneurs and mining corporations due to the potential for profitable ventures. The island also possesses abundant non-metallic minerals, including limestone and silica, essential for various industrial applications.
Moreover, according to some locals, certain island regions are believed to hold gold, emerald, and marble deposits. These precious minerals further contribute to the island’s potential economic value.
Local Communities and Indigenous People
Sibuyan Island has only approximately 62,000 people residing in three municipalities, Cajidiocan, Magdiwang, and San Fernando. Among its inhabitants are the Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid (SMT) indigenous, whose rich cultural heritage is deeply connected with the island’s natural environment.
The community’s way of life on Sibuyan Island revolves around their harmonious relationship with nature. They deeply respect the land, forests, and rivers, which they consider sacred. Traditional farming practices, such as sustainable swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture, help the land regenerate over time. Additionally, crafting, such as basket weaving and wood carving, was a significant source of income for the community.
Fishing is another vital aspect of the community’s livelihood due to the island’s abundant marine resources. Fishing methods employed by the locals are often traditional and low-impact, ensuring the preservation of the marine ecosystem and the sustainability of their catch. Moreover, the SMTs preserve their cultural traditions, including music, dance, and craftsmanship. These valuable practices are passed down through generations, reminding them of their unique identity and deep connection to the island’s natural world.
Timeline of Mining on Sibuyan Island
The Beginning of Mining in Sibuyan
According to Mr. Alfreo Pascual, one of the founders of the environmental and anti-mining organization Bantay Kalikasan ng Sibuyan (Nature Guardians of Sibuyan), the illegal mining activity in Sibuyan Island traces its roots back to the 1980s when mining companies first set their sights on its mineral-rich land. The discovery of valuable minerals, particularly gold, prompted initial interest in the island’s potential. However, the enthusiasm was short-lived as the quality of the gold found needed to meet the desired market standards, and the quantity fell below the required threshold of at least 500 metric tons per day for a minimum of 10 years of mining to be considered profitable.
Despite this setback, another mining company conducted a comprehensive exploration to assess the mineral deposits on the island. Their findings revealed that Sibuyan Island has a significant quantity of high-grade nickel, making it a new prime target for mining operations. This discovery catalyzed renewed interest in mining activities on the island.
By the year 2000, various mining companies began applying to the government for Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA). This agreement allows a private mining contractor to mine an area with no title on the contract area.
In 2009, the former environmental secretary of the Philippines, Lito Atienza, awarded the MPSA to ALTAI Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC). However, it is essential to note that at this stage, the company received only a permit for the exploration, extraction, and transportation of nickel ore samples for feasibility studies. Extracting and transporting large quantities of nickel ore for business transactions is subject to other application and evaluation processes, such as the Declaration of Mining Project Feasibility (DMPF) and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC). This declaration and certificate will prove that the mining project is both technically and financially viable, as well as socially and environmentally compliant.
The issuance of an exploration permit marked a critical juncture in the timeline of illegal mining on Sibuyan Island. As companies sought to capitalize on the island’s mineral wealth, the stage was set for further developments with significant implications for its environment and inhabitants. Today, there are multiple mining claims in Sibuyan from different mining companies covering almost half of the island, including some of its protected areas.
The Conflict Between the APMC and Local Communities
In 2011, APMC’s MPSA was suspended by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines (MGB) through a cease and desist order. This is due to contamination complaints and alteration of inland water bodies. However, after ten years, the suspension was lifted in September 2021, allowing APMC to resume mining activities. According to local anti-mining leaders, APMC had already engaged in transactions with a nickel ore buyer from Hong Kong during this period despite needing more complete certifications and permits for conducting mining operations. During this time, the local government of Sibuyan Island has remained silent on these ongoing activities, providing APMC with an advantage to carry out alleged illegal mining operations.
The continuation of mining activities has caused concern among many residents opposed to mining on their island. Because of this, various anti-mining organizations have emerged, intending to stop further mining activities conducted by APMC. In February 2023, the anti-mining organizations organized a rally to protest against APMC, citing deforestation and the construction of a causeway that could potentially disrupt the natural habitat of marine species.Two days after the rally, a massive vessel docked on the coast of Sibuyan Island prepared to load and transport 50,000 metric tons of extracted nickel ore to Hong Kong with an estimated value of around 2 million USD. This sparked a physical confrontation between the residents and APMC. The residents constructed a human barricade to prevent the trucks carrying nickel ore from leaving the island. It is reported that during this incident, two residents were hurt.
As news of the incident spread through the national media, calls were made to investigate the situation, temporarily suspending mining activities. In an official report released by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on February 6, 2023, they issued a Joint Order to APMC regarding the illegal construction of the causeway and other related activities.
In a response statement released by APMC, the company said they had secured all the necessary permits and licenses to conduct mining operations on the island, denying all the allegations on their business legalities. APMC also claimed that the 50,000 metric tons of nickel ore will be transported overseas only for bulk testing.
Since then, residents and indigenous people, spearheaded by different anti-mining organizations, have consistently organized monthly rallies to raise awareness about the ongoing risk of exploitation from mining companies on their island. Aside from protests, the environmental organization Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN) has filed further legal actions against APMC to stop mining on Sibuyan Island.
Overpowering the Minorities
In an attempt to reclaim mining authority, there have been reports of alleged activities from the mining company that overpower the anti-mining residents of Sibuyan through various means.
Promising Job Security and Community Development Initiatives
According to some locals, the continuation of mining activities holds the promise of increased job stability through the mining company’s commitment to hiring island residents for various roles. Additionally, the company has pledged to enhance the quality of life for Sibuyanons by constructing vital facilities that will generate additional employment and livelihood opportunities. These facilities include hospitals, bee farms, and fisheries, which are expected to foster economic growth and prosperity within the community.
While these initiatives may potentially have a positive impact on residents, it remains unclear for Sibuyanons whether they will be sufficient to outweigh the environmental damage caused by the mining activities.
Silencing the Oppositions
As anti-mining organizations strive to put an end to mining activities in Sibuyan through community outreach and rallies, there have been allegations of attempts to silence individuals involved in the movement, potentially violating their human rights if proven true.
According to a statement from the Commission on Human Rights, there are reports of public teachers in Sibuyan being restricted from participating in anti-mining activities, including attending rallies and expressing anti-mining views on social media. Additionally, there are accounts of students being forced to issue public apologies for voicing opposition to mining on the island.
Since the mining operations stopped, APMC has been organizing various community relations programs in different towns of Sibuyan. These programs include basketball tournaments, relief operations, tree planting, Zumba activities, and educational meetings.
While the company may claim good intentions behind these programs, many Sibuyanons perceive them as attempts to persuade the residents. Some believe that these activities are intended to divert their attention from the anti-mining campaign.
The Environmental Impact of Mining on Sibuyan Island
Considering the island’s pristine condition and abundant biodiversity, the environmental impact of mining on Sibuyan Island is expected to be highly significant and detrimental. This section explores the past, present, and potential future state of the environment in Sibuyan if mining activities persist.
Environmental State of Sibuyan in the Early Years
In the early years, Sibuyan Island is recognized as one of the most pristine islands in the Philippines. Its forest area is considered one of the densest forests ever recorded globally, with an estimated 2,180 trees per hectare. The island’s lush forests and untouched mountains have provided a sanctuary for various wildlife species. Moreover, it is known for producing some of the purest freshwater in the world, sourced from its two healthy watersheds, Cantingas and Palangcalan. These watersheds play a crucial role in sustaining the livelihoods of most of the island’s population, residing in the San Fernando, Cajidiocan, and Magdiwang municipalities. The local communities heavily rely on these watersheds for their drinking water, farm irrigation, and eco-tourism.
According to some locals, back in the 1960s, the water in Sibuyan was so clean that they could drink directly from the streams and rivers. Preserving this pristine water quality has been a goal for Sibuyanons for many decades. The increasing population and unregulated activities, such as small-scale mining, illegal logging, illegal charcoal making, and conversion of land for agriculture, have posed threats to the habitats of Sibuyan’s wildlife species and the water quality of both watersheds.
Fortunately, the declaration of Mount Guiting-Guiting as a protected area in 1996 was a significant milestone in the island’s conservation efforts. Over the years, this helped the island slow the potential environmental threats and preserve its pristine state.
Environmental State of Sibuyan After Mining Exploration
After APMC conducted its recent mining exploration activities, the once pristine environment of the island has suffered significant impacts.
1. To extract 50,000 metric tons of nickel ore, APMC cleared lush vegetation from the mining site, leading to the large-scale cutting of trees without the required permit. This illegal activity has raised serious concerns about its ecological consequences in the area, including:
Loss of wildlife habitat
Soil erosions and landslides
Loss of indigenous flora and fauna
2. To transport the extracted nickel ore to the mining vessel, APMC constructed a causeway on the shores of San Fernando without obtaining the necessary permits. Environmental activists fear the construction could damage marine life, particularly seagrass, and coral reefs in the coastal area where the causeway was built.
In response to these concerns and appeals, the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB), in collaboration with Coastal Resources and Ecotourism Research, Development and Extension Center (CRERDEC), investigated the alleged damage of seagrass and coral reefs in the area where the causeway was built.
According to the investigation, the causeway development did not directly affect or bury any coral reef due to its proximity to the river mouth, where corals do not thrive. However, the causeway construction can still significantly impact the coastal area. The analysis suggests that the causeway can alter the flow of water and sediments, affecting the speed and direction of water currents. It may also disrupt the natural patterns of longshore drift, which is the movement of sediments along the coastline, potentially causing changes in the shape and form of the beaches. These effects could lead to more significant issues, such as:
Instability of coastline
Extreme tidal inundations.
Given these potential adverse environmental impacts, the investigation highlights the importance of thorough evaluation before building a causeway. Such an assessment should involve all stakeholders to ensure project implementation considers the ecological and natural resources protection, social benefits, and economic gains.
Although allowing mining is expected to create more job opportunities for Sibuyanons, there are valid concerns among residents and indigenous communities regarding the current damages and threats resulting from mining exploration activities, according to Engr. Jerome Gacu, a local youth environmental activist and member of the Alliance of Students Against Mining (ASAM), they are concerned that if the current impacts are already substantial, the potential consequences could be far worse if mining persists in the future. Nevertheless, they also worry that due to the pressing need for stable, long-term employment among residents, they might eventually accept mining in the future despite the risk.
Mrs. Veronica Batan, one of the prominent leaders of the environmental and anti-mining organization “Bantay Kalikasan ng Sibuyan” (Nature Guardians of Sibuyan), points out that any promised benefits of mining would be meaningless if the island’s environment and natural resources suffer damage and depletion, exposing the communities to potential health and calamity risks.
Future Environmental State of Sibuyan if Mining Continues
During our observations in the island communities, one significant issue that stood out was the need for education and awareness about the true environmental impact of mining and the potential health and calamity risks associated with it. Mr. Alfreo Pascual pointed out that misinformation is one of the biggest problems in Sibuyan. The spreading of rumors and opinions about the pros and cons of mining without a factual basis has led to confusion within the community.
To gain a better understanding, Mr. Alfreo Pascual and his colleagues consulted Dr. Edward Monjardin, a professor specializing in environmental and climate calamity risks. He explained that the effects of mining on an island like Sibuyan could go far beyond biodiversity loss and common calamities like soil erosion, landslides, and flash floods if the mining continues. According to Dr. Monjardin, the situation and the potential future environmental state of Sibuyan are comparable to his recent research on a neighboring island called Marinduque, which has faced severe environmental consequences due to mining.
The Marinduque Mining Disaster
The environmental disaster in Marinduque due to mining started from 1975 to 1991. During this period, the mining company operating on the island called Marcopper Mining Corporation disposed of approximately 200 million tons of mine tailings, a highly toxic mining waste, into Calancan Bay. This was done by constructing a tunnel that connected the mining site at Mt. Tapian to the Boac River, which then flows directly to the bay. This activity has caused an environmental disaster with immediate adverse effects, including:
Contamination of Boac River with toxic mine tailings, resulting in the death of numerous fish species.
Around 80 square kilometers at the bottom of Calancan Bay is covered by poisonous mine tailings, effectively burying all marine life forms beneath.
Significant impact on the livelihood of fishermen in the area, as they heavily relied on Boac River and Calancan Bay for their catch.
After the natural resources at Mt. Tapian were depleted, Marcopper established another mining site nearby called San Antonio. The tunnel that connected Mt. Tapian to Boac River was sealed and repurposed as the mine tailing pit for the San Antonio site. However, to accommodate more mine tailings, Marcopper built a tailing dam in the Mogpog River in 1992. The construction of the tailing dam has caused further catastrophes for the community, including:
Contamination of the Mogpog River with toxic mine tailings resulted in the death of numerous fish species.
Accumulation of silt in river beds, generating floods in nearby communities.
Flood waters carrying mud and toxic river water reach the town, causing damage to houses and rice fields and leading to the loss of livestock.
In 1996, the Mt. Tapian pit containing 23 million metric tons of toxic mine tailings leaked, releasing up to 10 cubic meters of toxic water per second. This toxic water overflowed to different villages situated near the Boac River. The effect of this incident is one of the most disastrous events in the mining history of the Philippines.
Flash floods buried nearby villages under 6 feet of toxic water.
Toxic flood water destroyed agricultural fields and food sources on the island.
The community’s primary source of drinking water became contaminated by toxic flood water.
The government declared Boac River biologically dead due to the toxic levels that killed fish and other marine species.
Months later, the Department of Health found nine residents with zinc levels in their blood exceeding safe limits by over 200%.
River water samples showed toxic contamination levels 1,300% higher than the human tolerable level.
Residents suffered from skin irritations and respiratory infections due to the toxic water and vapor.
Over the last three decades, the people of Marinduque have faced the consequences of mining activities. Until today, the Mt. Tapian pit remains filled with highly toxic water, which overflows into rivers and communities during heavy rainfall, causing ongoing suffering for the residents. There has been a noticeable increase in residents requiring amputations due to intoxication and infected wounds, and abnormalities in newborn babies in various communities on the island. Researchers have been closely monitoring and studying these health issues to understand their correlation with the toxicity levels on the island.
Potential Relevance of Marinduque Mining Disaster to Sibuyan Mining Situation
While mining in Sibuyan is currently far from causing the same environmental impact as in Marinduque, many environmentalists and anti-mining leaders believe it can reach a similar level of devastation.
The granted Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) to ALTAI covers around 1,580 hectares of mining area on a mountain slope above and near watersheds, coastal areas, communities, irrigation systems, and rice fields. According to Mr. Alfreo Pascual, due to the mining area’s slope and geographical position, the mining activity may pose a significant risk of damaging and contaminating these areas below the mining site, particularly once they release mine tailings or heavy rainfall occurs.
Community Efforts Against Mining in Sibuyan
Early Efforts of Sibuyanons
Many Sibuyanons oppose mining on the island. Since the early 2000s, they have put forth tremendous efforts and sacrifices in their fight against mining. Numerous anti-mining organizations were formed, and rallies and legal actions were held. Some individuals even risked their lives to protect the environment.
In October 2007, Armin Marin, a former environmentalist from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines and a town councilor in Sibuyan, was tragically shot dead after leading a rally against a mining operation attempted by Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corp. This incident served as a wake-up call for Sibuyanons, motivating them to take further action against those trying to exploit their island.
Since the nickel ore transportation attempt by APMC in February, the residents of Sibuyan have set up an outpost in front of the mining site, where the human barricade occurred. This outpost is constantly monitoring the mining site daily to prevent further illegal activities from happening again.
Small Victories of Sibuyanons
Today, community efforts against mining on the island are still ongoing. The success of the human barricade in February, which exposed illegal mining operations and led to the government stopping the mining activities, has been followed by more victories for the anti-mining residents of Sibuyan. More residents are now displaying “No to Mining” banners in front of their homes, and regular community outreach and rallies are taking place on the island. According to the anti-mining leaders, these actions are crucial to maintain the willingness of Sibuyanons to protect their island’s pristine environment and reputation.
A few weeks ago, anti-mining organizations in Sibuyan received another good news. The “Writ of Kalikasan” (Writ of Nature), which Sibuyanons requested, has been issued by the Supreme Court against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and APMC. The Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy for any individual or organization whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthy environment has been threatened or violated by an unlawful act of any public or private entity.
The issuance of the Writ of Kalikasan by the Supreme Court is an essential step for Sibuyanons on their way toward protecting Sibuyan Island against any form of environmental exploitation.
Educational Outreach: Raising Awareness
During our stay on the island, we witnessed another educational rally at the town hall of San Fernando municipality. The rally was organized by various environmental and anti-mining organizations, led by Bantay Kalikasan ng Sibuyan (Nature Guardians of Sibuyan).
The purpose of the educational rally is to raise awareness among more Sibuyanons about the actual environmental impact and calamity risks caused by mining, aiming to address the issue of misinformation within the community. Dr. Edward Monjardin, one of the keynote guest speakers at the event, highlights the potential calamity and health risks of mining in Sibuyan by explaining the situation’s relevance to the Marinduque mining disaster.
Dr. Monjardin also emphasizes the significance of maintaining a balance between development and the environment. Neither one should outweigh the other for communities to truly prosper. During his seminar, he informed the residents and indigenous people that excessive development could harm the environment and lead to calamities. At the same time, too much focus on environmental protection can hinder economic growth and progress for the community. However, he explained that there is a fine line between these two factors, and sustainable development is the key to benefiting the community.
Mrs. Veronica Batan from Bantay Kalikasan ng Sibuyan highlights the immense importance and beauty of Sibuyan’s environmental state and natural landscapes. These areas hold significant potential for eco-tourism rather than unsustainable development like mining. She also expressed her gratitude for the never-ending support and hard work of her colleagues, other environmental organizations, and the approximately 1,000 attendees of the educational event.
Mr. Alfreo Pascual led the question and answer portion for the attendees during the event. He reiterates the importance of continuing the fight for the environment, acknowledging that while they have achieved some small victories, the potential threat of mining in Sibuyan remains.
Additionally, environmentalist and human rights activist Mr. Rodney Galicha shares the latest news on the progress of their fight against mining on the island. He aims to keep the people informed about the current status of their movement, ensuring that the community stays updated on their efforts to protect their island’s natural heritage.
Furthermore, the event calls on the local government of Sibuyan to take a more proactive role in supporting the Sibuyanons’ efforts to protect the island’s environment.
Protecting The Future of Sibuyan Island: What We Can Do?
As the fight against mining continues, the fate of Sibuyan Island is still uncertain. The key to securing its future lies in striking a delicate balance between development and environmental protection. However, this task cannot be accomplished alone. It requires collaborative efforts and urgent actions from all stakeholders to ensure the protection of Sibuyan Island and the well-being of its people. Here are some strategies Sibuyanons can adopt to achieve this goal:
Promote Environmental Education and Awareness
Education and awareness are vital tools in tackling one of the significant challenges faced by Sibuyanons today against mining. By providing the community with information about the importance of the environment and the real impacts of mining, they can effectively counter misinformation, make informed decisions, and work together to create a shared vision for the island’s future.
Supporting environmental education programs and outreach initiatives can empower local residents to actively engage in preserving their island. Through knowledge and understanding, the community can take meaningful steps towards sustainable practices and protect the natural beauty of Sibuyan for generations to come.
Promote Sustainable Development Alternatives
While mining may offer economic gains, it is important to understand that such gains could be meaningless if the island’s environment and natural resources suffer irreversible damage. To secure a greener and safer future for Sibuyan, people must explore sustainable alternatives that can provide the same economic growth and progress. Here are two key alternatives to consider:
1. Promoting Eco-Tourism: Sibuyan Island is filled with amazing landscapes and underwater havens that tourists around the world are willing to see and experience. Leveraging these natural wonders can be a big opportunity for eco-tourism.
Eco-tourism initiatives can be an ideal alternative that fosters both economic growth and environmental protection.
Eco-tourism can create job opportunities and generate income for the local economy while also protecting the island’s ecological integrity, ensuring its natural beauty remains for future generations.
2. Expanding Market Opportunities for Sibuyan Seafood Products: Sibuyan Island is abundant with different marine species, making it a food basket and one of the main sources of income for the locals. Increasing market opportunities for seafood products can offer a promising chance to generate more jobs and boost the local economy.
Improving and expanding marine protected areas on the island can significantly increase fish biomass and benefit both the marine ecosystem and local fishermen. More marine protected areas mean more fish and more fish means more catch for the fishermen.
Opening direct access to national and international seafood markets can result in increased sales and an overall enhancement of the island’s economic status.
Advocate for Stronger Environmental Policies
To protect Sibuyan Island, the people need strong environmental policies in place. Both local and national governments must take responsibility for preserving their natural resources and the ecological balance of Sibuyan Island. Citizens can also make a difference by supporting stricter regulations on mining and advocating for policies that promote sustainable development and conservation.
Effective implementation of these policies requires collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, including government agencies, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), local communities, and private businesses. Working together, they can develop a well-rounded strategy to tackle the island’s specific environmental challenges while ensuring its long-term sustainability.
About 90% of water samples taken over the last 10 years from the Great Lakes contain microplastic levels that are unsafe for wildlife, a new peer-reviewed paper from the University of Toronto finds.
About 20% of those samples are at the highest level of risk, but the study’s authors say the damage can be reversed if the US and Canada quickly act.
“Ninety per cent is a lot,” said Eden Hataley, a University of Toronto researcher and study co-author. “We need to answer some basic questions by monitoring … so we can quantify risks to wildlife and humans.”
The Great Lakes provide drinking water to over 40 million people in the US and Canada, hold about 90% of the US’s freshwater, and are home to 3,500 species of plants and animals.
The authors reviewed data from peer-reviewed studies from the last 10 years, which showed the highest levels are found in tributaries leading to the lakes, or around major cities like Chicago and Toronto. The highest median levels were found in Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario.
Though myriad microplastic sources exist, wastewater treatment plants seem to be a major Great Lakes basin contributor, as they are elsewhere, Hataley said. Pollution from microfibers that come off clothing in washing machines are thought to be another common source, as are preproduction plastic pellets used in manufacturing. She noted concerning levels of microplastics have been found in sport fish consumed by humans and beer brewed with Great Lakes water.
But the consequences for human health are unknown, Hataley said.
“We know we are being exposed, but what that means in terms of harm or what’s a safe level – we have no idea, and that’s going to take more research,” she said.
Getting a handle on the question starts with the US and Canadian governments coordinating the monitoring of microplastic levels, she added, and the nations’ Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement already has in place monitoring programs for other pollutants.
Adding microplastics to that list would not be a heavy lift, Hataley added, and would help researchers and regulators understand pollution trends over time, identify hotspots and point to major sources of pollution.
Solutions, like adding filters to washing machines or storm sewers at manufacturing sites, exist and are relatively easy to implement, she said. Though Canadian and US governments have known about microplastic levels for at least 10 years, it can take time for regulators to act, and the new paper highlights the situation’s urgency, Hataley said.
“The timeline is not that shocking, but it makes a lot of sense to do it now,” she said.
Dead flies could be turned into biodegradable plastic, researchers have said.
The finding, presented at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), could be useful as it is difficult to find sources for biodegradable polymers that do not have other competing uses.
“For 20 years, my group has been developing methods to transform natural products – such as glucose obtained from sugar cane or trees – into degradable, digestible polymers that don’t persist in the environment,” said the principal investigator, Karen Wooley, from Texas A&M University.
“But those natural products are harvested from resources that are also used for food, fuel, construction and transportation.”
A colleague suggested she could use waste products left over from farming black soldier flies. The larvae of the flies contain proteins and other nutritious compounds so are being raised for animal feed, and they break down waste so are being bred for that, too. However, adult flies are less useful and are discarded after their short life span. Wooley’s team has been trying to use these carcasses to make useful materials from a waste product.
The researchers found that chitin, a sugar-based polymer, is a major component of the flies and it strengthens the shell, or exoskeleton, of insects and crustaceans. Shrimp and crab shells are already used for chitin extraction. Researchers said the fly-sourced chitin powder seemed purer than that from crustaceans and obtaining chitin from flies could avoid concerns over some seafood allergies.
From the fly products, the team created a hydrogel that can absorb 47 times its weight in water in just one minute. This product could be used in cropland soil to capture flood water and then slowly release moisture during droughts.
Wooley said: “Here in Texas, we’re constantly either in a flood or drought situation, so I’ve been trying to think of how we can make a superabsorbent hydrogel that could address this.”
The scientists hope they will soon be able to create bioplastics such as polycarbonates or polyurethanes, which are traditionally made from petrochemicals, from the flies. These plastics will not contribute to the plastic pollution problem.
Wooley said: “Ultimately, we’d like the insects to eat the waste plastic as their food source, and then we would harvest them again and collect their components to make new plastics. So the insects would not only be the source, but they would also then consume the discarded plastics.”
Scientists have discovered a method to give new life to old plastic – by converting it into soap.
Plastics are chemically similar to fatty acids, which are one of the main ingredients in soap. For Guoliang Liu, an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech and author of the paper published in the journal Science, this similarity suggested it should be possible to convert polyethylene into fatty acids, and then into soap. The problem was size: molecularly, plastics are very large, about 3,000 carbon atoms long, whereas fatty acids are much smaller.
The solution came to Liu in an unusual way. “It was Christmas. I was watching the fireplace,” he said.
When firewood burns, it gives off smoke, which is made up of smaller particles of the firewood. Liu wondered whether burning plastic would work the same way.
“Firewood is mostly made of polymers such as cellulose. The combustion of firewood breaks these polymers into short chains, and then into small gaseous molecules before full oxidation to carbon dioxide,” he said. “If we similarly break down the synthetic polyethylene molecules but stop the process before they break all the way down to small gaseous molecules, then we should obtain short-chain, polyethylene-like molecules.”
Liu and colleagues built an oven-like reactor that could be used to safely burn plastic. The temperature at the bottom was hot enough to break up the polymer chains, while the top was cooled low enough to stop them breaking down too far.
The scientists collected the residue and found the product they had created was short-chain polyethylene, a type of wax. They then went on to turn the wax into soap.
“It’s the first soap ever made from plastic in the world,” Liu said. “It has a bit of a unique colour. But it works.”
Liu’s method works on polyethylene and polypropylene, which are the two most common types of plastic. Together, they make up about half of all plastic waste: close to 200m tonnes every year. More than 80% of plastic waste goes to landfill, while less than 10% is recycled. One of the benefits of Liu’s method is that it works on “end-of-life” plastics, which cannot be recycled through normal means. The method was also designed to be able to be scaled for use in an industrial setting.
Liu urged caution, though. “Plastic pollution is a global challenge,” he said. “It’s one of the major problems facing our society, and this is one piece of a bigger puzzle. We need a joint effort between the research and industrial communities. And the best way to avoid plastic pollution is to minimise the use of plastics.”
Here are some ways in which plastic chemicals can get onto our skin:
Direct Contact: Handling plastic items, products, or surfaces can result in direct contact between the skin and the plastic material. This is a common way that plastic chemicals can transfer to the skin. For example, touching plastic water bottles, food containers, or plastic-covered surfaces can lead to skin exposure.
Wearing Plastic-Containing Items: Wearing clothing or accessories made from plastic-based materials, such as synthetic fabrics or vinyl, can result in skin contact with plastic chemicals. This is particularly relevant for items like raincoats, synthetic athletic wear, and shoes with plastic components.
Personal Care Products: Some personal care products, such as lotions, creams, and cosmetics, may contain plastic-derived ingredients, including microplastics. These products can be applied directly to the skin, leading to potential exposure to plastic chemicals.
Medical Devices and Bandages: Plastic materials are commonly used in medical devices, bandages, and wound dressings. When these devices or materials come into contact with the skin, there is a possibility of chemical transfer.
Children’s Toys and Items: Plastic toys, pacifiers, teething rings, and other children’s items can expose infants and young children to plastic chemicals through skin contact or mouthing behavior.
Environmental Contamination: In some cases, plastic particles, dust, or microplastics can become airborne and settle on the skin. This type of indirect exposure can occur in areas with plastic pollution or during activities involving plastic materials.
It’s important to note that the degree of exposure and potential risk from plastic chemicals on the skin can vary based on factors such as the type of plastic, the specific chemicals involved, the duration of contact, and individual sensitivity. Some plastic chemicals, such as phthalates and certain additives, are more likely to migrate or transfer to the skin.
To reduce potential exposure to plastic chemicals on the skin:
Choose personal care products that are free of plastic-derived ingredients.
Select clothing and accessories made from natural fibers or materials that have been tested for safety.
Minimize direct skin contact with plastic-containing products, especially for infants and young children.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling plastic items or engaging in activities that involve potential plastic exposure.
Be cautious when using medical devices or bandages that contain plastic components, especially for individuals with sensitive skin.