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Find better solution than incineration

According to the United Nations Environment Program, the Philippines is the fourth -largest generator of solid waste among Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries.

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The Philippines still grapples with unsustainable waste production due to the lack of solid waste management infrastructure to help address the issue.

In 2020, congressmen approved on third and final reading House Bill (HB) 7829, or the proposed “Waste Treatment Technology Act.” They packaged the proposal as the solution to the perennial waste problem because it allows the use of waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies, including incineration, as long as they don’t produce toxic substances.

Relatedly, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also backed Senate Bill 1789 or the proposed WTE Act that also allows the use of WTE facilities for household waste management and disposal. The said bill is pending on second reading at the Senate.

The Philippines is the first and only country to ban incineration under Republic Act (RA) 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act (CAA).

However, on 6 December 2019, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued DENR Administrative Order (DAO) 2019 — 21, Guidelines Governing WTE Facilities for the Integrated Management of Municipal Solid Wastes, signed on 26 November 2019.

The order provides guidelines for establishing and operating WTE facilities using Municipal Solid Waste despite the ban on incineration under the CAA. The DAO is the subject of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and individuals in the Supreme Court in July 2021.

Due to their adverse and threatening effects, the cited measures and developments face strong opposition from environmental groups and watchdogs.

According to a factsheet by Global Alliance for Incenerator Alternatives Asia Pacific, WTE incineration is a harmful waste management solution disguised as a marketing gimmick to advance renewable energy development.

Toxins abound

WTE incineration is an alternative method of waste disposal to landfills. The process can produce greenhouse gasses in carbon dioxide and air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, dioxins, toxins and other particulates.

However, this garbage disposal is expensive, can pollute the environment, and can damage public health. It means it is not a viable long-term and sustainable solution to dispose of waste.

The group reiterated that merely burning most of the waste without recycling some of it will only cause more environmental damage because it will encourage more waste production.

Political will needed

Instead of lifting the ban on waste incineration, Oceana vice president Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos suggested that the government should focus on adding teeth to the implementation of environmental laws in place.

The Philippines is the first and only country in the world with a national ban on incineration, following the passage of two landmark laws nearly 20 years ago: The CAA and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 under RA 9003.

“The Philippines already has a very progressive law in RA 9003 to sustainably deal with solid waste management enacted more than two decades ago, but it sorely lacks implementation,” Ramos told the Daily Tribune in an interview.

“If only the various government agencies collaborate, perform their mandates and have the political will to implement the provisions of the law strictly, our waste problems will be properly mitigated and addressed,” she said.

Green laws need teeth

Ramos also pointed out that RA 9512, or the National Education and Awareness Act of 2008, which requires the integration of environmental education in all curricula at all levels, should be “seriously required and monitored by the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education.”

“Caring for the environment is a shared responsibility for all. On the part of the citizens, we should continue to demand accountability for unimplemented policies such as RA 9003 and RA 9512, and at the same time reduce waste in our personal spaces such as refraining from using single-use plastics and opting for sustainable practices,” she said.

In a separate statement, Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) chairperson Sonia Mendoza noted that the “reason we have a waste crisis is that many cities and barangays are not implementing the (environmental) laws.”

Green group MEF has been partnering with communities and cities to carry out the solid waste law.

“In cities and communities that strictly implement the law, compliance can be as high as 96 percent, resulting in waste diversion from landfills by more than 80 percent. It shows that when cities take up the responsibility of properly implementing a waste program, the people comply,” Mendoza pointed out.

Prioritize waste management

According to the United Nations Environment Program, the Philippines is the fourth-largest generator of solid waste among Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries. Its recent study showed that the country produces an average of 14.66 million tons (MT) of trash annually.

The Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR also projected that the country would see its yearly waste increase to about an average of 18.05 MT in 2020 due to the additional waste generated because of the pandemic.

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