Back in 1999, I argued at Congress hearings that incineration should not be banned. You don’t ban a process, you control an end result. You specify the maximum pollutants allowed out of a black box and leave it to experts to design how to achieve that. If an incinerator can’t meet that clean standard, then it can’t operate. But if it can, it should be allowed. The politicians didn’t listen, they knew better than the engineers, and incinerators were banned.
Today, there are incinerators that operate at such a high temperature that nothing is left but some ash. Other countries are wise enough to allow them. We are being buried in garbage when much of it could be burnt away, but a thoughtless law won’t allow it.
Perhaps today’s politicians are wiser, so revisiting Republic Act No. 8749 or the Clean Air Act would be well worth doing, given the heightened awareness of the problem of trash to society and the overwhelming need to do something about it if we are not to be buried in it.
There’s plenty of rubbish that can’t be burnt, but there’s enough that can — clinical wastes being a critical one where diseases from improperly disposed materials can proliferate. Incineration would greatly reduce the need for other methods of disposal.
The worldwide move to reduce the use of plastic is one of the biggest problems. Much plastic can be burnt in modern incinerators. Some can’t. And too much of the plastic gets carelessly thrown away with no chance to collect it, as the fish in our oceans are discovering. The ubiquity of plastic has given us much to enhance or ease our lives, but it has become a dangerous pollutant in our oceans and our shores. So I am glad to see a number of local governments banning plastic bags, and stores providing bags from reusable scrap. Bringing your own bag is definitely a habit we should all adopt.
Finding other ways to package products other than single-use plastic is another. Ease of display to attract must be rethought. I visit hardware stores where 220-volt plugs are hung on a hook in a plastic bag. But I’ve seen one where they are just lumped together in a bin. The manufacturer’s name can be on that bin.
Sachets could be replaced by refilling stations where the store owner has a bulk supply of shampoo or detergent etc., where one pump equivalent to a sachet can be pumped into a consumer’s container. Powders can be similarly dispersed from a bulk supply. There’s a move to replace plastic straws; all drink outlets should do that. Reusable plastics are coming in and scientists are working on that. In the meantime, we must use less.
Time to go back to reusable bottles. Plastic containers for drinking water should go. Mind you, in my day you drank from the tap or a public fountain. You can do the former with the water from Manila’s suppliers, Manila Water and Maynilad. I’m not sure about other cities, but so few do. There’s a lack of public fountains, too. So take a bottle of water from the house. Aluminum from drink cans can be recycled.
The largest amount of rubbish is food; that can be converted to fertilizer or burnt. Or, better, given to the poor — an idea I suggested years ago. The unused but still-good food from restaurants could serve them well.
I have recommended in a previous column, “A clean Philippines” (5/19/16), that we launch an annual, nationwide “Clean Philippines” campaign where there are prizes for cleanest city, cleanest barangay, cleanest province, etc. No one has bothered to take it up. It would be nice if they now did. Get schools and churches that have such influence to inculcate in our youth a sense of responsibility for the environment that we must live in.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old Swedish girl, has challenged the world’s leaders. “How dare you!” not care for our environment, she said, in talking about the very worrying changes our climate is enduring. The rubbish we’ve been carelessly disposing of may only have a minor effect on the world’s temperature, but it has an overwhelming impact on the quality of life we and our children will face. I say to you who just dump your rubbish, “how dare you.” Let’s stop polluting our rivers and bays. Let’s stop blocking our drains, let’s start acting as responsible adults and care for this planet we are destroying.
Time to clean up the Philippines, time to reduce our use of plastics, time to allow clean incineration. Our children’s future depends on it.
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