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Toward zero waste without burning

The first Global Day of Action against Incineration was celebrated on June 17, 2002. The Global Alliance against Incinerators/Global Anti-Incineration Alternatives (GAIA) secretariat in the Philippines presented to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a citizens’ appeal endorsed by more than 80 groups from 34 countries for the phaseout of medical waste incinerators in the country and for their replacement with safer, non-burn technologies in accord with the Clean Air Act of 1999 (Republic Act No. 8749). The Act bans incineration and mandates local government units “to promote, encourage, and implement… a comprehensive ecological waste management that includes waste segregation, recycling, and composting.”

Almost two decades later, the country finds itself in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, besieged not only by widespread illness and death among the population but also by a crushed economy and by climate disasters aggravated by environmental degradation, the exploitation of natural resources, tons of medical waste from hospitals, unchecked consumerism resulting in all other sorts of waste ending up in dumpsites—all of which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through local government units, intends to burn.

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On Nov. 26, 2019, the DENR issued Department Administrative Order No. 2019-21 which decreed the building and operation of so-called waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities or incinerators to deal with municipal solid waste. Congress is reportedly also amending the Clean Air Act to accommodate WTE facilities, while the Department of Science and Technology is supporting the 25-kilowatt (kW) WTE facility in Los Baños, Laguna.

Incineration, a burn technology, will not solve the waste problem. Instead, it will gravely pollute air, land, and water resources, and cause illnesses among the population.

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In her book “Toward Zero Waste,” the late Luz Escalante Sabas or “Manang Luz,” our country’s pioneer zero waste advocate (since 1979), cited Madeline Hoffman of Stop Incineration Now (SIN) who said that incinerators in the United States and other countries emit dioxins, which are components of Agent Orange, a “powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by US military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops as well as crops that might be used to feed them…. (The) chemical dioxin… was later revealed to cause serious health issues—including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer—among returning US servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.”

Also, she said, incinerators generate hazardous ash more toxic than unburned waste, and that “for every three tons of trash burned, one ton of very toxic ash is produced.”

The Bible verse John 3:16—“Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted”—was Manang Luz’s inspiration for her work. Dr. Metodio Palaypay, the late Odette Alcantara (who proudly stated “we are Manang Luz’s students”), the authors of this article, and others, have followed Manang Luz’s advocacy.

Government support, however, has been greatly wanting, despite the passage of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003).

Due to the high cost of building, operating, and maintaining incinerators, existing facilities are being shut down. So why put up one here? The Ecology Center System, which is a household- and community-based endeavor, promotes environment-friendly products and the practices of recycling, and composting for livelihood and organic/ecological farming, thus transforming waste into useful resources. Medical and infectious waste can be sterilized through autoclaving, which uses steam. Single-use plastics must be banned because fish and seashells mistake such materials for plankton.

About 60 percent of total waste generated is biodegradable. We return them to the earth through composting to regenerate, cultivate, reforest, and protect our land. Lupa: Cover the biowaste with soil. Araw: Ensure the mixture gets heat from the sun, but not from direct sunlight. Hangin: Aerate the mixture. Tubig: Sprinkle with some water to moisten the mixture. Repeat the process until the container is full. Wait for a month for the mixture to turn into compost. “LAHaT”: Very Pinoy.

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Joey C. Papa and Ana Celia Ver-Papa are lead convenors of the Bangon Kalikasan Movement ([email protected]).

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TAGS: dioxin, Global Day of Action against Incineration, Incineration, waste-to-energy incineration
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