Waste management for renewable energy | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Waste management for renewable energy

/ 04:15 AM September 26, 2022

As the Philippine economy was growing steadily over the past decade before the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, the demand for energy rose rapidly.

In 2018, the country’s dependable energy supply was at 21,241 megawatts (MW), while total peak demand was 14,782 MW. From 2014 to 2018, the country’s total energy consumption was growing at an average of 4.22 percent annually. Indeed, under a high economic growth scenario, the country’s energy requirements were seen to increase fourfold by 2040, or by an average of 5.7 percent per annum.

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Fortuitously, during the two-and-a-half pandemic years, available power capacity dipped sharply while demand hardly changed, given the abruptly slower population growth. The latest numbers are 17,753 MW for the former and 14,870 MW for the latter, implying a precarious operating margin of just 2,847 MW (National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, 9/13/2022).

Meanwhile, according to the National Solid Waste Management Division, the country generated over 21 million metric tons of waste every year. This translates to a weighted average waste generated per capita of 0.40 kilograms per day. Metro Manila alone generated over 9,000 tons (close to one-fourth) of daily waste in the same year. With the COVID-19 pandemic requiring so many personal protective equipment, including masks practically for all, besides consumables in plastic or styrofoam containers, one can just imagine the tons of waste escalating further.

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While we must meet the power demand to sustain economic growth, we must also find a way to grow without compromising our environment and draining our natural resources. This is a delicate balancing act for a country with a potentially booming tourism industry, still fast-growing population, apart from facing not a few natural disasters every year. The devastation wrought by the string of strong typhoons, e.g., “Quinta,” “Rolly,” “Ulysses,” and “Odette,” is a vivid reminder of why we cannot, and must not, take nature and the environment for granted (Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’”).

The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 distinctly recognizes this, and the ecosystem’s role in supporting the growth of the economy, as well as the general well-being of the population. The government and concerned nongovernment organizations have been working earnestly to preserve the country’s environment and natural resources, but much more unstinting effort is called for.

In terms of energy sources, renewable energy and natural gas accounted for an appreciable share of the country’s primary energy supply mix at 39 percent in 2017. While this has been diminishing in the past five years, the government has institutionalized policies and programs that would help spur the utilization of renewable energy. The Renewable Energy Act of 2008 was supposed to vigorously support sustainable energy development measures to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

As regards solid waste management, the government has been expected to strongly enforce the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. This promotes the establishment of material recovery and treatment facilities, the closure and rehabilitation of existing dump sites, and the formulation of local solid waste management plans.

In addition, the Public-Private Partnership Center (PPP Center, attached to the National Economic and Development Authority or Neda), together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau-Solid Waste Management Division, has provided a guide for local government units (LGUs) that covers all phases of the solid waste management project cycle and provides an overview of the national solid waste management strategy.

Moreover, Neda has been working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in formulating the country’s Sustainable Consumption and Production Framework and Action Plan launched in September 2019. The plan was designed to be the backbone of green capitalism, whereby profit-maximization and environmental protection will go hand-in-hand and, in some cases, be complementary to each other. Sustainable consumption and production is one of the Sustainable Development Goals propounded by the United Nations.

This is where PPP projects can further expand their roles, particularly in developing innovative solutions for implementing and integrating renewable energy and waste-to-energy (WTE) components in infrastructure and other development projects. This is possible since the majority of the waste we produce is biodegradable at around 52 percent and recyclable at 28 percent.

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There have been such PPP projects proposed in LGUs i.e. Quezon City assisted by the PPP Center, Davao assisted by Jica, Cebu assisted by ADB, and one more in Palawan. With strong moral support from the national leadership, and given a bigger share of the national budget already being allocated to LGUs, they should be encouraged to get involved in WTE projects, thereby helping the country to more effectively address the solid waste management issue to amplify our renewable energy sources.

It would be good for the public-cum-private sector to join hands toward motivating businessmen and the citizenry to invest in and promote waste-to-energy projects to expand our renewable energy space. This would capacitate our country to not only meet its power requirements but also potentially enable future generations to have a clean and healthy environment, and nature aptly protected.

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Ernesto M. Pernia is professor emeritus of economics, University of the Philippines Diliman, and former secretary of socioeconomic planning, Neda.

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