Waste not, burn notBy Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos
Cebu Daily News
Dumaguete and Quezon cities recently joined the growing number of local government units (LGUs) with leaders exercising the much-needed political muscle to regulate the use of the perilous plastic. Muntinlupa, the first in the National Capital Region to ban plastic and styrofoam, credited its pioneering ordinance for sparing the city from the floods that hit the capital in 2011. Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro wants the ordinance amended to impose heavier penalties on violators and give incentives to complying business entities.
I saw the residents of Quezon City changing their uncaring ways and now bringing eco-bags instead of paying P2 for each plastic bag used. Feeling a tinge of envy, I prayed hard for the day when political authorities in Cebu will awaken to the fact that urgent intervention from the government is badly needed to impose discipline and responsibility among the citizens in managing their waste.
Our lifestyles of instant gratification and instant “technological” solutions unfortunately are taking their toll on our life support system. Pollution of land, air and water ravaged the ecosystems which we and the future generations have to pay a heavy price for.
The 5 R’s—refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle and restore—have to be instilled in each citizen’s heart and mind to win the war against unsustainable production that depletes the vanishing natural resources, mindless consumerism that encourages further exploitation of earth and reckless and harmful disposal methods that heavily impact public health.
Two laws were adopted to instill sanity in our ecological landscape, protect us from our ignorance, apathy and greed and to fight climate change: R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and R.A. 8749, Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999. They guarantee the protection of our rights to health and a healthy environment and provide the structure and the system for the principles and purposes of the statutes to be attained. “Waste not, burn not,” these laws declare.
Alas, just like a lot of our environmental laws, they are largely unimplemented. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the supervising entity, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) are contented with merely mouthing statistics of more than majority of LGUs ignoring the statutes. Cebu City and the barangays, except perhaps for barangay Luz, do not even have the required solid waste management plan (SWM), 11 years after RA 9003 was enacted.
DENR, vested with the power to “exercise visitorial and enforcement powers to ensure strict compliance” of RA 9003 and DILG, which exercise supervisory powers over LGUs, do not bother to hold erring and negligent public authorities accountable. Why the hesitancy in performing a clear duty in ensuring that the laws are enforced?
Why is mixing of solid wastes allowed when it is a crime? Why are the polluting methane-emitting open dumps and the so-called sanitary landfills which do not comply with the standards set by RA 9003 still allowed to operate?
Why do we continue to give permits for more power plants and landfills to open when we do not even invest in facilities and equipment to measure air and water quality, and continue to treat environmental costs and the people’s health as externalities?
Why does the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) refuse until now to come up with the list of Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products (NEAPs), in willful and gross violation of their mandate under RA 9003?
The cases that few citizens dare file with the Office of the Ombudsman against negligent public officials are gathering dust or are dismissed. Advocates who fight for the planet and the voiceless are slapped with harassment suits to stop others from following their path. The culture of mediocrity in environmental governance persists because of these reasons and more.
It is bad enough that we pretend that we do not have the laws to protect us. It is worse when technology is readily endorsed without the benefit of public consultation, thorough study and determination if it collides with existing laws and scientific data of its toxicity and harm and bereft of the SWM plan and local air quality control action plan, required by RA 9003 and RA 8749, respectively.
Proposed waste-to-energy (WTE) technology projects can never be the solution to a huge garbage problem as RA 9003 itself provides the guidelines for solid waste management, which LGUs and even other agencies like the DENR must comply.
How can LGUs think of supporting WTE and other facilities when they do not even have the basic requirement, the solid waste management plans duly approved by the NSWMC, as well as the air quality control action plan?
City and provincial solid waste management boards have no business endorsing WTE facility without the essential SWM plan. RA 9003 mandates the SWM board to “Develop the City or Municipal Solid Waste Management Plan that shall ensure the long-term management of solid waste, as well as integrate the various solid waste management plans and strategies of the barangays in its area of jurisdiction. In the development of the Solid Waste Management Plan, it shall conduct consultations with the various sectors of the community.”
Furthermore, WTE requires massive tons of waste that are mixed for it to generate energy. The WTE technology contradicts the provisions and the state policy declared in RA 9003 which prescribes “solid waste avoidance and volume reduction through source reduction and waste minimization measures, including composting, recycling, re-use, recovery… before collection, treatment and disposal in appropriate and environmentally sound solid waste management facilities in accordance with ecologically sustainable development principles.”
Incineration is banned in both R.A. 9003 and R.A. 8749. The fact is “gasification, pyrolysis and plasma arc are classified as incineration by both the European Union and United States Environmental Protection Agency,” as emphasized by Paeng Sales of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). Emissions may contain harmful chemicals such as dioxin, dubbed as the worst poison invented by man, and mercury which can never be killed by burning. We are thankful that GAIA, Health Care Without Harm and Eco-Waste Coalition and our local partners shared their expertise and passion to enlighten the public about the impacts of these technologies in the enriching public consultation last Friday.
Zero-Waste School Workshop: Representatives from various schools are attending the Zero Waste School Workshop today at the University of Cebu-Banilad campus to implement ecological solid waste management in their respective schools and universities as their step in working towards zero waste. Expect more citizen-intiated actions pushing for Zero-Waste in the days to come.
More from this Column:
- Public participation and political dynasties
- Being green
- Nature cannot wait
- The stirring journey of Jireh
- Rediscovering our paradise in an ailing planet