PH law leads world in waste management

December 5, 2014

Republic Act No. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Law, is an enlightened piece of legislation. It not only aims for a clean environment, its framework is also in harmony with the rhythms of nature. In nature, nothing goes to waste because all substances are continually recycled into different life forms or components thereof.

RA 9003 mandates that all waste be recycled. Food waste can be pig feed; other biodegradables can go back to the soil to enrich it as compost. Plastic, glass metals, etc. can go to factories as raw materials. If the law were implemented by everyone, very little residual waste would be left.

Such waste is also being reused or recycled. Throwaway plastic food packaging is used in crafts, as toy stuffing and as fiesta bunting, and integrated in paver blocks. The possibilities are endless in the hands of creative Filipinos. The late Ofel Panganiban, creator of those bags that have found their way into boutiques worldwide, could fashion brooches out of fish scales! She also turned banana peeling into delicious veggie burgers!

Comes now the move to lift the ban on incinerators stipulated in the Clean Air Act. Is it the answer to our garbage crisis?

Incineration is antithetical to ESWM. It is linear, not cyclical. In the incineration paradigm, resources are extracted from nature and manufactured into various items, and the waste burned. The ash and vapors are dead ends. They do not rejoin the materials’ cycles. Thus, resources would have to be continuously extracted from nature, again and again.

At this point in our civilization, when our lifestyles, technologies and numbers are voraciously using up resources, this mode is outdated. Furthermore, the ash, an inevitable byproduct, includes heavy metals and other extremely toxic substances and must be laid to rest in especially secured landfills. The gaseous emissions contain dioxins and furans that are among the most toxic substances on earth.

Incineration is a disincentive to ESWM. It is actually an incentive to waste more. When, in the early 2000s US President George W. Bush classified incineration as a renewable energy resource, making it eligible for tax breaks, the incineration industry sought to source as much waste as it could in anticipation of building facilities all over America. This starkly reveals that incineration thrives on waste.

We must learn from the experience of other countries. Even the supposedly advanced and technologically disciplined ones experience problems. In Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, to name a few, operational problems and emission breaches of toxic and hazardous pollutants have plagued many incinerator plants. The same applied to Australia’s only try at incineration, such that after the 3-year test period, the plant was closed. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that to make the same amount of energy as a coal power plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin than coal, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide, twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides, 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead, and 70 percent more sulfur dioxides.

Proponents of incineration say new-generation incinerators are perfectly clean and safe. Granting for the sake of argument that this is possible, it is imperative that the emissions be monitored continually. How can we imagine that this can be done if we cannot even measure our present air pollution? We are constantly being told that we do not have the budget—and, thus, the equipment—for regular monitoring of simpler, basic emissions like carbon particulates, sulfur and nitrogen oxides. How would we suddenly have the means for the more sophisticated equipment?

Incinerators are also extremely expensive. In 2010, a US Energy Information Administration report showed that trash incinerators were more expensive than nearly all other energy sources, including wind, solar, natural gas, coal, and even nuclear power.

Proponents of incineration say the 3Rs program—reduce, reuse, recycle—can continue, that only the residual waste will be burned. But in that case, there will not be enough to turn into energy!

Furthermore, residual waste is very low in calorific value. In quantity and quality, residual waste is not a desirable fuel. Neither is the biodegradable waste which, because of its high moisture content, requires more energy to dry than it will produce from its combustion. On the other hand, burning high-value waste—e.g., plastic bottles—means using up more petroleum, a dwindling nonrenewable resource.

The garbage crisis we refer to is the debris blocking drains and floating in waterways and Manila Bay and the mountains of trash in dumps. But these accumulate because people litter just anywhere and do not segregate their waste. Will people suddenly become disciplined just because the garbage will be incinerated? Will the littered garbage be collected when incineration becomes lawful? Why can’t it be collected now?

The litter and the dumps are shamefully symbolic of the failure of local government units to implement RA 9003. Unless there is truth to the urban legend that mayors get commissions from trash collection—and the more the truck trips, the greater the commissions—there is no reason RA 9003 cannot be implemented. We have success stories that showcase it. Some examples are San Fernando, Pampanga; Project 4, Quezon City; Fort Bonifacio, Taguig; and Alaminos, Pangasinan. Nueva Vizcaya is getting there.

Recycling is the way to go. The Philippines is ahead of many nations in terms of jurisprudence. Let us be proud of RA 9003; let us celebrate it and implement it. Incineration will kill it.

Source: Inquirer