I CAN'T blame my colleagues from the environmental movement for adopting the tagline: Zero Waste Is Possible, in our campaigns. It is our way of politically-correcting, at best couching, the law. And we have been having successes, no matter how small, in transforming local governments in their mis-appreciation of the mandate.
In essence, Zero Waste means recycling, composting, re-use and minimization of waste. And this is exactly the framework of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 -- the imperative. But after two decades, we are witnessing before us a new imperative. Many local governments, for running out of space to dump waste, are being lured into incineration-disguised Waste to Energy proposals by business enterprises. Tucked in this proposal is a move by Congress to amend both the RA 9003 and RA 8749, or the Clean Air Act, to allow waste incineration. And this space would be limited to discuss in full details, with scientifically-verified proofs, the health, economic, environmental and climate hazards of such proposals.
It is enough for now to say that Waste to Energy facilities have been hastening the de-energization of the earth, which quicken global warming. This is because there is a larger amount of energy required to produce, transport and sell new consumer goods that later on will become waste, which can only generate a miniscule fraction of energy when burned. That its projected economic benefit through the re-captured energy is far too small to afford the always-escalating costs for tipping fees for hauling waste, operations to re-segregate the waste, maintenance and strict anti-pollution measures. That many counties in the United States that host such facilities have been encountering fiscal difficulties, reason why on October 12, 2011, Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania filed for bankruptcy.
"Harrisburg was doomed by a single project: a waste-to-energy incinerator that left the city with an annual budget of $55 million and some $280 million in debt. That's a debt load of $6,000 for each of the 49,500 men, women, and children in town, an amount so staggering it was impossible for the city to sustain it," said the published report.
In the Philippines, it may have been providential and a real blessing in disguise that in 2013 the City of San Fernando in Pampanga had to rescind its contract with a local company, Spectrum Blue Steel, to build such a facility. This is because the company, since 2008, was only able to put up the frame of the building and the boundary of the facility, and never delivered on the rest of its promises, which include a share in tipping fees, as well as income from the energy that will be generated.
Bent on solving its garbage woes, the city sought the help of one of our colleagues, the Mother Earth Foundation, to educate and train the constituency on Zero Waste.
Since the start of the training program in 2011 until 2018, the waste diversion rate, a mandate of RA 9003 that provides for waste minimization that mandates the graduated reduction of waste that go into controlled dumps, was 80.69%. This means that the City of San Fernando faithfully complied with the imperative: 50-60% of the waste is compostable, while 20-30% is recyclable, and the rest, around 10-15% is residual hazardous waste. It was also able to reduce its budget for waste management to P111.00 per capita, compared to other cities in the country that spend P500-1,000.00 per capita for not complying with the imperative.
The program resulted in more jobs and incremental income for the constituencies, and various international and local exemplary awards for the city. And this is where our network's tagline is rooted that Zero Waste is possible, albeit imperative.
Our consumerist economy has been leading us to an extremely wasteful way of life. We must all be reminded that the resources of the earth are finite and we have been consuming them without regard and with impunity.
We often share a thought to our constituencies and say: "when all the rivers and seas have been poisoned by chemicals, when all sources of fresh water have either run dry or poisoned, when all trees have been fallen, and when all the soil has become barren and unable so sustain growth, we cannot eat and drink our money, neither can we be nourished by our foolish intelligence."
(This piece was written by Rene Pineda, former board member of the EcoWaste Coalition and current president of the Consumer Rights for Safe Food and the Partnership for Clean Air.)