THE month of January is observed in the Philippines as the Zero Waste Month as contained in Proclamation 760 issued in 2014.

As stated in the said presidential directive, Zero Waste is both an advocacy and a goal. It is an advocacy promoting the redesign of processes and products to systematically reduce, if not eliminate, the quantity and toxicity of waste that industries, businesses, institutions, households and individuals generate. It is a goal "to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use."

For the EcoWaste Coalition, Zero Waste or "Walang Aksaya" is "the synergy of principles, cultures, beliefs, systems, methods and technologies that aims to eliminate wasting and ensure full and beneficial use of resources to restore ecological balance and provide for the needs of all creation." Fellow Zero Waste advocates from the cities of Baguio, Davao and Manila contend that we need to grow and support Zero Waste now of all times as hundreds of landfill and waste-to-energy incinerator projects are being considered amid the climate change and plastic pollution crisis.

"Toward Zero Waste," said Joey Papa of Bangon Kalikasan Movement, would be a more fitting term since our society has a long way to go to substantially reduce waste. "We must collectively and constantly exert efforts, in our homes and communities, to decrease the use of non-biodegradable materials, to be recycled; immediately eliminate single-use plastics which must be totally banned; and increase the use of biodegradable and plant-based resources, with the excess to be composted," he said as "this will reduce centralized collection by 60%-80%" as successfully proven by BKM and its partner communities since 2003.

"We call on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to seriously consider this proposition, our appeal for the longest time," Papa said, in view of the agency's recent announcement that it will set up 300 more so-called "sanitary" landfills, until 2022. There are now 189.

"How many more hundreds of hectares will be covered by these landfills, which are actually garbage dump sites?" Papa asked. "Why not use precious, diminishing areas of land for reforestation as shield against storms and typhoons, and as a source of food and livelihood for the people especially in critical times like this pandemic, made worse by global warming and climate change?"

For Vicky Bautista of Zero Waste Baguio, "landfills and incinerators are false solutions because these are focused only on the garbage disposal." She asserts that our waste woes are production and consumption issues: "we continue producing and consuming stuff that end up in garbage bins while the planet runs out of resources to sustain the future generation. This wasteful consumption has got to stop now." For Bautista, "changing lifestyle and consumption patterns is difficult but crucial" and that "a Zero Waste lifestyle is the planet's only option."

To support the shift to Zero Waste, Bautista urges the government to put in place appropriate policies that would hasten the transition from an economy that generates waste to a circular economy. "A national ban on single use plastics is a good start," she pointed out. "Policies that would make producers be responsible for the waste generated by their products would also go a long way," she suggested.

Mincing no words, Mylai Santos of Ecoteneo (Ateneo de Davao University's environmental protection and conservation group), insisted we should "stop calling incineration as waste-to-energy; it is a waste of energy and a threat to human health and environmental safety."

"Let us stop denying that climate change is not real and that Zero Waste is not possible." Instead, she called on everyone to "wake up to the reality that a world free of plastics, clean air free of toxics from burning wastes, health soils that grow organic food is not only not impossible, but is the only way out of this quarantine we have set ourselves up for."

"We are trapped inside our own homes today because we have not cared for our common home together," said Santos who called on the government and the industry "to serve us better by making our agenda as a people and the planet, the agenda in Congress and local government units, and the bottomline in business."

"Many of us did better during this pandemic: growing gardens and our own food, walking and biking more, reducing plastics-dependence, and shifting to sustainable living. Zero waste is not an impossibility. We are its possibility," she concluded.

(Manny C. Calonzo is former president of the EcoWaste Coalition.)