IN 2015, Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group based in Washington D.C., reported that the Philippines is the third country with the most plastic leakage into the ocean. In that same report, Stemming the Tides, they recommended that governments can opt to use incineration and waste-to-energy solutions to solve their waste problem.

That report has alarmed many governments and was used to promote incinerators and waste-to-energy technologies as solutions. Even in Congress, several legislators have been raising the idea of using waste-to-energy technologies to manage our rubbish. Based on our existing Clean Air Act, incinerators are banned due to their health and environmental impacts. However, industries can still get away with it by calling it different names.

In Dumaguete, the local government has adopted a combustion technology that burns the residual waste called pyrolysis-gasification technology. Many environmental groups, doctors, scientists, and waste workers have decried the use of the technology because of its ill effects on public health and the environment.

Former Chief Technical Advisor for the United Nations Development Program and one of the convenors of Burn Not Dumaguete, a coalition of groups against the burning of waste, Dr. Jorge Emmanuel warned against the toxic pollutants from the technology.

“These technologies [waste incinerators] produce a wide range of toxic materials. And importantly, the ash or slag that comes out of it is also very toxic. I'm particularly concerned with one type of chemical that comes out of pyrolysis and gasification and this is perhaps the most toxic chemical pollutant known to science, and these are dioxins.” said Emmanuel.

In a meet and greet with Burn Not Dumaguete, which I am a part of, together with national and global groups Mother Earth Foundation, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and the Ocean Conservancy mentioned earlier, Ocean Conservancy expressed their regret in the report they published and said that they are rescinding it.

In their official statement on their website, they said they “apologize for the framing of this report and unequivocally rescind any direct or indirect endorsement of incineration as a solution to ocean plastic pollution.”

Their Vice President for Ocean Plastics Nick Mallos that was here in Dumaguete said that they are not supporting or endorsing the pyrolysis technology in Dumaguete and other similar technologies in the Philippines and in other parts of the world, which he calls a “false solution.”

Moreover, they also apologized for framing Southeast Asian countries as major contributors to ocean plastic, and they admitted that they were wrong and that they have “outsized role that developed countries, especially the United States, have played and continue to play in generating and exporting plastic waste to this very region.”

As I mentioned in my column last week, the garbage problem of Bacolod is beyond serious. We do not have a well-managed sanitary landfill that is supposed to cater to our trash as a big city. We spend millions of pesos on a seemingly ineffective waste management system. I hope we can mend this problem and we will not be pushed to a corner where officials will be made to believe that only an incinerator can help the waste problem because that is what happened to Dumaguete.

Incinerators are clearly a thing of the past. In a world where we are trying our best to avoid public health, climate, and other planetary crises, plastic waste incinerators - of any kind - should have no place.

We should continue to work on making our cities zero-waste.

But you might ask, can a big city like Bacolod actually do it? A colleague from Thailand who is working with a city with 2.5 million people would answer a resounding YES.

A zero-waste city and future are possible - if we put our will, resources, and courage into it.

If Ocean Conservancy has the courage to own up to its mistake of endorsing incinerators, I hope local governments would have the courage to oppose incinerators and pursue zero-waste too.


Joshua is a 20-year-old environmentalist from Bacolod City. He is co-founder of the coalition Youth for Climate Hope, and he currently chairs Silliman University’s Student Government Environment Committee.

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