Puerto Princesa City, capital of Clean and Green!  At least it used to be! But many of us watch with dismay as trees and forests give way to concrete, hotels, malls, and burgeoning new communities dump waste into to sea, and careless passers-by litter the streets. Garbage cans along the streets are always overflowing. And then there are the recurring brown-outs. How can the city restore itself?

The City Government, for its part, is currently proposing that the city adopt a Waste to Energy program and facility in which all the city’s waste, from food garbage to petroleum-based substances, plastic bags, chemical waste and other toxins, will simply be incinerated in an effort to provide energy for the city. This may sound good in principle, but this incinerating process will spew every imaginable toxin into the air we breathe – and still leave us with heaps of toxic ash which is practically non-disposable.

In a Press Conference organized by the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), the EcoWaste Coalition, and IPEN (for a toxic-free future) made a clear presentation which set out the dangers of this plan.

The Stockholm Convention of 2001 (in effect since 2004), which the Philippines has signed, outlaws the use of incineration, because it results in the creation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). These pollutants either become particles that enter the air that people breathe or form toxic ash which leaves “a legacy of hazardous wastes that must be managed for generations to come.” (Lloyd-Smith.)

Legal experts from both Australia and Indonesia spoke of the problems of incineration and the fact that both countries have quite recently rejected plans for incineration facilities in their major cities. There is no place, even in Europe, which has built an acceptable, non-polluting Waste to Energy facility, says IPEN Senior Advisor Mariann Lloyd-Smith.

Gertie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of ELAC, speaks for the people of Sta Lourdes (especially those of Pulang Lupa and Aplaya) when she says the new facility would deliver them a “double whammy” of polluted air, toxic sludge and wastewater as well as lost jobs in waste management and service.

There are no pluses to this proposal.

Environmental agencies propose a Zero Waste approach to both environmental concerns and waste management. Their plan of action, good for both the environment and community health concerns, the economy, and even climate change involves waste reduction through composting, recycling and reusing, as well as changes in consumption habits and industrial redesign.

Naturally, these last two will be the hardest to achieve. Consume less?  This doesn’t just mean don’t eat so much. (In fact, it probably doesn’t mean don’t eat so much at all for most of the population.) Make better choices? It has often been pointed out that meat eaters use more than their share of world resources in terms of land use and water and labor: if we grew corn and ate it instead of feeding it to cows and then eating the cows, a piece of land could feed many many more people. If we didn’t always need every new electronic gadget that comes along – or a phone of the latest design – we would be responsible for a bit less of the really toxic waste the city generates. But it will be a hard sell to get people to live more simply, more in accord with a world of limited resources. Who wants to give up a car for a ride with a sometimes surly tricycle driver?

Encouraging industrial redesign will be even harder. How do we get big companies to redesign their products? I would not get a new phone very often if the typical phone didn’t begin to die in two years. I don’t need throw-away plastic water bottles as long as I can count on being able to refill my permanent bottle. Personally, I’d be fine with simpler cars, as long as they are tough cars that can negotiate the hills and mud of Puerto Princesa!

Perhaps if a few companies start, for instance, by using local products instead of imported ones – coconut flour instead of wheat – or making cheaper, tougher vehicles, or encouraging solar power, the city can begin to move towards zero waste. But it will take all of us!  We have to hit the strategies on all levels and not just be satisfied with composting!


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