Waste-to-energy ‘can’t solve’ Davao City’s garbage woes – environmental lawyer

Garbage at the Shrine Hills in Davao City in 2018. Photo courtesy of Sustainable Davao Movement

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 August) – The construction of a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility here would not address the city’s problem on solid wastes, lawyer Mark Peñalver, executive director of the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS), said.

Reacting to the statement of Mayor Sebastian Duterte during his program over Davao City Disaster Radio (DCDR 87.5) last Friday that the city needs to modernize its approach in dealing with solid wastes, Peñalver told MindaNews on Sunday that modernization “is good as long as it does not create another problem.”

Peñalver said that the problem with the proposed WTE facility, which the mayor is pushing, is that it would release toxins as it burns up wastes to produce power, threatening air quality, water, food and human health.

He said the problem lies with the enforcement of existing environmental laws, specifically the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (ESWMA), which seeks to reduce the solid waste generated in the country.

Peñalver, an environmental lawyer, noted the law has yet to be “fully implemented” 22 years after it took effect.

The law, he said, requires the identification of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging (NEAPP), but the National Solid Waste Management Commission, through Resolution No. 1428, released the list in 2021 that includes “only plastic coffee stirrers and soft drink straws,” which “is not enough to address the plastic problem in the country.”

“We can still see a lot of plastic coffee stirrers and (soft drink) straws used in establishments and sold in the markets and groceries. Hence, there is a gap in the implementation,” he said.

Duterte revealed meeting Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia “Toni” Yulo-Gonzaga in Manila recently, with whom he discussed the plan of the city government to pursue a WTE project.

Nag express ko sa ilaha nga dili ta pwede mag abri og landfill kay regressive sya and naa man tay mga options and…ana gani ko sa ilaha, if we have an opportunity to improve or modernize, ngano dili man? (I expressed to them that we cannot open another landfill because it’s regressive and we have other options. I said, if we have an opportunity to improve or modernize, why not?)” he said.

Duterte said that if there are sufficient resources, the local government wants to have a WTE project because the city does not want “to remain too conventional or traditional” on the method in dealing with the solid waste problem.

Addressing the concerns of some environmental advocates, Duterte said the city would be employing the technology developed by the Japanese who, he said, are “very sensitive to environmental impacts.”

But Peñalver countered by saying that Japan has a “strict monitoring system” for its WTE facilities and strict implementation of waste management at source with a tedious segregation process.

“In the Philippines, we cannot even monitor the implementation of the NEAPP list, how much more monitoring toxins emitted by the incineration facility,” he said.

Peñalver added that the planned construction of a WTE facility would be “useless and counterproductive” unless the local government strictly complies with the ESWMA.

“Before Davao City invests in unsustainable solutions in solid waste management, it should ensure genuine compliance with the spirit of ESWMA and its related laws,” he said.

Peñalver said the plastic waste problem “could be reduced if the city complies with the law.”

“There are already good practices in the city that the government can invest in, such as the community-based solid waste management projects in barangays Mintal and Tacunan and the Toril Kalambuan Association. These are initiatives the city should invest in and help replicate in the whole city,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)