May 3, 2023 (9:54 PM)

6 min read


SEGREGATION VS INCINERATION. Executive director of Davao City-based Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) Atty. Mark Peñalver highlights that the WTE incineration facility might be a health risk due to burning. Environmental advocates instead push for more environmentally sound waste management solutions. Photo by Jeni Anne Rosario

Opposing the local government’s waste-to-energy (WTE) project to address Davao City’s waste problem, various environmental groups underscored it would cause more harm than good to the environment and public health.

The WTE incineration facility is a P6 billion project of the city council intended to reduce the waste dumped at the sanitary landfill by burning and converting it to energy. This initiative is in response to the city’s landfill in Barangay New Carmen, Tugbok, currently operating beyond capacity.

Executive director of Davao City-based Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) Atty. Mark Peñalver said the project would not ‘effectively’ address the problem but generate health risks from burning solid waste.

“Burning wastes produces highly hazardous chemicals such as dioxins and furans. These toxic chemicals are known (to be) carcinogenic, impacts neurological development of children, causes respiratory diseases, and pollute our water and air,” Peñalver told Atenews.

The facility is planned to be constructed within a 10-hectare agricultural property in Biao Escuela, Tugbok District.

If pushed through, the project’s harmful residues would affect the residents of 20 nearby barangays, namely, Mintal, Santo Niño, Catalunan Grande, Langub, Waan, Callawa, Riverside, Balengaeng, Tacunan, Biao Guianga, Angalan, Los Amigos, Talandang, New Valencia, New Carmen, Matina Biao, Tagakpan, Ula, Tugbok, and Biao Escuela.

He also emphasized that the incineration would exacerbate the effects of climate change as it incites the city to produce more wastes to keep the facility running. It would even result in the importation of waste from other provinces or regions just to meet the minimum requirements.

The inputs for the incinerators are also made of fossil fuels, generating more greenhouse gasses and toxic emissions.

“Our policy- and decision-makers are fond of quick-fix solutions without looking at the sustainability and practicality of their proposed measures. Solving one problem should not generate one or more problems that are far worst,” he said.

The project requires significant costs for constructing the facility, operation, and maintenance equipment, which Peñalver said is an impractical move because it burdens taxpayers to shoulder the investment that would only affect them in the future.

Environmentalists have expressed strong opposition to the project due to its violation of environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, which prohibits incineration, and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which promotes more environmentally sound waste management solutions.

Moreover, the project is seen to threaten the informal sector and recycling business. According to the Sustainable Davao Movement, the materials burned in incinerators are often the same materials that sustain recycling, such as paper and plastics.

“With a WTE facility in place, numerous jobs would be destroyed in the informal and formal sectors, including waste pickers, recyclers, and haulers, as well as from the numerous companies and groups who up-cycle, recycle and compost,” they said in a statement.

Opting for zero-waste solutions than incineration

The data from the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) show that around 600 to 800 tons of waste are generated daily in the city, causing the overload of the New Carmen landfill. 

Yet, the report on Davao City’s infrastructure development states that the increasing waste generated is a mixed waste of nearly 80 percent biodegradable and recyclable waste and 20 percent residuals.

In 2022, there were only 358.18 tons of residual waste recorded per day compared to biodegradable and recyclable waste at 606.91 and 223.15 tons, respectively.

Ecoteneo Director Mylai Santos said it calls for proper implementation of waste segregation and recycling rather than incinerating residual waste.

“The problem is we’re not handling it effectively as what is in the law. ‘Yong nakalagay doon, you reduce, you segregate, you recover the material. Kung anong natitira do’n – ‘yong residuals – ‘yan nalang dapat ang naha-handle ng landfill. But if you put everything in the landfill, which is what’s happening, diyan talaga tayo nagkakaproblema,” Santos told Atenews.

Instead of resorting to WTE incineration, environmental groups No Burn Philippines urged the city government to invest in ‘genuine zero waste solutions’ as the former causes health and environmental problems to nearby communities.

One of the solutions recommended is the strict implementation of the single-use plastic (SUP) ban ordinance that will minimize the city’s residual waste volume.

Aside from the regulation mentioned, the suggestions include establishing barangays’ capacity and bolstering waste workers in upholding the specific provisions under the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003), such as composting and recycling, and aiding businesses to set up their own accessible and cost-effective refill, reuse, and return-deposit systems.

In a statement, Sustainable Davao Movement (SDM) said they are pushing for ‘Zero Waste’ by reducing and diverting 90 percent of the waste away from the landfill.

“Putting eco-waste in place in accordance with RA 9003 will support job creation and value addition in the up-cycling, recycling, and composting, thereby breaking the cycle of extraction-destruction that has led to the current climate crisis,” SDM said.

SDM also calls on businesses to exercise Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR), which encourages responsible handling of their products’ packaging design and recovery system without passing the burden to the consumers.

Meanwhile, Santos suggests the local government should establish an improved recycling industry that is inclusive of the city’s informal waste workers.

“We do not promote the poor working conditions of scavengers, but what we’re saying is you set up maayos na recycling system in which doon sila mag work sa mga MRF, sa mga recycling facilities kung hindi sa materials recovery. Na mas maprofessionalize yung kanilang ginagawa,” Santos said.

“Sayang na energy, resources, livelihood or employment opportunities. We can elevate it. Professionalize it. I-include talaga sila kasi as a sector, they are a sector,” she added.

Encouraging individuals to be true to the spirit of ecological solid waste management, the environmental director emphasized the need to ‘generate the least waste that will be disposed of or that needs disposal.’

“Kunyari pupunta ka sa market or wherever you wanna go, why don’t you program yourself na bring your ecobag or tumbler or whatever it is. Bakit kailangang what is convenient for you, but it’s really inconvenient for the planet and for communities who first feel the environmental effects,” Santos said.

Currently, the WTE project is still pending approval by the National Economic Development Authority Investment Coordination Committee due to the lack of funds for construction. Meanwhile, an online campaign was created by No Burn Davao demanding the Davao City Council and Mayor Sebastian Duterte to dismiss WTE incineration and invest in genuine zero-waste solutions. The petition received 2,932 signatures as of writing, and they urge the public to join the campaign as a fight for the environment and the city’s future.

This article was published in the April 2023 Issue of Atenews. Read it here:

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