Global movement says no to toxics and wastes

Local Citizens’ Coalition Demands Closure of Incinerators in Disguise

Feature story - September 7, 2005
Greenpeace took part in the Global Day of Action against Waste and Incineration, coordinated by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), a global NGO coalition working for environmentally safe and socially just waste solutions. Now on its fourth year the international campaign involves over 200 citizens’ groups from more than 50 countries, which seeks innovative and ecological solutions to the growing volume and toxicity of discarded resources.

Performers from the theater group, MASKARA demonstrate that pyrolysis, waste-to-energy and gasification facilities are incinerators and spew the same toxic emissions

Members of the Eco Waste Coalition use clackers to draw attention to the proliferation of “incinerators in disguise” in violation of the Clean Air and Ecological Solid Waste Management Laws.

Communities and NGOs participate in GAIA’s Global Day of Action against Waste and Incineration at the environment Department.

“Uphold our right to a toxic-free future.”

 This was the resounding plea of the different community, church, youth and environmental groups belonging to the Ecological Waste Coalition (EcoWaste Coalition) as they enjoin the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to immediately close various incinerator plants in the country camouflaged in different names. Along with youth performers from Maskara, a Cavite-based theater group dramatized the disturbing reappearance of waste incinerators in the country, concluding their skit by extinguishing the improvised waste burners with buckets of water. Under the Clean Air Act of 1999 (R.A. 8749) and the Ecological Waste Management Act of 2000 (R.A. 9003), waste incineration is prohibited to protect the public health and the environment from pollutant releases, and to avoid valuable resources from being burned and wasted.

After a short march led by clacker-holding youth and community representatives, the 170 protestors, mostly from waste impacted communities, entered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shortly before 10 this morning and held a program that lasted for over an hour. The protestors donned white shirts to remind the authorities to keep the promise of the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act to clean up the air, and ecologically manage our discards, without incineration.  A huge colorful banner prepared by the UP Artists’ Circle Sorority served as backdrop, summing up the shared message of the people assembled: “Uphold Our Right to a Toxic-Free Future: Stop Incinerators in Disguise.”

Despite the ban, the Coalition has uncovered at least 3 incinerators for health care, industrial, and hazardous wastes already operating in Cavite and Laguna with the knowledge and approval of the DENR. Disguised as pyrolysis or gasification systems, these so-called “state- of-the-art” incinerators are capable of producing toxic emissions and residues such as dioxins, heavy metals and particulate matters that can cause a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorder, and immune system dysfunction. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) to which the Philippines is a party requires the country to take measures to minimize and, where feasible, ultimately eliminate dioxins and other POP-byproducts of incineration.

Eileen Sison, Chair of the EcoWaste Coalition, said: “We know that people living near polluting facilities like waste incinerators have a higher risk of acquiring birth defects and cancers. When we allow incinerators to operate, including those masquerading as pyrolysis and other burn technologies, we deprive our communities of their right to a healthy and safe environment. We at the Coalition call upon the authorities to shut down these incinerators, enforce the ban, promote alternatives, and always take precautionary action to prevent harm.”

Community leader Beng Hilario of Barangay Aguado in Trece Martires City, which hosts a controversial incinerator for medical waste, lamented: “We are pained by the inaction of the authorities with respect to our plight. Our children and their grandchildren are suffering from what seems to be the effects of toxic pollution? How much long do we need to wait for this government to act? She added: “We just want a healthy and living environment for our children.”

Beau Baconguis, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, asserted, "These incinerators are blatant violations of the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. Incinerators burn up and squander valuable resources, produce toxic emissions and residues, and pose financial burdens to host communities."

Merci Ferrer, Coordinator of Health Care Without Harm, stressed that, in the case of health care waste, sustainable alternatives to incineration such as autoclave, hydroclave, and microwave are already commercially available in the country. "Instead of regressively looking to lift the ban on incineration," Ferrer added, "what authorities should do is to promote and mainstream alternatives. The DENR should invest its energy in disabusing the minds of people that we need to burn garbage in order to get rid of it."

Manny Calonzo, Co-Coordinator of GAIA, said: "Reducing wastes and toxics must be a top priority, locally and globally, if we are to restore the health of our frail planet and all its peoples. Promoting sustainable alternatives to waste incineration will have far ranging environmental health benefits, from protecting mothers’ milk from toxic contamination to reducing global warming greenhouse gases."

Today we find a growing number of communities that are pursuing Zero Waste and Clean Production alternatives to reduce the quantities and toxicities of materials used and discarded, and maximize the reuse, recycling and composting of discarded materials. Community experiences show Zero Waste alternatives reduce negative health impacts, make a more sustainable use of nature's resources, and build local economies and democracies.

Both the EcoWaste Coalition and GAIA are non-profit citizens’ coalitions dedicated to the pursuit of ecologically sustainable and socially just solutions to managing discards, campaigning against waste incineration and working to put Zero Waste and other appropriate alternatives into practice.

For more information please contact: Rei Panaligan/Abi Jabines of the EcoWaste Coalition/GAIA Secretariat at +63 2 9290376 or Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace at +63 2 4347034.