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WE, members of the Sustainable Davao Movement, a loose network of more than 20 groups and organisations are pushing for a greener, livable, and resilient Davao in line with the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We face a double crisis of mismanagement of solid waste and climate emergency, and recognise Davao’s efforts in trying to address these issues. But we strongly oppose the adoption of waste incineration technologies (so called “Waste-to-Energy” or WTE) and the passing of Waste-to-Energy Bills in the Congress and Senate, as these are false solutions to the municipal solid waste (MSW) crisis.

WTE is a twin threat to public health and environmental safety, and will not contribute to mitigating the climate crisis.

In addition, the Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749) prohibits incineration, the process of which emits toxic and poisonous fumes. Safe non-burn technologies are prescribed in the handling of wastes. (Sec. 20).

The framework of addressing MSW is laid out in the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Act of 2000 (RA 9003). The ESWM/ecowaste framework promotes the goal of zero waste through waste reduction, proper segregation, recycling, and composting.

We call on the national government, city government, JICA, and the Japanese government to abandon the plans for the waste incinerator in Davao and instead invest in sustainable Ecological Solid Waste Management practices, including reduction-at-source, segregation-at-source, materials recovery, and recycling/upcycling.

We call on the Senators and District Representatives to reject the WTE Bills filed in the Congress and Senate. We call on every member of the Davao community: business, barangays, NGOs, private sector, academe and every household to observe ecowaste management and achieve a Zero Waste Davao.

Let us “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink”!

Current situation of Solid Waste Management in Davao

One city that will be most affected by the passing of the WTE Bill is Davao City, as WTE contractors eye establishing a facility in Brgy. Biao Escuela, Tugbok, in order to address Davao City’s municipal solid waste (MSW) problem that has reached a tipping point.

The city landfill in Carmen services only 30% of the city’s wastes, the rest are unaccounted for. Worse, it has operated as a dumpsite since 2013, because of the bulk of mixed wastes accepted, instead of “residuals only” handling.

In November 2017, leachate spill from the Carmen dumpsite reached the Matina Pangi river, endangering livestock and the health of residents, especially the children.

Uncontrolled disposal facilities lead to ground, river, and sea pollution with excess plastic, which can block drainage. These contribute to localized floods and the release of large quantities of methane into the environment, through the uncontrolled decomposition of biodegradables – a potent greenhouse gas.

There is only partial compliance of barangays (10 of 182) of well-crafted laws (RA 9003) and Davao’s SWM Plan since 2011, even as there is a growing informal and formal economy active in “waste economy” and the recycling efforts – with companies and groups involved in up-cycling, composting recycle plastics and metals, cardboards.

The incineration of waste: a “false” solution

Thus, incineration of waste is seen as alternative to landfills. However, the problem of the current landfill/dumpsite in Carmen is not in its technology/design or lack of land for expansion.

Rather, the landfill system was breached within 3 years of operation because of the mismanagement of waste due to lack of segregation and materials recovery at the barangay, household and institutional levels.

Incinerating the waste will not resolve the issue of waste mismanagement, it will only serve to magnify the problem.

Even the most “advanced” incinerators release thousands of pollutants that contaminate our air, soil and water. These pollutants include cancer-causing dioxins and furans. Dioxins accumulate in human body fat and are passed on to the fetus during pregnancy, as well as to the infant during lactation – interfering with the hormonal system during the child’s development.

In Japan, schoolchildren living in proximity (4km) to a municipal incineration plant were found to experience wheezing, headaches, stomach-aches and fatigue. Incinerators also emit mercury (a neurological toxin) and are a source of particulate matter—tiny particles of dust that can lead to decreased lung function, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death.

The potential release of these pollutants from WTE facilities call for strict and expensive monitoring systems. However, there are many hurdles in effective and accurate air quality monitoring in the Philippines, for “regular” air pollutants alone (e.g. PM 10, PM 2.5).

With a persistent organic pollutant (POPs) such as dioxin, the monitoring must be specialized. Are we really ready to monitor dioxin with the stringent guidelines and technology required?

Massive waste of energy, low calorific value

Incinerators are a massive waste of energy. Due to the low calorific value of waste, incinerators are only able to generate small amounts of energy while destroying large amounts of reusable materials.

In Davao, without first sorting out the segregation at source, the energy production of a WTE facility will be minimal as compostables that comprise the largest percentage of Davao’s total solid waste volume are very wet and have low calorific content.

Despite the minimal capacity to produce energy, pollution from WTE is high. According to GAIA, incinerators emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour than coal-fired, natural-gas-fired, or oil-fired power plants. Incinerating materials such as wood, paper, yard debris, and food discards is a step away from being “carbon-neutral.”

Incineration also drives a climate-changing cycle of new resources pulled out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators and landfills.

The running costs of the WTE often exceed the forecast, due to the tipping fees, as Davao city will be contractually obliged to provide volumes of waste of high calorific content. There are serious doubts that the city, without first putting in place proper segregation, will be able to deliver this waste of “high calorific content”.

Creating a future problem: not enough waste

The proposed WTE facility/project of Davao City requires a minimum of 600 tons. The total waste of Davao City (2018) is projected to be 1,012 tons (from all 182 barangays). At 30% residuals, Davao City wastes are only 303.6 tons per day: a shortfall of 300 tons. Currently, the Carmen landfill services an average of 602 tons per day (mixed wastes), where only 180.6 of this is residuals.

Will Davao City find itself importing wastes to feed the landfill’s 600 ton needs or will Davao City be burning its low calorie mixed wastes just to meet the minimum daily volume required?

Threat to the informal sector and recycling business

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. The materials burned in incinerators are often the same materials that sustain recycling such as paper and plastics.

These incinerators will divert efforts and resources from implementing the more sustainable solutions of proper solid waste management and striving towards the Zero Waste approach. We cannot allow past failures of ESWM plan implementation to lead to even worse “solutions” that will put the health of Davaoeños and the environment at risk..

Zero Waste solutions

Davao can and should commit to Zero Waste approaches and join the many other communities around the world – such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, Bandung, Indonesia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Alleppey, India; Vancouver, Canada; Kamikatsu, Japan; Canberra, Australia; and Ljubljana, Slovenia, to name but a few, and here in the Philippines, such as San Fernando, Pampanga; Navotas, Malabon and Fort Bonifacio (Taguig) in Metro Manila; General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite; Batangas City, Batangas who have committed and set Zero Waste targets. Santo Tomas in Davao Del Norte has already shown the way forward and has had great success with its municipality’s Solid Waste Management.

In all scenarios, including the so called “waste to energy”, Davao will have to find a solution to waste segregation at source and separate collection. At various levels, this is done by several LGUS, schools and universities, namely Ateneo de Davao, Assumption, UIC, F. Bangoy, SPC, USEP.

The goal of ecowaste management is continuous reduction of waste through a zero-waste approach. Putting ecowaste 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.

The basis of Zero Waste for communities is 4 Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (including composting) and Redesign (or Rethinking). In practice, Zero Waste means aiming at reducing and diverting 90% of the waste away from the landfill/incinerator.

By working together, and with strong political will and commitment from all involved, implementing the Zero Waste approaches in Davao will bring many benefits to the communities and will help in saving resources and minimizing climate changing gases.

We call on business to exercise EPR (Extended Producers’ Responsibility) and be more responsible for its packaging design and recovery system. From government, we laud strict regulation and monitoring (e.g. Roxas market going SuP-free). We hope the BLGUs will do the same for MRFs.

From institutions (including commercial establishments such as malls), we call on real corporate responsibility, through their own effective materials recovery and sustainable projects to address their huge solid waste impact on the city.

For business and academe, we call to come up with sustainable solutions through practice and research. For households and individuals, to change their habits and practices that impact 80% of the waste load of Davao City.

Let us start with steps that can be taken immediately, at the grassroots, in our homes/schools/workplace, in the barangays, and in the city as a whole.

This is Davao City – our Common Home. As we love our city, our nature and our world, let us all commit to a Zero Waste Future for Davao!

Sustainable Davao Movement

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