Critical Collaboration: Government and People Working Together For The Environment

In this age of changed world climate, civil society and governments are starting to realize that every environmental issue out there has consequences we, each of us, will have to bear and face at some point.

In the Philippines, civil society, grassroots organizations, individuals, and government are already forging, quite possibly, unprecedented partnerships in addressing our myriad environmental problems.  Finally, we are acknowledging that every hand willing to help is a hand that will lighten our collective burden, thus, we are beginning to see critical collaboration between our government and civil society, academe, church, and frontline groups, etc. in coming up with both robust policies and specific measures that recognize the interconnectedness of our problems and their solutions.

Take the mining, logging, oil production, farming, and waste for example.  At first glance, these issues seem as separate as our fingers until we are reminded that they are of the same hand.

As long as we hold on to the mindset that things we no longer need – or want – must be thrown away, then we aggravate the problems related to the issues above.  Our throw-away mentality is the fuel that drives the machines of raw materials extraction in perpetual motion.  As long as we do not prolong [repair, re-use, recycle, compost] the usefulness of our stuff, then we create a need to obtain new raw materials for newer stuff.

Instead of repairing, re-using, recycling, or composting, by throwing away un-needed and unwanted stuff, we abort its useful life and justify the need to mine some more, log some more, extract oil some more, and produce food some more because we are wasting some more.  Unfortunately, we’re almost at the point of no-more.

Considering our problems related to mining, logging, farming, oil, and waste, it is critical that we tackle these issues carefully and avoid the temptation of giving in to end-of-the pipe approaches.  The challenge for us – government, CSOs, and frontline groups – is to come up with policies and measures that ensure sustainable use of resources rather than aggravate their depletion.

One such policy is Zero Waste.
Zero Waste is both a goal and an action plan that aims to reduce if not avoid all solid waste [from a product’s cradle to grave] and manage resources instead through product re-design, re-use, recycling or composting.

On the production level, it aims to reduce the toxicity of the processes, reduce waste starting from extraction, and redesign our stuff to allow for easy and safe re-use and recycling.

The best thing about Zero Waste is that it is inclusive and can be implemented at homes, offices, schools, barangays, municipalities, cities, provinces, and so on.  

Over all this reduces our need for landfilling or, worse, incineration.

Incineration and Waste-to-Energy

Incineration is a multi-million waste treatment technology that involves burning commercial, residential and hazardous waste.  Incineration converts discarded materials, including metals, paper, plastics, and food scraps into bottom ash, fly ash, combustion gases, air pollutants, wastewater, wastewater treatment sludge and heat.

In recent years, the incinerator industry circumvented statutory restrictions by hiding behind fancy names like “Waste-to-Energy”, “Energy-from-Waste”, or ”Trash-to-Power”, and using misleading claims of “reducing climate pollution” and being a “clean energy source”.

However, we know that burning metals, paper, plastics, and food scraps in order to generate electricity creates a perverse demand for more “waste” and undermines every effort to conserve resources, reduce waste, re-use, recycle, and compost our discards.  Waste burning drives a climate changing cycle of new resources pulled out [through mining, logging, oil extraction, etc] of the earth, processed in factories, and shipped around the world.

Even worse, according to a study in 2010 from China’s National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, “mixed solid waste incinerators are important sources of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds.”

On the practical side, according to US-EIA in 2010, “waste incinerator operations and maintenance costs are ten times greater than coal and four times greater than nuclear” - which shows that these facilities are as expensive as they are wasteful and polluting.
The Good News

The good news, however, is that we do not lack of civil society organizations, grassroots groups, and academic institutions that are already practicing complementing solutions and, even better, are reaching out, willing to work with government in enforcing existing laws and crafting supplementary policies.  The question, however, is whether or not our policy makers and enforcers would take it.

Paeng Lopez
National Campaigner
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives