Environmentalists on Tuesday pressed anew their opposition on the planned waste-to-energy (WtE) project in Puerto Princesa City to mark the observance of World Environment Day.
A group of environmentalists led by the Environmental Legal Assistance Center ((ELAC) called on the City government to reconsider its deal with WtE developer AustWorks Corp (AWC).
“We hope the City government will hear us out, rethink its plan and opt for holistic waste prevention and reduction strategies to cut the volume of discards requiring final disposal,” ELAC executive director Attu. Grizelda Mayo-Anda said in a press conference.
Anda was joined by representatives from the No Burn Pilipinas and IPEN, a global network of over 500 public interest NGOs in 125 countries working for a toxics-free future.
Anda urged the City government to abide by the sanitary landfill’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC), requiring it to pursue zero waste approach in the next five to 10 years since it was issued in 2004.
“We can still revisit the contract and work with the government to actually improve or strengthen the ecological solid waste management (ESWM) process,” she said.
She also noted the need to allocate funding for the rehabilitation of the existing landfill in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, specifically its non-operational leachate treatment plant that aggravates the mercury contamination problem in the area.
Anda said putting up the said WtE plant in the area will pose a health risk to the Sta. Lourdes community, which she claimed was not thoroughly about the project.
While AWC has secured its Strategic Environmental Plan clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development last August 2016, Anda also disproved the company’s claim that it has an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“There is no ECC yet to WTE projects because they (DENR) still have to issue guidelines on WTE. Without those guidelines, they have no basis to identify the standards for WTE projects in the country,” she said.
Ruel Cabile, anti-WtE campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition said that No Burn Pilipinas (NBP), an alliance of over 50 civil society groups, will continue to advocate the non-amendment of the Philippine Clean Air Act that bans incineration.
“Many politicians are trying to amend this provision on incineration for so many years but we, the civil society groups, are regrouping ourselves to block this attempt of some politicians to amend the said law,” he said.
On the same day, the group personally handed a letter to Mayor Lucilo Bayron’s office containing their appeal “to heed the Philippine ban on waste incineration, and pursue zero waste as the sustainable approach to managing the city’s discards.”
“We have called on Mayor Bayron to do the right thing and protect public health and the environment from the dangers of waste incineration by embracing zero waste management solution,” he said.
Cabile said zero waste ensures resource recovery and conservation by ending waste disposal in incinerators, landfills and dumps through waste prevention and reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits and industrial redesign for the environment.
If the local government units are religiously adhering to the ESWM Act, he said they would not have experienced problem with their waste management and resort to WtE as a “quick fix.”
Cabile, meanwhile, encouraged the City government to go for a cleaner, renewable energy like solar to augment its power needs.
At the press conference, IPEN, a global network of over 500 public interest non-government organizations in 125 countries working for a toxics-free future, joined Palawan environmentalists in its campaign against the City’s WtE project.
IPEN Senior Advisor Mariann Lloyd-Smith from Australia said “the incineration industry changed its presentation” over the years, from “high temperature incineration” to “gasification” and now to “WtE.”
“But it is all the same,” asserted Dr. Smith, who has a 30-year experience in chemical management.
Commenting on AWC’s claim that their plant was certified as non-burn technology by the Department of Science and Technology, she said: “That’s a sheer impossibility. You cannot burn something and then not create ash.”
Dr. Smith warned that waste incineration emits highly hazardous pollutants that can threaten human health and the environment.
“WtE incineration emits a wide range of toxic and hazardous air pollutants. These include heavy metals and nanoparticles as well as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans (PCDD/DF),” she said.
She added that these extremely toxic substances are subject to the Stockholm Convention on POPs, a United Nations’ treaty for the worst of the world’s hazardous chemicals which she was involved.
“The fact that they are in the Stockholm Convention gives you an idea they are the worst,” she said.
The Convention acknowledges that the incineration of municipal or hazardous waste is a prime source for these unwanted POPs. Signatory countries, including the Philippines, are obliged to reduce and where possible, eliminate POP chemicals.
“In WtE incineration, once these POP contaminants are formed, they are either released to air or are captured in the ash. The stockpiles of toxic ash generated leave a legacy of hazardous waste that must be managed for generations to come,” Dr. Smith explained.
Earlier this year in Australia, the State Government’s Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Authority strongly advised that the proposed WtE incineration facility in Western Sydney not to go ahead, citing air quality impacts and risks to human health.
For her part, Anda observes that there lies a need for “our own government agencies need to be enlightened again, with all due respect, on the implications of our signing that Convention.”
“And if we push for the WTE project which produces toxics that would be a violation or a breach of that commitment,” she said.
Atty. Margaretha Quina, head of the Environmental Pollution Division, Indonesian Centerfor Environmental Law, said they have seen cases around the globe litigating the impacts of pollution, especially toxics pollutants, associated with thermal WtE plants.
“We don’t want, and don’t need, to have irreversible impacts occurring in our countries to have governments convinced that these are harmful investments,” she said.
Quina said an Indonesia Supreme Court decision in late 2016 struck down their central government’s policy to accelerate thermal WtE plants in seven cities.
“One of the grounds cited by the court was the arbitrariness of the decision to accelerate without sufficient environmental safeguards and the development of a high-risk activity in densely populated areas,” she said.
“Puerto Princesa City government should be aware that given the environmental risks exposing the communities, thermal WtE is not a sound choice and is prone to litigation,” she said.
Anda also said they will pursue a dialogue with the City officials to stop the project and has not yet decided if they will initiate any legal action.
“Citizens can initiate action. There are readily available legal remedies. But, of course, we want that as the last option because we are working with the City government on various environmental protection and conservation initiatives,” she added.