Waste workers reject ADB-funded incinerator in Cebu, citing job losses and environmental harm

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Cebu City (Philippines) 26 March 2021 – Waste pickers from Barangay Inayawan, Cebu City, demand inclusion into the city’s solid waste management system by offering to accept and manage the recyclables collected daily prior to disposal in a private landfill.

All types of waste generated daily, however, goes to the newly-built private landfill in Barangay Binaliw, Cebu City, prompting the Commission on Audit in its 2019 Annual Audit Report to state that

“the continued non-implementation of the mandatory segregation of solid wastes deprived the City of the supposed savings from the costly disposal of unsegregated solid wastes contrary to Section 1, Rule IX of the IRR of RA 9003 otherwise known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.”

“This solid waste management approach is not only costly for the City but also deprives livelihood opportunities for waste pickers that have been shown to be essential workers in our communities during the pandemic. Yet, they are being displaced by the introduction of a waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration facility that is illegal to operate under our national law”, said Sanlakas.

“The Asian Development Bank through its technical assistance to facilitate solid waste management under public-private partnership (PPP) made this project possible in our city amid a standing ban on incinerators. Its policy advice has led to the ongoing discussion in Senate on the WTE bill which is aimed at repealing our environmental safeguards, Sanlakas said.”

This improvement and modernization, however, involve the hauling of all garbage into a WTE incinerator, a violation of the existing absolute ban on incinerators as provided for by the Philippine Clean Air Act because incinerators emit poisonous and toxic fumes.

Collection and disposal of unsegregated solid wastes is also contrary to RA 9003, as the COA annual audit report emphasized.

Furthermore, the proposed Joint Venture Agreement by the New Sky Energy (Philippines), an affiliate of New Sky China and one of the proponents whose project proposals were evaluated and shortlisted by the ADB, involves a guaranteed waste volume of 600 metric tons daily for a period of 30 years to the private WTE operator, essentially casting aside the mandate in RA 9003 on volume reduction and waste diversion.

“This deal is not just costly financially because it locks the city government to keep the current levels of waste and disregards the massive loss of livelihood of waste pickers engaged in collection and segregation and directly feeding recyclables into the WTE facility, said EcoWaste Coalition.

Groups said WTE contributes to global warming and environmental pollution by producing particulate matter (coarse PM 10, fine PM 2.5, and ultrafine), toxic metals (lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, arsenic, etc.), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated dioxins and furans which are among the most toxic chemical substances known to science.

To support the waste works demands and to reject the WTE  Sanlakas, EcoWaste Coalition, No Burn Pilipinas and the GAIA, collaborators of the Break Free Plastics in the Philippines organized a community action at the port area in Cebu City, to oppose the proposed WTE projects in Cebu on March 24.

Anti-WTE protest in the Philippines

The anti-WTE protest is one of the actions being mounted by communities affected by WTE projects for the Global Day of Action with the call #BeyondRecovery on March 31 led by the Global Alliance on Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

The groups call on governments and international financial institutions (IFIs) to divest from incinerators, invest in local solutions. “As part of a green recovery, the Asian Development Bank must divest from waste-to-energy and instead finance local and regional zero waste systems,” GAIA said.

This March, GAIA along with more than 50 other national and international environmental groups sent a formal letter to ADB to urge its executive directors to stop investing in WTE.

The #BeyondRecovery supporters also urged governments and IFIs to be fully transparent and inclusive with regards to how taxpayer money is being spent, not least by ensuring that meaningful consultations are held with civil society and affected communities early on in the process.

GAIA said that a transition to zero waste systems has significant environmental, social, and economic benefits to the city. Studies show cities can, on average, reduce waste management costs per ton of waste by 70% by establishing zero waste systems.

Zero waste systems also ensure the inclusion of informal recyclers in waste management systems leads to higher recycling rates and environmental outcomes.

This information is given in a press release of the NGO Forum on ADB.

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