07 April 2020

Hazard Pay for Frontline Environmental Workers Urged for the Duration of the COVID-19 Lockdown (EcoWaste Coalition, together with labor groups, backs hazard pay for garbage collectors)

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental health organization, has proposed to the government the provision of appropriate hazard pay for garbage collectors during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to stem the spread of the dreaded novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Through a letter sent via e-mail to four department secretaries, the group pointed to the need to provide assigned garbage collectors, particularly household waste and healthcare waste collectors, with some kind of hazard compensation due to the heightened health and safety risks they face in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.  The calculation of the requested hazard pay should begin on March 17, 2020 until the ECQ is terminated.

While President Rodrigo Roa Duterte through Administrative Order No. 26 has authorized the provision of hazard pay to government employees who physically report for work during the ECQ period, the same entitlement may not apply to most garbage collectors who are often hired by waste management companies contracted by local government units (LGUs), the group said in their common letter to Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Budget Management Secretary Wendel Avisado. 

“As frontliners from the environmental sector in the country’s determined efforts to prevent and control COVID-19, we believe that garbage collectors are entitled to hazard pay -- regardless of their employment status – due to the risks they face in the performance of essential waste management services, which can be considered hazardous, especially under the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the coronavirus outbreak,” wrote Eileen Sison, President, EcoWaste Coalition. 

The lack of clear-cut regulations for the disposal of infectious waste from households, as well as the apparent increase in the disposal of infectious waste from healthcare facilities, justify the provision of hazard pay for these frontline environmental workers, the group said. 

“Without their indispensable service, we may be faced with even more environmental and health hazards from uncollected waste,” emphasized Sison.

In the absence of a law requiring employers from providing their employees with hazard pay, the EcoWaste Coalition requested the four department secretaries “to use moral suasion to strongly encourage employers of garbage collectors -- be they private companies or LGUs -- to grant them daily hazard pay during the ECQ period.”  

As some waste management companies and/or LGUs may be unwilling or financially constrained to offer hazard pay for garbage collectors, the group requested the national government to take on such responsibility with urgency as a humanitarian gesture in these most trying times. 

“Such action will be in sync with Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, particularly on the ‘provision of safety nets to all affected sectors’ of COVID-19.  These can be factored in the social amelioration benefits, or the disaster funds of the LGUs,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Several labor organizations have supported the provision of hazard pay for garbage collectors that is being pushed by the EcoWaste Coalition through e-mails and text messages sent to the group.

Among the groups backing the proposed hazard pay for garbage collectors are the  Associated Labor Unions – Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP-NCR), Consolidated Council of Health and Allied Profession (CCHAP-PSLINK), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Public Workers Congress (PUBLIK), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), and the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO).


03 April 2020

Reusable Bags and Containers for COVID-19 Food Packs Get Thumbs Up from Green Group

As the authorities work double-time to get food packs delivered to poor families badly hit by the COVID-19 health crisis, an environmental health group lauded efforts to cut down on throw-away single-use plastics (SUPs) through the use of reusable bags and containers.

“We recognize the efforts by some food pack givers from both the public and private sectors to put together relief items in reusable bags and containers instead of SUPs that can only add to the plastic pollution crisis our nation is wrestling with,” said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“As April is the month of planet Earth, we hope that more groups will follow suit and bring environmental sustainability to the forefront of the whole-of-society approach to COVID-19 prevention and control,” he said.

The group’s plea for environmental sustainability complemented Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu’s call last Tuesday urging “all Filipinos to turn the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to form earth-friendly habits,” including the “use of environment-friendly materials to minimize trash.”

“The use of reusable packaging materials for COVID-19 relief, as well as for other emergency and crisis situations, is certainly environment-friendly and should be the general rule,” Benosa said.   

Reusable bags for food packs can serve as carry bags for groceries and other dry goods, pails can be reused for storing water or as a container for wet goods such as fish, poultry and meat, and corrugated boxes can be recycled or reused in a variety of ways, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Additionally, t-shirts (with no ‘epal’ messages, of course) can also be re-purposed as containers for relief goods, it added.

The group also encouraged the authorities and other givers to provide food baskets consisting of fresh and nutritious food from local farmers and fishers.

“By supporting our local farmers and fishers during the enhanced quarantine period, we ensure that all families will have access to vitamin-rich and immune system food boosters that can help individuals in fighting the coronavirus,” Benosa said.

“Buying the products of our farmers and fishers is a good way of recognizing them as frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.  This is an excellent way to thank them for their toils to get food to our markets and tables,” he emphasized.

The EcoWaste Coalition also encouraged food pack givers to consider purchasing bayong and other native bags from local weavers and community enterprises.

“Bayong made out of buri and pandan leaves and other locally available plant materials is the ‘ecological weapon of choice’ that we, Filipinos, could use to combat climate and plastic pollution at home,” the group said.




31 March 2020

Public Reminded to Bring Reusable Bags and Containers to the Market

Aside from practising physical distancing to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, an environmental health group reminded market-goers to make it a habit to bring reusable bags and containers for their essential purchases during the enhanced community quarantine.

“Please bring reusable bags for dry goods, and reusable containers for wet goods whenever you go to the public market or supermarket,” reminded Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition, “to reduce your use and disposal of paper and plastic disposables during the COVID-19 health crisis.”  

Bayong, tote bags and other do it yourself (DIY) reusable carry bags can be used for fruits, vegetables, grains, canned and bottled goods and other dry purchases, while pails, casserole pots, coolers and ice cream containers can be used for meat, poultry and fish.

The group aired its latest plea for reusable bags and containers after finding lead, a toxic metal, in some brands of single-use plastic (SUPs) bags that are also used as containers for food. 

"A chemical screening conducted by our group prior to the COVID-19 lockdown found lead in the range of 184 to 3,485 parts per million (ppm) in 17 out of 39 brands of locally-manufactured yellow plastic sando bags," said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.  

The samples were obtained on March 4 to 6 from various packaging stores located within and around the public markets in Divisoria, Paco, Pritil and Quiapo in the City of Manila, and subsequently screened for lead using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device. 

According to the XRF screening,  plastic bag brands bearing the names Alas, Bandera Saturn, Centrum, Genius, Mercury, Palengke Queen, Pinoy Brothers, Runner, Season, Shure Finest, Sonic, Star Bucks, Swimmer, Tulip, Unique, Victory and White Dove contained lead above 100 ppm.  Mercury had the highest lead content at 3,485 ppm.

Plastic bag brands ABC, Aqua Boy, Bandera Sun Moon, Bandera Tamaraw, Bees, Bio, Bizon, Calypso Walrus, Cheetah, Comet, Donewell, Fortuner, JR, Jumper, Mr. Divisoria, Shure Ultra, Snowbird, Speed, Starbag, Super Sonik, Supra and Top Place had low or non-detectable levels of lead.

“The low or non-detectable levels of lead on some plastic bags do not make them any better,” Dizon clarified.  

“The uncontrolled production, sale, use and disposal of these SUPs, which are petroleum-based products, contribute to global warming and climate change hurting poor communities and countries the most," he said.

According to the group, the production and sale of lead-containing plastic bags goes against DENR Administrative Order 2013-024, also known as the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds, which prohibits the use of lead in the manufacturing of food and beverage packaging, particularly for packaging that comes directly in contact with food.

The group also cited Article 11 of the EU Packaging Directive, which provides a limit of 100 ppm by weight for the sum of four restricted metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium in packaging or packaging components.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence showing plastic bags are a threat to human health and the environment because of the many chemicals, including hazardous substances such as lead, that make them up,” Dizon pointed out.

"Now more than ever, we see the need for a comprehensive policy banning throw-away plastic bags to reduce their manufacture, prevent chemical and waste pollution and ensure the successful implementation of such a policy nationwide, while non-toxic reusable bags are actively promoted and supported,” Benosa concluded.




29 March 2020

Prayers of the Faithful for the Heroic Health Workers on the Frontline of COVID-19 Fight

In response to the call for prayers today, 29 March 2020, by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the country’s medical frontliners against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the women and men of the EcoWaste Coalition earnestly offer the following prayers:

1.  For the doctors, nurses, clinical laboratory technicians, administrative personnel, ancillary staff, paramedics, funeral home and crematorium workers, as well as volunteers, that they may remain healthy -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- as they continue putting their own lives at risk to be of service to others in these troubled times (Lord, hear our prayer);

2.  For the families of healthcare workers and other frontliners to have hope, serenity and peace of mind that their loved ones will be spared of coronavirus infection as they perform their all-important services for society (Lord, hear our prayer);  

3.  For all healthcare frontliners to be provided with continuous supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as medical-grade masks, facecovers, goggles and gowns to protect themselves from being exposed to the dreaded coronavirus in the line of duty (Lord, hear our prayer);

4.  For the bereaved families of healthcare frontliners who succumbed to COVID-19 to find solace in the fact that the whole nation is with them in spirit as they mourn the passing of their loved ones (Lord, hear our prayer)

5.  For healthcare frontliners undergoing home quarantine not to develop symptoms of coronavirus infection and for them to be able to re-join their colleagues on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 outbreak (Lord, hear our prayer);

6.  For more doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and volunteers to come forward to replace those who have fallen ill and to attend to the growing number of COVID-19 cases (Lord, hear our prayer);  
7.  For the stigma and discrimination being faced by some healthcare frontliners to come to an end, and for such paranoia to be replaced with love and respect that all frontliners deserve for their selfless and most courageous service in the face of an invisible enemy (Lord, hear our prayer);

8.  For local government units, hotels, churches and other institutions to open their facilities to healthcare workers and other frontliners where they can adequately and comfortably rest and recharge after work (Lord, hear our prayer);

9.  For the government and hospital authorities to also look after the mental health of frontliners, ensuring their access to counseling services and other mechanisms to cope with fatigue and stress (Lord, hear our prayer); and    

10.  For us, the Filipino people, to express our deepest gratitude to all healthcare workers and other frontliners by staying at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, observing basic protective measures, and by caring for ourselves, our families and communities during these trying times.

Lord, hear all our prayers.  Amen. 

28 March 2020

Zero Waste Groups Push for Home Composting in the Time of COVID-19

The anticipated increase in domestic food scraps as millions heed the government’s stay-at-home order in the face of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic prompted zero waste groups to make a strong pitch for home composting.

Through a joint press statement, non-profits Buklod Tao and the EcoWaste Coalition urged the general public to embrace easy on the pocket composting methods to recycle kitchen and garden waste into excellent soil conditioner and organic fertilizer during the quarantine period and beyond.

According to the “Solid Waste Management Made Easy” published by the National Solid Waste Management Commission, “composting is an inexpensive way of reducing the volume of trash (that) makes use of the natural process of decay and breakdown of organic matter through the action of microorganisms in the soil.”

“Composting is the most practical way of halving our waste production since food waste and other organics make up 50 percent or more of the waste we generate and dispose of.  You don't need a fancy machine to do it at home; your 10 fingers will do!  Without doubt, composting will drastically reduce the volume of waste materials requiring disposal during the global coronavirus public health emergency, while generating essential nutrients to enhance soil health,” said Noli Abinales, founder of Buklod Tao, trustee of the EcoWaste Coalition and an avid composter.

“Composting is also an effective strategy in mitigating climate change, the other global emergency facing humanity," Abinales pointed out.  "It is the easiest way of halting the formation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in mixed waste dumps and landfills." 

To reduce household waste disposal during the COVID-19 outbreak, the EcoWaste Coalition and Buklod Tao encouraged households to try these 12 easy steps to home composting:

1.  Separate biodegradable waste (fruit and vegetable peelings, egg and seafood shells, dry leaves, grass cuttings, twigs, etc.) from non-biodegradables or recyclables.

2.  Choose the right size and type for your composter (pile, pit, pot, or any container) depending on how much compostable waste your household generates. 

3.  Select a convenient location for your composter, preferably one that is even, well-drained, and sun-drenched.

4.  Chop biodegradable wastes into small pieces for easy decomposition. Paper that is not suitable for recycling such as heavily soiled or greasy paper or box can be composted (shred them, too).

5.  Mix the chopped dry and wet biodegradables so that the mixture is not too wet or too dry. Place the mixture into the composter.

6.  Start with a layer of coarse materials such as dry leaves and twigs to allow for aeration and drainage.

7.  Add kitchen and garden waste as they accumulate, alternating green nitrogen-rich materials and brown carbon-rich materials.

8.  Place a thin layer of soil on top of the materials and sprinkle it with a small amount of water.

9.  Continue to add layers until the composter is full.

10.  Maintain the composter; turn the materials once a week to aerate the pile to help the breakdown process and get rid of the smell.

11.  When the interior of the pile is no longer hot and the materials have turned into dark and crumbly soil, composting is finished.

12. Harvest and use your compost as a soil conditioner or fertilizer.

“Using up all the compost and planting on all plantable containers such as empty cans, plastic bottles and others will further help in reducing the volume of trash that goes to the dump,” the groups added.