13 July 2010

Open Letter to DENR and NSWMC regarding the Proposed Siting Criteria and Suitability Assessment for Waste Disposal Facilities

13 July 2010

Hon. Ramon J.P. Paje
Secretary
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)

Hon. Emelita C. Aguinaldo
Officer in Charge, Secretariat
National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC)

Dear Friends,

COMMENTS AND PROPOSALS RE DRAFT DENR DEPARTMENT ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER AND NSWMC RESOLUTION ON MODIFIED GUIDELINES ON SITE IDENTIFICATION CRITERIA AND SUITABILITY ASSESSMENT PROCEDURE FOR WASTE MANAGEMENT FACILITIES

We, on behalf of the EcoWaste Coalition, would like to welcome you as Secretary of the DENR and Chairperson of the NSWMC. We congratulate you for joining the team of servant-leaders of P-Noy and wish you every success in contributing to the fulfillment of Noynoy’s “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” particularly in the area of environmental protection:

“From allowing environmental blight to spoil our cities, where both the rich and the poor bear with congestion and urban decay to planning alternative, inclusive urban development where people of varying income levels are integrated in productive, healthy and safe communities.”

“From a government obsessed with exploiting the country for immediate gains to the detriment of its environment to a government that will encourage sustainable use of resources to benefit the present and future generations.”

Responding to P-Noy’s call at the historic June 30 inauguration for the citizens to join him in continuing the fight for change, the EcoWaste Coalition is pleased to submit our views pertaining to the proposed DENR Department Administrative Order and NSWMC Resolution entitled “Adoption of Modified Guidelines on Site Identification Criteria and Suitability Assessment Procedure for Waste Management Facilities.” Please find below our general and specific comments and recommendations for your kind consideration.

I. General Comments:

We find the proposed DENR DAO and NSWMC Resolution (hereinafter referred to as the “draft policy”) as perpetuating the “hakot-tambak” mindset that has long been acknowledged as a false framework and solution for addressing our recurrent garbage woes. It does not mirror our vision for a waste-free and toxic-free future that we and the next generations of Filipinos are entitled to.

In the words of one of our community leaders, “wala man lang akong nabasa na pagkiling ng DENR/NSWMC sa community-based ecological solid waste management. Ang panukalang patakaran ay sumalamin sa ‘fixation’ nila sa waste disposal. Streamlining ito ng mga landfill. Bakit walang mainstreaming para sa community-managed Zero Waste, sa segregation at source, sa recycling, sa composting, sa urban gardening?”

Indeed the draft policy reflects the NSWMC’s apparent predilection to waste disposal rather than on Zero Waste resource recovery and conservation as spelled out in Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. The penchant to ask the wrong question of where to site disposal facilities instead of asking how to prevent and cut waste does not bode well with the spirit and intent of RA 9003 and the universally accepted hierarchy of waste management options that prioritizes waste avoidance, reduction, reuse, recycling and treatment over disposal.

We find the draft policy deceptive in the sense that the impression one gets is that it tries to minimize the impact of locating landfills within a certain distance from environmentally critical areas, thus the provision for distances such as 500 meters etc.

However, according to the relevant provision of RA 9003:

“The site must be located in an area where the landfill's operation will not detrimentally affect environmentally sensitive areas such as aquifer, groundwater reservoir or watershed areas.”

The draft policy seems to reinforce the wrong notion, especially among unenlightened local government units and the public at large, that landfills are final disposal facilities for municipal solid waste, when landfills should only serve as temporary containment areas for residual wastes as the society transitions to Zero Waste.

We further find it inappropriate for the various types of ‘waste management facilities” as lumped together under the draft policy to have a blanket set of siting requirements as if these are one and the same.

Given the unfolding impacts of climate change, we find the draft policy as failing to address the vulnerabilities of our islands and communities and propagating “wasting as usual” that has seen the proliferation of dumpsites and landfills throughout the country.

The draft policy did not benefit from genuine public consultation involving all stakeholders, including Zero Waste practitioners and advocates and frontline communities where current waste disposal facilities are situated or where new facilities are being constructed or proposed.

II. Specific Comments

1. In the “Definition of Terms,” “Waste Management Facilities” include waste disposal facilities such as “sanitary” landfills with ecological facilities for recycling and composting discards (e.g., Materials Recovery Facilities) and consequently provides wrong basis for unified requirements that could hold back the establishment and operation of community-centered MRFs or Ecology Centers.

2. In the “Definition of Terms,” “Transfer Station” should clearly say that “residual wastes shall be removed within 24 hours after receipt, and that operations must conform with environmental and health standards.”

3. In the “Definition of Terms” and on Table 1 on “Proximity to Ecologically Sensitive Areas,” it is not clear if natural parks are included in the definition of national parks. If only national parks are covered then the natural parks have been left out. This may cause problems in the site selection since it might assume that dumping near natural parks is acceptable.

4. Under the types of facilities that can seemingly be in the Table 1 (Exclusion Criteria), yet nonetheless wind up treated in Table 2 (Conditional Criteria) are "Technologies on Waste Management Projects” (page 9, paragraph 3), which is undefined, and can be problematic.

5. The draft policy does not explain the bases for the numerous screening guidelines (e.g., 250 meters, 500 meters, 1 kilometer etc. as standards), especially since we know that different areas will have different geological characteristics.

6. On Table 1 re “Geologic Conditions and Geologic Hazards,” caves were left out in the definition of a karst region (sinkholes and cavities are not really the same as caves). Putting the term sinkholes, caves and other such cavities would make the definition better.

7. On Table 2 re “Proximity to Perennial Surface Water/Water Bodies,” the minimum distance to the high tide coast line of 2,000 meters and 3,000 from sandy beaches should be based on the best scenario modeling of ocean level rise, not today’s existing tide lines. Otherwise the ocean may end up in the landfill if the ocean rises faster than expected. In other words, the sites should be climate proofed before they are selected.

8. On Table 2 re “Proximity to Residential Areas and Other Sensitive Land Uses,” the proposed distance of 250 meters is way too close! Given how we deal with waste now, the flies will drive everyone crazy, let alone the smell. Obando, for instance, is few kilometers away from the Navotas City “sanitary” landfill and yet the stink from the latter still reaches the town.

9. The draft policy appears to have totally removed social acceptability as one of the critical parameters for siting waste disposal facilities. RA 9003 says that “the site shall be chosen with regard to the sensitivities of the community’s residents.” The procedure for site suitability assessment has absolutely left out the role of impacted citizens and other concerned stakeholders in assessing the appropriateness of waste management project designs, etc.

We need to be reminded that P-Noy himself is committed to ensuring public consultation and right to know. In his inaugural speech, P-Noy said:

“We will strengthen the process of consultation and feedback. We will strive to uphold the constitutional right of citizens to information on matters of public concern.”

III. Recommendations

In lieu of the proposed DENR DAO and NSWMC Resolution, we advise the Department and Commission to develop and adopt, with public participation, a policy that will establish a Zero Waste goal for the entire country and define essential strategies and actions towards a people-centered ecological resource management as a vehicle for environmental, economic and social renewal.

As we have communicated to the DENR and the NSWMC through our letter of 8 June 2009, we propose a “National Solid Waste Management Strategy (NSWMS) anchored on waste prevention, volume and toxicity reduction, segregation at source, reusing, recycling and composting, and not on costly and polluting landfills and incinerators.”

We specifically urge the NSWMC to prioritize the adoption of long-delayed policy that will curb pollution from plastic bags and other non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging materials.

Another policy concern that the NSWMC should prioritize is on composting, which has the huge potential of ecologically addressing the country’s biodegradable waste.

To ensure that funds will be available for the monitoring, maintenance and post-closure care of waste disposal facilities such as “sanitary” landfills, we propose the imposition of commensurate bonds by the contractor that will be sufficient to pay for the necessary expenditures such as for site cleanup and rehabilitation. It should be emphasized that even the most sophisticated “sanitary” landfills need to be monitored and maintained for so many years after closure. One study says that today’s “state-of-the-art” landfills are expected to be threats to groundwater quality for hundreds to thousands of years!

We thank you for considering our views and look forward to working with the DENR and the NSWMC in crafting an alternative policy premised on Zero Waste and community-driven ecological resource management.

Sincerely yours,

Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition

Atty. Amang Mejia, Counsel, EcoWaste Coalition

Dr. Leah Primitiva Samaco-Paquiz, Ang Nars

Joey Papa, Bangon Kalikasan Movement

Noli Abinales, Buklod Tao

Ochie Tolentino, Cavite Green Coalition

Rene Pineda, Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability

Dr. Angelina P. Galang, Environmental Studies Institute/Green Convergence

Manny C. Calonzo, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives

Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Florita Dumagan, Hugalna-Bohol

Lia Jasmin, Interface Development Interventions

Eileen Sison, Institute for the Development of Educational and Ecological Alternatives

Neneng Joson, Krusada sa Kalikasan

George Dadivas, Kupkop Kita Kabayan Foundation

Sonia Mendoza, Mother Earth Foundation

Romy Hidalgo, November 17 Movement

Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Philippine Earth Justice Center

Ben Galindo, Sagip Pasig Movement

Bro. Martin Francisco, Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society

Marie Marciano, Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan

Rodne Galicha, Sibuyan League of Environmental Sentinels

Rey Palacio, Sining Yapak

Bill Granert, Soil and Water Conservation Foundation, Inc

Dr. Helen Mendoza, Soljuspax

Ofelia Panganiban, Zero Waste Philippines

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 329, Eagle Court Condominium
Matalino St.,Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 441-1846
ecowastecoalition@yahoo.com