Public Urged: Don't Set Trash on Fire to Prevent Waste and Pollution

Huwag kang magsiga (don’t set your trash on fire)!

The EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watchdog, issued this reminder as the nation observes the Fire Prevention Month this coming March with the theme
“Sunog at Sakuna ay Paghandaan, Kalikasan ay Pangalagaan nang Matamasa ang Pag-unlad ng Bayan”

“The open burning of discards destroys and deprives our society with useful resources that could have
been reused, repurposed, recycled or composted, while producing a toxic concoction of chemicals that can pollute the air, contaminate the food supply and harm human health,” said Ochie Tolentino, Vice-President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Notwithstanding the many benefits of Zero Waste resource management, the open burning of discards goes unrestricted in many homes, construction sites, farmlands, dumps, informal recycling sites, and even in streets and parks, making a brazen mockery of our environmental laws” she lamented.

Two of the country’s major environmental laws, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (R.A. 9003) and the Clean Air Act (R.A. 8749), explicitly prohibit the open burning of municipal, medical and hazardous wastes. R.A. 9003, in particular, penalizes violators with a fine ranging from P300 to P1,000, or a one to 15-day imprisonment, or both.

Elaborating about the toxicity of open burning, Tolentino explained that such unlawful practice emits miniscule contaminants that can irritate the eyes, throat and skin, cause headaches, weaken respiratory functions and even bring about cancers.

These contaminants found in the by-product smoke, filth and ash of open burning include particulate matters, greenhouse gases, halogenated carbons, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and dioxins and furans, which are classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) targeted for “continuing minimizationand, where feasible, ultimate elimination” under the Stockholm Convention that the Philippine Senate ratified in 2004.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition, burning discards containing chlorine such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and other chlorinated packaging materials are known to contribute to the high formation and emission of dioxins, a proven human carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

As per World Health Organization, “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”

Dioxins and some other chemical by-products of open burning are deposited on leafy plants that are eaten by farm animals or ingested by fish, accumulating in fatty tissues and then passed to humans through the consumption of dairy products, eggs, meat, fish and shellfish, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

To prevent exposure to dioxins and other harmful chemicals, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the public to stop open burning, embrace ecological waste management practices, reduce dietary intake of animal meat and fat, and seek measures to prevent and reduce emissions from other sources such as cement kilns burning wastes as alternative fuels, factories using elemental chlorine, dumpsites and waste incinerators.

The group issued the following 10 recommendations to reduce waste volume and toxicity, and halt the detrimental and wasteful practice of burning discards:

1. Consume responsibly, check for things that can be repaired, reused or recycled before heading to the store to buy new ones.

2. Repair or repurpose broken things rather than replacing or throwing them away.

3. Bring bayong or other reusable carry bags and containers when you shop; say no to plastic bags.

4. Buy in bulk or choose items with the least packaging to reduce packaging waste.

5. Avoid single-use, throw-away items: select products that can be washed, stored and used again.

6. Use second-hand, repaired and recycled products whenever available.

7. Segregate discards at source to cut waste volume, prevent bad smell, and keep flies, roaches and rodents under control.

8. Reuse and recycle non-biodegradable discards such as papers, bottles and cans as many times as you can.

9. Compost biodegradable discards such as kitchen scraps and garden trimmings for healthy soil and healthy food.

10. Give away unwanted stuff to street dwellers, fire victims or to charities instead of putting them into the garbage bins.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.