Environmental Groups Dismayed Over Japanese Funding for Waste-to-Energy Incinerator Project in Davao City

Environmental health groups have expressed their disapproval of a planned waste-to-energy incinerator plant in Davao City to be funded through a Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) grant worth JPY 5.013 billion (PHP 2.5 billion).

Davao City-based Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) and Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition reiterated their opposition to the incinerator project following the signing of the Exchange of Notes last Tuesday by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City.

According to the Japanese Embassy, “Japan’s grant will be used to construct and manage waste-to-energy facilities to significantly reduce solid wastes and convert it into usable energy,” adding that “this project is expected to serve as an innovative example of sustainable waste management to other cities in the Philippines.

If this project will push through, we will not be solving the issue of massive waste production of Davao City but will only aggravate it as the plant’s operation will require the steady generation of voluminous trash to be burned to make it economically viable. This is not the way to solve our city’s garbage problem.  Incinerating discards will rather result in more environmental, health and socio-economic problems for the city government and our people.  Waste-to-energy incineration is not the solution,” stated Chinkie PeliƱo-Golle, Executive Director, IDIS.

Anti-incinerator campaigner Ruel Cabile of the EcoWaste Coalition indicated that the ODA grant for Davao City’s waste-to-energy incinerator could open the floodgates for similar schemes to be established in the guise of solving the country’s garbage woes.

“We find the aggressive push by Japan to export their waste-to-energy disposal technologies to the Philippines truly worrisome, especially if this is seen as part of the ‘Golden Age of Strategic Partnership’ between the two countries.  We must be on our guard against incineration-based schemes that will undermine, if not kill, zero waste strategies and programs.  We need to be mindful of the hidden costs of such schemes, particularly their adverse impacts on recycling jobs and enterprises and on human health and the environment. There is no such thing as free lunch after all,” he said.

In place of incineration, IDIS and the EcoWaste Coalition urged the authorities to commit to a vigorous implementation of zero waste policies and programs, in line with R.A. 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act), that will prevent waste and expand waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting strategies, including making “polluter pays” and making manufacturers responsible for their products and their packaging.

The groups cited environmental scientist Dr. Jorge Emmanuel who said that with the effective enforcement of R.A. 9003 “the residual waste for Davao should only be 130-190 tons per day, as opposed to the 600-900 tons/day average that go to the city’s landfill.  If zero waste approaches are applied, the amount can be reduced even further.”

Emmanuel, an adjunct professor at Silliman University and a DOST Balik Scientist, recommended the “laborious and difficult full implementation of R.A. 9003” to address the city’s garbage problem instead of the purported waste-to-energy solution from Japan after visiting the facility at Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering, Inc. in Kitakyushu last December 2016 as part of a delegation from Davao City.

Among the issues underscored by Emmanuel in the report he submitted to the city government is the difficulty of complying with the increasing stringent standards for dioxins, which are extremely toxic byproducts of waste combustion, due to cost, lack of enforcement mechanisms, and the inability to effectively monitor and test emissions.

According to Emmanuel, “even with pollution control devices, the toxic pollutants will not disappear; they are concentrated into other media that have to be treated as hazardous waste. Importantly, ash from incinerators is toxic, heavily contaminated with dioxins and leachable metals, and under the Stockholm Convention Best Available Techniques/Best Environmental Practices (BAT/BEP) guidelines, ash requires special land disposal as hazardous waste.”