Eco group pushes for intensified waste reduction amid easing up of quarantine restrictions

A waste and pollution watchdog group called for a whole-of-society approach to cut down on the volume and toxicity of generated garbage as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are gradually eased in most parts of the country.

“We need to make a decisive shift from disposable to reusable as a strategic move toward a sustainable and toxic-free society,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“For a post-COVID world, we want to see the industries, working with government regulators, scientists and activists, redesigning their products with the environment in mind, eliminating hazardous and toxic chemicals in manufacturing processes, and taking full responsibility for the safe retrieval, recycling, treatment and disposal of their products after their useful life,” she said.

The group proposed a re-commitment by the entire society to actively enforce critical environmental laws such as the Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, to effectively reduce the amount and toxicity of what we throw away through segregation at source, reuse, recycling, composting and other essential measures.

Specifically, the group called on the

1) National Solid Waste Management Commission to release the list of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging that it is mandated to do, and for

2) Congress to expedite the enactment of plastic pollution prevention laws, including banning single-use plastics.

The coronavirus public health emergency, according to the group, has brought to light the need for proper attention and mechanism for safely managing potentially contaminated wastes such as used masks and other protective gear, including the need for waste workers to be adequately informed and protected.

The lockdown further demonstrated the vulnerability of waste pickers and other non-formal recyclers who lost their essential daily earnings and their lack of access to social protection and other needs, the group added.

Lucero said the COVID-19 crisis needs consistent waste prevention and reduction policies.

Those policies apply to all types of waste, including those classified as pathological and infectious.

“We must uphold the ban on the incineration of biomedical waste, which took effect in July 2003 while we observe the alternative non-burn methods for disinfecting and treating pathological and infectious waste,” said Lucero.

“The exclusive use of crematories to cremate the deceased – not to incinerate trash – must be followed.”

Toward a waste-free post-COVID era, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized the need to make reusable alternatives the rule rather than the exemption, particularly for emergency food relief as well as for food-to-go and food delivery.

There is a need for national and local government agencies, corporate foundations, religious charities, and other givers to have a stockpile of reusable bags and containers used as food packs for disaster situations to curb the generation of plastic waste, the group said.

“For example, organizations can tap women’s and urban poor groups all year round to sew reusable bags made out of new (e.g., ‘katsa’ or cheesecloth) or used (e.g., ‘arina’ or flour bags) fabrics that can be stored in warehouses and used during relief operations,” suggested Lucero.

Restaurants need to adopt an innovative system that will minimize throw-away packaging for take-out and food delivery, especially in a coronavirus-like situation where people’s movements are restricted to contain the disease to avoid single-use food packaging, the group added.

Building on the rolling stores deployed during the lockdown, the EcoWaste Coalition pushed for the establishment of roving post-COVID eco-stores where people can have more access to affordable essentials, of good quality, and non-toxic through a refilling system, which generates less waste by cutting down on the use of single-use plastic packaging.