“ON Dec. 16, 2011, floodwaters triggered by Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: “Washu”) rolled down from the slopes of Miarayon to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, killing over a thousand people and destroying almost P2 billion in infrastructure, agriculture and school buildings.” This is how veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo concludes his article, “Bukidnon’s vegetable-farming capital is in trouble” (MindaNews, Nov. 24, 2021). Miarayon, located at the foot of Mount Kalatungan, is a barangay (village) in Talakag, Bukidnon. Xavier University, according to the same article, in a 2015 study found that at least 1,648 hectares of the barangay needed to be reforested. However, it would appear that from the time of the flash floods 10 years ago to the Xavier University’s 2015 study and until today, the environment has further degraded.
Deforestation, overuse of the land for agriculture and the use of chemicals have negatively affected the fertility of the soil. Where once the soil’s natural fertility sufficed to make plants grow, chemical fertilizers are now required.
For the farmer, the increased production cost means lower income and the need for credit. Consumers are affected too — higher prices and possible risks to their health. Farmers “are now using fertilizers and chemicals,” Carlota Madriaga of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Mindanao told Gallardo, “even those we consider as very dangerous.”
Ten years after Sendong, Miarayon’s environment has further degraded. Unlikely a unique situation but rather a reflection of the general trend in the rural communities.
Elsewhere, what gets washed into the ocean are not just floodwaters but garbage, especially the ubiquitous plastic. The country is one of the top sources of ocean waste owing to a number of factors including the country’s long coastline, weather conditions, excessive use of single-use plastics and sachets, and inefficient waste management system.
The European Union is reaching out to the Philippines to provide technical and financial assistance to address the problem of plastic waste management. Fortunately, this seems not to include waste-to-energy incinerators or other waste-burning technologies. This is unlike the Asian Development Bank, which is promoting various forms of waste incineration. Burning of waste has no place in the circular economy that the EU is promoting within its own borders and outside. While there is still a long way to go before the EU has reached the state of circularity, the message is clear: if we don’t adopt more sustainable ways of consumption, production and waste management, everything living on earth is eventually going to drown in trash, sicken from digesting and inhaling toxic chemicals, while homes and habitats, infrastructure, farms and livelihood will be destroyed over and over again by climate change-induced extreme weather events. We will also run out of precious, finite raw materials that we depend on in important industrial processes and products.
Going back to plastics, the EU delegation to the Philippines hosted the “Dealing with plastic waste management for better circular economy” webinar last November 25. The event was announced — and aired — through the EU delegation’s Facebook page and open to the public. The variety of speakers and the different aspects of the main topic covered by each of the speakers provided interesting insights and perspectives while, of course, still leaving you with questions. For instance, lawyer Jonas Leones, undersecretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in his message emphasized that, “Plastics per se are not the problem. Rather, it is the improper and inefficient management and disposal of these products.”
Isn’t the emphasizing of disposal and management rather than reduction a way to justify incineration as the solution? We know that the government is promoting the burning of waste (in various forms and disguises) as the final solution, especially to the problem of plastic waste. And while indeed plastic has many advantages over other materials — for instance, it is durable, versatile and light — there are lots of plastic products whose use, and not merely disposal, is the problem, plastic products that are neither essential nor necessary. Many single-use plastics belong to this category. Like other plastics, they are made from fossil fuels that were extracted from the earth and processed, they were manufactured through an industrial process and transported to the market. Yet, we use such items for a fleeting moment before they become trash. What an incredible waste!
In line with this, several environmental organizations, including EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace, are urging the Senate to “upgrade” their version of an extended producer responsibility law by incorporating a ban on single-use plastics, among other recommendations. Throwaway culture, unsustainable consumption, unsustainable production, unsustainable waste management practices — that’s what need to be “incinerated” if we are to reverse climate change and environmental degradation and purge air, land and water bodies of toxic substances that threaten all life on Planet Earth.