EcoWaste Coalition Makes Clarion Call for Post-Disaster Debris and Waste Management

Quezon City. The mounds of mixed garbage that haunt communities inundated by tropical storm Ondoy point to the sheer lack of adequate and eco-friendly plan for managing disaster debris and waste that has to be filled.

“Over a week after Ondoy lashed the country and caused epic flood, we still find many communities languishing from uncollected debris and trash that reeks and obstructs the streets,” said Manny Calonzo, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“The post-Ondoy garbage disposal crisis shows how ill-prepared the government is in managing disaster debris and waste so that further health and environmental contamination is avoided from illegal dumping and improper recycling,” he pointed out.

The usual practice of just hauling the disaster debris and waste altogether to a dumpsite or landfill, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized, is totally ineffective in safeguarding the people and the environment from harmful bacteria and chemicals.

“Disaster debris and waste that we find in the streets following the devastation brought by Ondoy are potentially hazardous because they are mixed, mud-filled and not easy to segregate,” he said.

Disaster debris include household debris (appliances, furniture, household goods), building debris (wood, concrete, metal, drywall) and vegetative debris (tree limbs, garden and farm waste).

“Some components of the waste stream require a different mode of retrieval and management to prevent the exposure of residents and waste workers, especially child waste pickers, from toxins that can harm human health and pollute the environment,” Calonzo stated.

Storm Ondoy, the EcoWaste Coalition observed, left various rubbish and wreckage that contain “problem waste streams” such as asbestos, treated wood, putrescibles, electronics, fuels, lubricants, refrigerants and chemicals that require special handling.

“We therefore urge the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) to co-organize a participatory process with the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) that will craft policies and procedures for the ecological management of disaster debris and waste,” he said.

The NSWMC is an inter-agency body chaired by Environment Secretary Lito Atienza that oversees the implementation of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, while the NDCC headed by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro coordinates disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation activities.

Electronic waste such as computer and television sets, washing machines, compact fluorescent lamps and other common electrical devices and appliances contain a range of toxic chemicals such as heavy metals (cadmium, lead, mercury), persistent organic pollutants (brominated flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls) and other chemicals of concern, the EcoWaste Coalition warned.

“The improper retrieval of copper wires, metal scraps and other recyclables from e-waste can expose waste workers to a cocktail of toxic chemicals during the manual processing that can damage human heath and also pollute the air, soil and the surface and groundwater,” said Rei Panaligan, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“For instance, we saw children burning electrical cables along Araneta Avenue to retrieve precious wires that can be sold for about P200 per kilo and, in the process, exposing themselves and their surroundings to toxic fumes,” he added.

The waste and pollution watchdog pressed for ecological disaster debris and waste management plan after bearing witness last Friday to the dumpsite-like situation in the ROTC Hunters St. and adjacent streets in Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City.

During their hour-long visit to the densely-populated neighborhood, EcoWaste Coalition representatives saw huge piles of mixed garbage along the streets and in one basketball court, exposing residents and waste workers to disease-causing bacteria and chemicals.