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Pollution Generating Cash From Wastes – OpEd

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The adage “one man’s waste is another man’s gain” is spiraling in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia, as more business and people, into grips with reality that the environment needs to be protected, are finding it a good business.

Industries are in fact spending much on environmental protection, in at least 24 countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which account for no less than 65 percent of the world income, said.

The petroleum industry, realizing how dangerous the GHG sulphur dioxide is to the environment, and that waste is a good dirty business, took steps to improve refinery and use of lighter grades of crude oil. Improved technology is lessening water pollutants, as tonnage of oil, industrial, and domestic, including human wastes, are being lessened in water channels.

Car manufacturers are turning up smaller vehicle engines because they burn gasoline more effectively-meaning they consume less fuel and pollute less. Many countries are either phasing out lead additives to gasoline or reducing lead content.

Putting teeth to the Earth care concern, local laws are being crafted and enforced by hired local enforcers against use of plastics, non segregation of wastes and non-recycling in thousands of villages, providing community livelihoods.

Pollution Standards Call for International Safe Emission Levels

In the recent World Industry Conference on Environmental Management, delegates, noting the rising volume of world trade in motor vehicles and components, said that pollution control standards should become international. But this is easier said than done because not all cars can be sold virtually anywhere without costly design changes for individual markets.

In short, the world’s different governments’ cooperation is needed to effect the policy, and most likely will give it because they accept that sulphur dioxide from vehicles remain today, one of the most dangerous GHGs.

Participant UN Environment Program (UNEP) lauded manufacturing businesses that have gone into engineering techniques that conserve energy, recover sulphur, clean dust and use of low to non-waste techniques to recapturing and recycling residues.

“The trend is encouraging, some industrial businesses are hard to fault, many are observing and sticking to regulations rather than evading it,” UNEP declared.

But the control measures certainly are no silver bullets. There are so-called trace pollutants like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. from cars, toxic and cancer-causing, that even the most advanced engineering technologies cannot capture, control or treat.

Once a car is exported to another country and run by fossil fuel, the pollutants will be a threat because there is no international accepted definition of hazardous wastes nor international standard defining toxicity and binding countries to enforce it.

Boracay Clean-up Sets Frenzy of Water and Solid Waste Management

In the Philippines, the marching order of self-styled President Rodrigo Duterte to clean all beaches, riverways and canals, that started with Boracay Beach, has given environmental businesses a shot the arm.

Waste water treatment companies, sanitary engineering firms and environmental management companies are enjoying a bonanza like never before. “We have clients from as far as Cebu, mostly hotels, resorts, burning the phone wires asking for our services,” Froilan Quinito of the FEB Environmental Systems Ltd. said.

“Most are requesting assistance from setting up environmental impact assessment, seeking environmental compliance standards to establishing storage, recovery and recycling as well as disposal of domestic waste solids and liquids, “ he added.

Among others, Quinito’s company is engaged in management of liquid wastes or solids generated during water treatment. and treatment of sewage by households or businesses not connected to public foul sewers or public combined sewers.

More opportunities are in the offing for environment service groups it appears, as last week some 10,000 volunteers cleaned up once-scenic Manila Bay, turning it into an unbelievable beauty and unmasking the business establishments partly responsible for the pollution of the bay.

Years of non implementation of environmental laws have resulted to alarming pollution of water sources, beaches, canals and estuaries in the country and hope is being pinned on the tough-talking and cussing president to clean these up along with the druglords, drug users and criminals.

Since Duterte ordered Boracay to be closed in May last year, the government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been pestering beach resorts, hotels and restaurants from as far away Ilocos Norte to Sarangani in Mindanao regarding environmental laws and regulations especially in setting up waste water treatment facilities.

DENR also has its hands full removing of illegal occupants along waterways, demolishing illegal structures, monitoring and measuring solid and liquid wastes, and filing of charges against violators.

This has resulted to the recruitment of technical manpower mainly from the pool of environment science, sanitary engineering and environmental management resources graduates.

Over in the country’s summer capital Baguio City, visited by a million people annually, hotel and resort owners are having their waste treatment plants upgraded and repaired, the city government carrying out cleanups after Duterte and DENR warned the city will be next to be closed if it does not clean-up.

Even Duterte’s own city Davao , visited by two million tourists a year is keeping pace in pollution and waste clean-ups. Diego Tautho of the environment consultancy group Ridge to Reef bared their work on air quality management, solid and hazardous waste control has peaked.

“Our hands are full, we’re handling businesses in all Mindano, not only in Davao city we hardly can accept any more clients, Tautho uncomplaningly remarked.

“Here in Davao, some tourism businesses without wastewater treatments were closed by the city government, their business permits were canceled. They can only operate again if they comply wiht environmental regulations.”

“Many local goveernments are requesting help in setting up sanitary landfills too… in all of Mindanao, most clients are those seeking technical assistance wastewater treatments… construction, “ Tautho added.

From Wastes to Golden Opportunities

According to the Philippine government’s Interior and Local Government Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing, the clean-up and rehabilitation of Boracay cost the state billions of pesos. It has cost the businesses too, even as no one will ever know how much as they are not mandated to bare their expenses in the constructon of facilities warranted by laws on environmental protection.

Hidden from the obvious however, the environmental cleanups are creating a flourishing economy—from livelihoods to employing skilled technical manpower to creating services that spell economic opportunities.

Sociologist Anika Prosprepa explains, “Environmental cleanups always include junk scavengers from the marginalized society, several hundreds of them, they help clean but eke out a living, collecting as much saleable trash they can handle.

“Eventually, the culprit-polluters of Manila Bay will be forced to repair or construct more efficient waste water treatment plants creating minimal yet significant employment and business opportunities,” she quipped.

Thailand too, is engaged in serious massive cleanups as ordered by the government’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. UNEP says Thailand is the sixth-biggest polluter in terms of plastic waste that enters the oceans. The world’s top four polluters are all in Asia — namely China, which releases 2.22 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, Indonesia with 1.29 million tonnes, the Philippines and Vietnam.

More than cleanups, the state closed manufacturers of drinking water using plastic cap seals. This year, it aims to close all of them to put an end to this unnecessary packaging.

In Indonesia, thousands of villagers, organized by collective like-minded organizations and activists working towards a cleaner, greener and more sustainable Indonesia. collect tons of trash, mostly plastics and turn thes into cash.

A “garbage emergency” was declared by government officials last year where communities were mobilized for nationwide clean-ups. In Bali alone, one event involved close to 20,000 people. Thousands of tons of plastic were collected from rivers and canals.

While clean-ups are indication of a growing awareness and willingness to walk the talk in waste management in developing Asian countries, they are not long term solutions. Awareness alone is unlikely to reduce pollution or dependency on plastics, especially single-use plastics.

What is needed is for governments to strengthen their legal frameworks on waste and pollution management, and enforce laws strictly while continuing strategic education campaigns.


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Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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