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Saturday, December 2, 2023

‘Graveyard’ for waste no more

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THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will no longer allow importation of hazardous—often disguised as recyclable—materials that are turning out to be highly toxic waste.

The policy, to be formalized in the form of a Department of Administrative Order (DAO), will prevent the dumping of imported waste, including electronic waste, on Philippine soil.

A stricter implementation of the policy will ensue once the DAO is issued, according to DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs Jonas R. Leones.

Republic Act 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990, covers the importation, manufacture, processing, handling, storage, transportation, sale, distribution, use and disposal of all unregulated chemical substances and mixtures in the Philippines, including the entry, even in transit, as well as the keeping or storage and disposal of hazardous and nuclear waste into the country for whatever purpose.

“We have what we call allowable waste wherein we only pick the parts. These are what we allow because certain industries need some parts that can be recycled,” said Leones.

However, Leones said once the Philippines ratifies the Basel Amendment, these will no longer be allowed.

Canadian waste import revisited

ACCORDING to Leones, importers are currently allowed to import electronic parts, but because of the issue of the Canadian waste back in 2013-2014, the DENR had decided to review the policy issuances.

To avoid the Philippines becoming a dumping ground for imported waste, as exemplified by the misdeclaration of Canadian waste, the importation of recyclable waste, including second-hand appliances or outdated electronics such as television sets, radios, computers, notepads and cell phones, will be subject to strict regulations, sooner or later, according to Leones.

While a portion of the Canadian waste was “returned to senders,” some ended up being buried in open dumps, sparking vehement protests from environmental groups.

Lessons learned

TO prevent similar incidents from happening again, Leones said the DENR learned how to be extra strict from then on, regulating the issuance of import permits, including import clearances for recyclable waste that arrived in the country’s ports of entry without prior permits. In the future, the Philippines may no longer allow altogether such importations.

“We will limit this. While we recognize the danger of being a dumping ground for e-waste, we cannot stop it immediately because certain industries still rely on these imported recyclable materials,” he said.

The most common recyclable materials allowed for importation are plastic resins, which are used to produce plastic products, but some are importing e-waste for parts that can still be salvaged.

“But soon, if we have alternatives or options from importers, maybe we can stop it altogether,” says Leones.

He also said the DENR will no longer issue permits or import clearance for shipments that already reached the country’s ports, says Leones.

Stricter entry requirements

A new guideline, strongly advocating for rigorous enforcement, governs the issuance of import permits for recyclable waste. This entails importers obtaining permits at least 30 days prior to the shipment’s scheduled delivery. The aim is to prevent situations where importers seek permits and clearance from the DENR only after the shipment has arrived and been unloaded from cargo vessels.

The DENR, he said, will be closely working with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to ensure the policy is enforced.

In addition, he said, the DENR would identify warehouses where these imported recyclable waste will be delivered. This will allow the DENR to monitor whether the shipment was indeed for recycling, or merely for dumping in the Philippines.

According to Leones, in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the DENR and a local nongovernment organization were able to establish e-waste recycling facilities in Caloocan, Malabon, and recently in Baguio City, where parts that have value are being recovered.

Currently, the Philippines generates 61,000 metric tons of solid waste daily, and lack of recycling facilities, particularly for e-waste, is adding to the problem.

The law also covers e-waste or electronic waste that includes anything with plugs, cords and electronic components.

The Philippines currently has three e-waste recycling facilities—in Caloocan, Malabon and most recently, Baguio City.

The common sources of e-waste include televisions, computers, mobile phones and any type of home appliance—from air conditioners to children’s toys.

Piles of mixed e-waste

JOVER Q. LARION, Project Campaigner at Ecowaste Coalition (Ecowaste), a partner of the UNIDO and DENR in the e-waste campaign, said an ambitious plan being worked out with the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), led by its concurrent officer-in-charge Assistant Secretary Gilbert Gonzales, is to put up at least one e-waste recovery or cycling facility for every local government unit (LGU) in the country.

Citing DENR-EMB data, Larion said that as of 2022, the Philippines has generated some 32,000 tons of e-waste.


MEANWHILE, a report by UNIDO showed that the Philippines is one of the top e-waste generators in Southeast Asia, with a per capita e-waste generation of over 4 kg. The volume of e-waste is increasing due to higher consumption of electrical and electronic equipment, shorter product life cycles, and limited repair options.

Although e-waste constitutes only around 2 percent of solid waste streams, it contributes to a staggering 70 percent of hazardous waste in landfills with devastating consequences on the environment and public health.

These items often contain dangerous substances like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, commonly used as flame-retardants, posing significant environmental and health concerns and emphasizing the critical importance of proper disposal.

Larion highlighted the alarming production of e-waste, particularly concerning for the Philippines—recognized as the texting capital of the world and a destination for second-hand television sets. The country has limited e-waste recycling facilities, making it challenging to dismantle these devices safely and dispose of them properly as hazardous waste at the end of their life cycle.

He pointed out that even regular junk shops are not allowed to directly purchase such waste from households. This is because the materials in e-waste contain harmful chemicals that pose risks to both people and the environment.

To put up more e-waste recycling or recovery facilities, Leones said the DENR is partnering with telecom companies Globe and Smart and will work with LGUs to establish such facilities.

He noted that to run an e-waste recovery or recycling facility, for appliances like television, radio, computers and similar discarded equipment, the operator needs to secure a special permit from the DENR as such activity is covered by RA 6969.

For her part, DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga reported there is room for institutionalization at the national level to enhance partnerships with UNIDO and other stakeholders, adding that an overarching program is needed.

The DENR chief instructed Leones to engage with UNIDO to establish a campaign similar to Extended Producer Responsibility for e-waste. This initiative, in collaboration with importers and LGUs, aims to enhance e-waste recovery efforts. Additionally, the goal is to integrate e-waste recyclers, including informal ones, into a program that formalizes the sector, offering a sense of dignity, especially for lowly waste collectors.

Image credits: Evgeniy Parilov | Dreamstime.com, Ecowaste Coalition

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