Zeroing in on zero waste in schools

Published by rudy Date posted on May 10, 2011

Kids, are you ready to go back to school? I know, I know, you’re still on vacation — staying out late, sleeping late, way past your bedtime, snuggling under the crisp sheets till kingdom come or till the harsh rays of the sun come streaming through your window.

I hate to be a spoilsport, but it won’t be long before schools open a new academic year. And in line with this, a pollution watchdog has urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to get our 55,230 public and private elementary and secondary schools to go for zero waste pollution. The EcoWaste Coalition is asking Education Secretary Armin Luistro, FSC to issue a memorandum to remind school administrators to put in place appropriate policies and systems for reducing and managing school discards — that is, if they have not yet done so.

It was in 2001, during the term of Education Secretary Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, that DepEd last issued a reminder on the implementation of ecological solid waste management in schools. “With another La Sallian brother at the helm of the department, we hope to see more schools becoming centers of excellence in terms of eliminating garbage and promoting environmental stewardship and action among our students and citizens,” says EcoWaste Coalition president Roy Alvarez.

He zeroes in on the importance of the subject, “Zero waste resource management will contribute to a healthy and socially-responsible school system that will not add to the 35,000 tons of trash that the whole country generates each day.”

Doing his homework, Alvarez recalls that DECS Memorandum No. 33-2001 provided for the monitoring of school implementation of ecological solid waste management, including the promotion of “sorting-at-source,” the “use of recycled materials,” and “banning any form of open burning.”

“Now is the best time for DepEd to reiterate school involvement in zero waste resource management as this will complement the government’s national green agenda, particularly in preventing and reducing trash,” asserts EcoWaste’s Christina Vergara. “The memorandum can also include attractive incentives for schools to enforce and shine in ecological waste management, including morale-boosting commendations for practicing schools.”

Of course, the country is not lacking in model schools in both public and private sectors that can provide aspiring educational institutions with practical knowledge on how to “green” their schools, according to the Coalition.

Certainly, we’re never wanting for model schools. For instance, there are the grand winners of the National Search for Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Schools, namely, the Peñablanca East Central Elementary School in Peñablanca, Cagayan; La Castellana National High School in La Castellana, Negros Occidental; and Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa; the recipients of the Dark Green School label from the Environmental Education Network of the Philippines such as the De La Salle University-Dasmariñas Cavite, Miriam College in Quezon City, and Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte. And then there’s the Cavite Institute in Silang, Cavite, which the World Bank cited for its innovative recycling for scholarship program.

Way to go, kids!

Mercury Rising

In another development, green groups pressed the government to draw up a strategy for the collection of spent fluorescent lamps following a “toxic investigation” indicating informal recyclers’ exposure to health-damaging mercury vapor from broken lamps.

The groups include Ang Nars, Ayala Foundation, Ban Toxics, Citizens Organization Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Green Convergence, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for the Development of Educational and Ecological Alternatives, Miriam PEACE, Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan, and the EcoWaste Coalition Secretariat.

They urged the Department of (DoE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to formalize a system that would prevent the disposal of mercury-containing lamp waste, particularly from households, into regular waste bins.

Alvarez notes with concern, “By taking action now, the DoE and DENR, with support from local authorities, businesses and consumers, can reduce the occupational risks being faced daily by our waste workers from the handling and recycling mercury-containing discards.”

He adds, “A mandatory ‘take back’ program involving producers, including manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of both ‘branded’ and ‘unbranded’ CFLs will be essential in this regard.”

According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a “worker’s exposure to mercury vapour shall at no time exceed (the) ceiling level” of 0.1 milligram per cubic meter (or 100 mcg/m3), the agency’s “permissible exposure limit” for mercury vapor.

The groups had earlier detected harmful levels of mercury vapor from the informal recycling of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) at Pier 18 Garbage Transfer Station in Manila using a mercury vapor analyzer called “Jerome,” with the highest reading recorded at 502.45 mcg/m3.

To put a stop to improper disposal of lamp wastes generated by households and small businesses, the groups proposed to DoE and DENR a system that would:

• Reiterate and enforce the prohibition against the disposal of used lamps in dumpsites, landfills, and incinerators under the country’s major environmental laws and regulations (RA 6969, RA 8749, RA 9003).

• Notify household consumers about the proper management of used lamps through popular means of communication, stressing that mercury-containing lamp waste should be sorted at source and appropriately treated as hazardous waste to reduce mercury releases from waste.

• Assign Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), also known as Ecology Centers, in every barangay or cluster of barangays as primary drop-off points for used lamps, ensuring that items received are safely stored (that is, in baulbilya or baul ng bumbilya).

• Designate as many convenient drop-off points or depositories for used lamps with appropriate receptacles provided, such as in barangay halls, churches, public markets, supermarkets, malls, and hardware stores.

• Provide incentives for residents to bring their used lamps to designated barangay drop-off points such as by introducing food exchange scheme (e.g., egg for CFL) or rebate scheme for returned lamps.  Alternatively, local authorities can:

1) Specify barangay collection days for used lamps (like every first and third Friday of the month or any time convenient for the community).  For non-collection days, residents can bring their used lamps to designated drop-off points.

2) Contract waste pickers to do house-to-house collection during designated barangay collection days for used lamps.

• Require LGUs or authorized handlers and recyclers of mercury-containing lamp waste to collect the items from the drop-off points (like every first and third Saturday of the month or any time convenient for the community) and to keep records of lamp waste collected.

• Require lamp importers to disclose lamp importation data, as well as require lamp waste treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facilities to make information accessible to the public.

Now, these are really bright ideas vis-a-vis indiscriminate lamp waste disposal. –Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star)

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