Waste incineration produces some of the most toxic chemicals known to science, including hormone-disrupting dioxins. The incineration process produces ash with concentrated amounts of heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium that, when buried, pollute groundwater for generations. These chemicals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, respiratory ailments and reproductive dysfunction among people who live near incineration plants.
2003 Goldman Prize winner Von Hernandez was instrumental in leading the Philippines to institute the world’s first nationwide ban on incinerators, as part of the Clean Air Act of 1999. Shortly thereafter, Hernandez led the charge to promote more sustainable waste management techniques, including waste separation, composting and recycling—methods that have been proven to create jobs and revenue for municipalities while protecting public health. These methods were codified in the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act in January 2001.
Since its inception, however, the Clean Air Act has been under attack by powerful members of Congress and local government officials, some of whom have documented ties with the waste management industry. Today, the ban is once again being threatened by a group of local government units, lawmakers and government agencies who are seeking to pass a bill that would allow the burning of garbage.
Hernandez and his team at the EcoWaste Coalition are mobilizing their resources at the local and national level to resist government attempts to weaken or lift the ban. Working with local communities and other environmental groups, they are spreading the message that waste incineration is a dangerous and unsustainable solution to the country’s garbage problem.
Hernandez said, “Our vision of a zero waste society is possible, but without political will at the national and local levels, this will become another empty government slogan.”