Hesperian Health Guides
Waste and the Law
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Most governments have policies and guidelines for managing waste. One of the goals of community action is to make sure these policies protect people’s health and the environment. Another is to change the policies if they do not.
Philippines outlaws incineration and toughens waste laws
For many years, waste in the Philippines piled up in open dumps or was burned. But as pollution got worse from more and more waste, many communities began to pressure the government to ban waste burning, to establish a recycling program, and to prevent open dumping.
The campaign began in 1985 with an education program. Activists traveled across the country teaching communities about better ways to prevent wastes from being created. They showed people how to reduce waste and how to separate wastes to be composted, reused or recycled. They invited people from all walks of life, from peasants to politicians to priests, to work together to reduce waste in their communities.
At the same time, they educated communities and government officials about the toxic contamination released by burning waste. The campaigners showed how toxins from burning wastes turned up in eggs and other common foods.
Their pressure on the government paid off when incineration was banned in 1999 by a new law called the Clean Air Act. In 2000, the government began a recycling program and also passed a law to turn all open dumps into sanitary landfills. In 2001, the government passed the Ecological Waste Management Act to establish resource recovery centers in many towns and cities. The campaigners continue to work to make sure the laws benefit those most affected: the people who collect, sort, and recycle waste.
Laws like these are important in setting the standard for how waste is handled. When people take responsibility for their own wastes, and pressure lawmakers to make and enforce laws fairly, everyone benefits.