Environmental health groups urge LGUs to ensure proper disposal of COVID protective items

Citizens’ groups campaigning for the protection of human health and the environment urged local government units (LGUs) to take swift action to ensure face masks and other COVID-19 protective items do not end up polluting the ecosystems.

In a statement released ahead of the observance of the World Environmental Health Day (WEHD) on September 26, various groups cited the urgency of adopting new or strengthening existing ordinances to prevent the arbitrary disposal of soiled disposable masks, face shields, gloves, wipes, and tissues, as well as hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol containers.

“As the WEHD is observed locally, we appeal to our LGUs to enact new ordinances or reinforce existing ones that will deter users of disposable face masks and other items for infection control from simply throwing them on the ground,” said Pat Nicdao, Policy and Advocacy Officer, EcoWaste Coalition.

“The speedy enactment and genuine enforcement of such ordinances, along with effective public information and outreach, will surely help in reducing the volume of COVID-related plastic waste polluting our streets, beaches and seas,” she said.    

For his part Cebu-based Lito Vasquez of the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) movement expressed his hope that “more LGUs will take their cue from Lapu-Lapu City to curb the irresponsible disposal of soiled masks and instill environmental responsibility among the citizens in the face of the pandemic.”  

The Lapu-Lapu City Council last September 17 enacted an ordinance authored by Councilor Rico Amores prohibiting and penalizing the improper disposal of used face masks and related COVID-19 protective materials.

For Davao-based Chinkie PeliñoGolle of the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) “the passage of local measures to check the unsafe disposal of throw-away masks is essential to promote environmental health given the unhampered supply of cheap single-use non-medical grade masks in the market,” adding that “local authorities should expand information, education and communication efforts on the proper use and management of protective masks, including the ecological benefits of reusable or washable cloth masks over disposable plastic ones.”

Similar local ordinances in various stages of the lawmaking process are being considered in a number of LGUs, including Manila, Navotas and Quezon Cities in Metro Manila, Cebu City in the Visayas and Davao City in Mindanao, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Spearheaded by the International Federation of Environmental Health, WEHD was adopted by the government of the Philippines through the issuance in 2018 of Proclamation 595 by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Environmental Health (IACEH) led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Health (DOH) was tasked to promote the observance of the WEHD, including identifying the theme and activities for the yearly observance.

For this year, the DENR and DOH have chosen the theme “Sa Panahon ng Pandemya Malusog na Kapaligiran ang Bida” to underscore the importance of addressing environmental health issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic.