By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

QUEZON CITY – The United Nations development body, national government and non-government cause-oriented groups on Wednesday (Dec. 6) launched the PHP235.4-million five-year project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on reduction of unintended organic pollutants and mercury from healthcare wastes in Park Inn Radisson Hotel in Quezon City.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), Department of Health (DOH), and BAN Toxics, with EcoWaste Coalition and Healthcare without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Ministry of Environment of Japan have joined together in leading the launch of the project funded by the GEF.

The project aims to harmonize everything in connection with the efforts and endeavors to mitigate the impact of hazardous wastes and healthcare wastes.

Undersecretary Jonas Llones, DENR Undersecretary for Policy Planning and International Affairs, delivered his video message and welcomed the participants and highlighted the importance of the event launching as a catalyst to strengthen the capacities of public and private organizations towards sustainable and effective management of healthcare wastes.

Llones noted that the project will strengthen the partnership between the UNIDO and the Philippines to deliver long-term interventions in pursuit of sustainable development goals.

He expressed his full support and recognition of the launch of the Philippine healthcare wastes and management project through the auspices of the UNIDO and other stakeholders in sustainable environment.

In his speech, Assistant Secretary Gilbert Gonzales, of the DENR-EMB, noted the “momentous” launching of the project for the well-being of the community and the environment for healthcare wastes and management.

Gonzales said that the project guides as the protocols to provide safeguards on the environment in securing the protection of the public and the environment from wastes.

He added that with the financial support, through the UNIDO, the “Philippine Healthcare and Mercury Wastes Management Project for Cleaner, Safer and Sustainable Wastes Management” is another “beacon of hope” for a cleaner and sustainable environment.

“The piling of healthcare wastes during the pandemic posed the most challenging act concerning the environment,” Gonzales said.

“Together, let us be the catalyst for positive change ushering an era of healthcare and wastes management,” he added.

Teddy Monroy, country representative of UNIDO, cited the human sufferings and casualties and severe healthcare challenges during the 2020 pandemic caused by excessive toxic wastes.

Monroy noted “the rising uses of medical items have contributed to the proliferation of dangerous healthcare and medical wastes.”

“The UNIDO and the Philippines have joined hands to mitigate the impacts of healthcare and medical wastes, especially focused on the reduction of unintended organic pollutants and mercury from healthcare wastes,” Monroy said.

He stressed that the GEF-UNIDO Healthcare Wastes Project aims to transform healthcare waste management practices in the Philippines, addressing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuring a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to healthcare waste.

In a press conference, Geri Geronimo Sanez, chief of the Hazardous Waste Management Section of the EMB-DENR, noted the delay in the implementation of the project.

Sanez said that the project, together with the Ministry of Environment of Japan, the five-year project with the assistance of the GEF through the UNIDO, will be extended to Mindanao.

“There is not much waste treatment facilities in the National Capital Region (NCR) and most of them are going out from the NCR,” Sanez said.

“The good data submitted by the healthcare institutions to the EMB-DENR, together with the non-toxic partners, we’ll be able to execute the project,” he added.

Sanez stressed that they are collecting the data from 2020 to 2022 and submitted them to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) with regards to the legally disposed hazardous wastes and healthcare wastes during the two-year pandemic.

However, he said that they have not collected data in so far as the illegally disposed hazardous wastes and healthcare wastes are concerned.

It can be recalled that the Covid-19 hit the Philippines from March 2020 until the end of 2022.

“We are still a ‘throw a waste society,’ with regards to healthcare wastes management,” Sanez lamented.

“The present administration has the eight-point agenda with the DOH, through the responsive and resilient environment, through the Health Facilities Services Regulatory Bureau of the Department of Health (HFSRB-DOH), will have a manual for agreen health facilities,” said Director Melissa Sena, of the HFSRB-DOH.

Sena noted that the DOH is supervising 84 public health facilities nationwide.

Some 100 public health experts, government agency representatives, members of civil society, and green groups participated in the event.