Environment Secretary Antonia Loyzaga wants to empower waste pickers by improving their livelihood and ensuring their full integration into an evolving solid waste management sector.

Speaking at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF) media event in Quezon City, Loyzaga underscored the need to enhance the status and work conditions of the informal waste sector and to invest in capacity building to transform their vulnerability.

“This sector is still locked out of the value chain of solid waste management, but they are in fact, critical and essential as part of the supply chain,” Loyzaga pointed out.

“Through the EPR (extended producer responsibility) and the circular economy, there is an opportunity for us in government and for you all to promote social inclusion,” she added.

The informal waste sector in the Philippines includes waste pickers in dumpsites and communal waste collection points.

Waste pickers play a key role in waste management and segregation, but are often not included in discussions on policies to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Following the enactment of Republic Act 11898 or the EPR Act of 2022, Loyzaga has been supportive of the integration of the informal waste sector in the EPR system to ensure that no one is left behind as the country tries to build a circular economy for plastics.

An amendment to RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the EPR law requires large companies to adopt and implement policies for the proper management of plastic packaging wastes.

Loyzaga called the EPR law as a “concrete start and a strategic approach to waste reduction that maintains an environmental responsibility with producers throughout the lifecycle of the product.”

“EPR has been proven to address packaging collection and recycling meaningfully through various EPR schemes and certainly these require companies to pay for the collection, sorting and recycling of their plastic packaging,” Loyzaga said.

She said the EPR mechanism is one transformative way to promote the sustainable consumption and production economy. “It provides a more sustainable way of doing business and leads to green job creation,” she added.

Moreover, the DENR chief said the EPR system provides an opportunity to promote social inclusion of waste pickers by ensuring their rights and protection to guarantee their income and survival.

To improve the lives of waste pickers, Loyzaga said there is a need to partner with local government units (LGUs) in rolling out financial literacy programs and to build their skills for entrepreneurship and other types of activities in order for them to build capital to transform their current situation.

She said there is also a need to capacitate LGUs and other sectors to implement a robust system of data recording, tracking and reporting.

“By doing so, we can enhance the direction and the strategic impact of social protection programs and direct them specifically to address this sector’s needs,” she stressed

Held at the DENR Central Office on July 18, the WWF-Philippines media event was themed “Turning the Tide: Our Journey to a Plastic Pollution-Free Future.”

In partnership with the DENR and the Norwegian Embassy, the event aimed to celebrate WWF’s notable breakthroughs in addressing plastic pollution in the country through multistakeholder collaboration over the years, specifically under the fifth year of its No Plastics in Nature campaign.

The event gathered stakeholders from the national and local government, business industry, civil society, academe, and community and social enterprises to learn and discuss milestones and future actions towards significantly reducing plastic in the environment, which include the global treaty to end plastic pollution, the National Plan of Action for the Prevention, Reduction, and Management of Marine Litter, and the EPR Act.

Panel discussants include representatives from the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau; San Jose Sico Landfill Multi-Purpose Cooperative; the Municipality of Donsol, Sorsogon; Mondelēz Philippines, and Unilever Philippines. ##