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Burning question

The other day, my wife was complaining about the stink coming from someone burning trash in the neighborhood, which, based on the intensity, was probably being done right beside our property. The strong, acrid smell of leaves burning had become a regular visitor, especially during the summer months when dried leaves are aplenty.

When the wife wondered out loud in frustration if she could complain against this activity, which I believe illegal according to the Clean Air Act, to the police or barangay; I knew she’d be wasting her time. First of all, there are no illegal drugs or red-tagged “terrorists” involved, so good luck at getting any policeman to act on her concern. But more importantly, nobody considers open burning as illegal in this country. Heck, it is not even considered abnormal.

After sweeping dried leaves and other combustible trash into a tidy little pile, most people in this country will automatically start a fire. In this country where garbage collection services can generally be described as garbage, it is the easiest way of disposing of trash.

It may be what Filipinos have been doing for generations, but if you look at the Clean Air Act of 1999, burning waste is most likely illegal. Aside from that, it is harmful to the environment as it generates air pollution and a stink and this practice is also not aligned with the world’s efforts to combat global warming and climate change. Everyone else is trying to cut down on carbon emissions but a sizable chunk of our population are still ignorantly burning away.

We still burn trash because everyone thinks it is normal. While we may have changed from the olden days when we would burn almost everything combustible, the practice still continues, especially for dried leaves and yard trash. Somehow, people think it is acceptable and exempted from the 20-year-old law against burning waste and nobody in authority does anything about it anyway, even if evidence of such noticeable activities can be immediately seen, smelled and the source tracked down.

The acrid smell of burning leaves is not pleasant for humans and the carbon emissions, if we add up all the little fires our neat freak but pyromaniac neighbors start every day, it is not good for the planet. But we still do it because even those who are affected by this activity know the people in authority won’t do anything to stop it.

It’s not that we don’t have other options for trash disposal. According to the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Management Act, these compostable waste materials should go to community composting facilities where they can be turned into usable soil enrichers in a method that does not stink and acts as a carbon sink instead of generating carbon emissions.

But has anyone of us seen a barangay with a working compost facility? There is no need for such a facility because all the compostable materials are being illegally burned in plain sight of barangay officials. Most of the time, this annoying burning is even done by barangay personnel themselves.

We have been tolerating or even encouraging the burning of yard trash for decades. “Good” neighbors do it, street sweepers do it, newly hired house help do it automatically until they are explicitly told not to. It’s like bad driving… people think the bad habits they have acquired over the years are ok because nobody, especially those in authority, ever told them off. They assume whatever they’ve been doing is normal and acceptable and until the people in charge step in, it will never stop.

The burning question is… are the people responsible inclined to doing what needs to be done to change these backward behaviors and practices?*

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