28 September 2022

MANILA — As the country continues to struggle with its Covid-19 medical waste more than two years into the pandemic, House Deputy Majority Leader and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin has urged Congress to increase funding for the infectious healthcare waste program of the Environmental Management Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR).

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has approved a P1.22 billion budget for the EMB-Environmental Regulations and Pollution Control Program under the DENR 2023 proposed budget, which is P1.53 billion or 55.7% less than its allocation of P2.75 billion in 2022.

Because of the funding cuts, programs under the EMB have been greatly affected, including the implementation of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Solid Waste Management Act, and hazardous waste management regulations.

Garin, Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, believed that it is very much untimely to slash the budget for healthcare waste programs because the country is still in the midst of a pandemic and Covid cases are still being reported daily, indicating that it continues to generate waste.

According to DENR data, a total of 634,687.73 metric tons of healthcare waste were generated in 2021, which is equivalent to 52,890 metric tons each month, a roughly 500% increase from the pre-Covid baseline figure.

“While Covid-19 cases in the country have started to decline, virus-contaminated healthcare wastes generated by the situation have continuously become a challenge, and addressing the issue of proper healthcare waste disposal is still of paramount concern,” Garin said.

She also asked the DENR to address the complaints of some Local Government Units (LGUs) whose healthcare waste is not collected on time from their preliminary treatment and storage facilities.

“LGUs have been told to store these medical waste, however, ang tagal na sa storage, may ilang LGUs ang hindi agad nakakapagtapon ng kanilang medical waste sa mga sanitary landfill dahil walang kumukuha. We are asking the DENR to look into this as the consequences of improper handling and disposal of medical waste are serious,” Garin averred.

Under the DENR-Waste Management Program, the agency has to assist LGUs, particularly those in remote areas, in funding their own special waste facilities, which will serve as a temporary and transit point for Covid-19-related healthcare waste before it is transported to treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facilities.

The Covid-19 healthcare waste program for LGUs is solely intended to store medical waste collected from households, vaccination sites, and quarantine facilities. It does not cover the handling of medical trash received from hospitals, which is collected directly by registered TSD and transported to landfills.