Feature Story

Supporting green chemistry in the Philippines

May 21, 2021

aerial view of industry park outside metro Manila, Philippines
A new project supported by the GEF and implemented by the UNDP aims to enable the manufacturing sector in the Philippines to take a greener approach to chemical and hazardous waste management. Photo: Michael D. Edwards/Shutterstock

The Global Environment Facility’s latest work program, approved by the GEF Council in December 2020, includes a series of projects designed to help countries protect and restore nature amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of these projects. For details on the Council proceedings, please click here.

The history of industrial production has been powered by breakthroughs in chemistry that improved fabrication or led to the creation of innovative products. Unfortunately, some of these chemical discoveries later turned out to be dangerous to both people and the planet.

In 2001, 92 countries around the world signed the Stockholm Convention, a global pact to curb the use, trade, release and storage of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – carbon-based toxins that take a long time to break down, spread widely in the environment, and accumulate in the tissues of living things, causing health problems ranging from cancers to nervous system damage.

The Stockholm Convention came into force in 2004 with an initial list of a dozen target chemicals. This roster has since expanded to include many more.

While the pact has prompted many countries to ban listed POPs, implementation has been a challenge in some developing nations due to limited industry awareness, gaps in knowledge about which commercial compounds contain them, and the inability of small enterprises to afford laboratory testing and monitoring.

A new project supported by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) aims to close this gap by enabling the manufacturing sector in the Philippines to take a greener approach to chemical and hazardous waste management.

“With this project, the Philippines is taking a significant opportunity to further promote green chemistry in the country,” the Environment Management Bureau of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in a written statement that noted the project’s remit across government and other stakeholders, including the private sector. “It will tangibly contribute towards arriving at environmentally friendly and sustainable products and processes.”

Manufacturing plays an important role in the economy of the Philippines – in 2017, it accounted for more than 23 percent of gross domestic product – and has a significant environmental impact. The new project aims to promote greener industrial processes in the Philippines’ plastic, paper, furniture, automotive, and other sectors, and to boost public understanding of the impact of manufacturing on the environment.

Its first phase will support a comprehensive assessment of chemicals management in key sectors and the development of a roadmap for the adoption of a green chemistry approach. It will also include an update to the national implementation plan to include chemicals added to the Stockholm Convention since 2013, including:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): PFOA, its salts, and related compounds are used widely in the production of fluoroelastomers and fluoropolymers for the production of non–stick kitchenware, food processing equipment, treatment agents in textiles, paper, paints, and firefighting foams. An unintentional formation of PFOA is created from inadequate incineration of fluoropolymers.
  • Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD): Once used as a solvent for other chlorine-containing compounds, HCBD is no longer being intentionally used or manufactured. It can be unintentionally released in certain chemical production processes.
  • Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD): HBCDD is used as a flame-retardant additive, providing fire protection during the service life of vehicles, buildings, or articles, and in storage. HBCDD is still used and manufactured. HBCDD is mainly used in expanded and extruded polystyrene foam insulation, and less frequently in textile applications and electric and electronic appliances.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Used as flame retardants in a range of products, including electrical and electronic equipment, textiles, and foams.
  • Short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs): Used as softeners in plastics, paints, coatings, and sealants; flame retardants in rubber, plastics, and textiles; and lubricants in metal working fluids.

The Philippines project’s next phase will include the practical demonstration of and training in sustainable chemicals management in key industries, as well as support in finding non-hazardous alternatives to POPs used in production.

To ensure manufacturers succeed in adopting a greener approach, the initiative will establish a self-sustaining funding mechanism. FREEME – Financing the Roadmap for the Environmental Enhancement of Manufacturing Enterprises – will be set up in partnership with the Development Bank of Philippines and the Land Bank.

A separate financing vehicle will help underpin a green manufacturing recovery from the effects of COVID-19, including such safety measures as personal protective equipment for workers. The increased access to green and low-cost financing will be critical to maintain the economic activity of targeted industries while supporting a transition to greener processes and products. This support will help position manufacturers in the Philippines on a more environmentally sustainable path while alleviating the pandemic’s economic impacts on those employed in these sectors.

To promote transparency and accountability, project workers will pilot a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register in at least 20 factories that will include the regular release of data to help build public trust in industry.

Meanwhile, customs officers will receive training and support to enable them to spot and stop the importation of commercial products that contain banned chemicals.

Finally, the project will seek to build awareness both across the manufacturing sector and in the wider population of the dangers POPs pose to the planet and human health, reflecting the One Health approach that underpins the GEF’s efforts to support the sustainable management of chemicals and waste globally.