THE times call for active measures to combat climate change. People have again and again relayed the words: reuse, reduce, recycle. I would like to add—refuse. Refuse to add to the pollution, and refuse to commit unhealthy practices.
The wastes that are collected from the residents, commercials areas, and industrial sites undergo a process. First is the recovery and processing. The collected wastes enter a materials recovery facility (MRF) in which the bio-degradable, non-biodegradable, and recyclable materials are sorted. MRFs are currently being established even in schools, malls and the like. The Philippines also promotes the waste diversion requirements in the form of composting techniques, e.g. vermi-composting. Another form of waste diversion requirement is recycling of non-biodegradable materials, e.g. plastics, rubber, paper, etc. Finally, collected solid wastes often end up in a dumpsite. The Philippines restricts the operation of open dumpsites but allows the operation of controlled dumps. Some wastes also end up in sanitary landfills, which is the most preferred kind of waste disposal site as it is designed and managed in such a way that the LGUs have control over important environmental impacts arising from the development and operation of the facility.
Best practices in local context
As provided for in RA 9003 and in relation to the Local Government Code 1991, or RA 7160, the local government units (LGUs) are given the power to enforce laws on cleanliness and sanitation, solid waste management, and other environmental matters. Thus, the different LGUs across the country, and in partnership with several private institutions, are making efforts to efficiently provide a system for solid waste management. Some of the best practices of solid waste management need not be from abroad but can be found locally.
One example of best practice in our country in solid waste management is the “Basuranihan” project of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, which involves individuals or groups who register with the Environmental and Natural Resources Office of the municipality to bring recyclable waste materials during the monthly Basuranihan Day. These recyclables are then sold to their junkshop of choice, and points are simultaneously acquired. Accumulated points qualify the participants to claim various prizes.
Cebu City has the best practice in terms of the decentralization of composting, and resource recovery system of their solid waste management program. The program has a strict enforcement of the “no segregation, no collection policy.” The program also provides for the recruitment and deployment of Barangay Environmental Officers who serve as information disseminators and policy enforcers. There is also a provision for financial and technical assistance from the city government to construct materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and composting centers in the barangays. Furthermore, the government works closely with its stakeholders, e.g. homeowners associations, local NGOs, waste pickers, and academic institutions, in conducting a series of awareness campaigns.
Finally, in Metro Manila, Marikina is well-known for having maintained its cleanliness because of its strict implementation of solid waste management policies and also because of its effective programs. One of its remarkable programs is the Food Waste Truck Program, which implements the collection of kitchen wastes from restaurants and food stalls. These wastes are then transformed into fertilizer to be used in the city’s urban garden. There is also an Eco-Savers Program to raise awareness among the children and youth on the importance of proper waste management by allowing them to participate in the recyclable trading activity.
It can be observed in these situations that the best means to establish an effective waste management system in the country is by ensuring the active participation of all the stakeholders of the LGU or the nation as a whole. By allowing the stakeholders to be involved in such projects and programs, they do not only become more aware of the need to maintain the cleanliness of their surroundings and protect the environment, but they also learn to incorporate the proper practices of solid waste management in their daily lives.
Solid waste and disaster resilience
Amidst the exacerbating condition of climate change across the globe, it is relevant for the country to deploy mitigating and preventive measures for disaster risks related to climate change. There is an evident need for an integrated urban infrastructure that are resilient to climate change and disaster risks. An example is the investment in efficient drainage systems as a risk mitigation. However, we should keep in mind that these measures also require an improvement in the performance of sectors such as solid waste management, to prevent the blockage of drains that contribute to flooding.
Solid waste, if not responsibly managed, can be very detrimental to the environment and to society. Eliminating the negative impacts of waste materials on human health and safety and the environment is one of the objectives of solid waste management. However, every solid waste management approach can contribute to the worsening climate change as they are sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs) not just due to the emissions from their processes and the energy they consume, but also due to the methane (CH4) produced when they are disposed of in landfills. However, the overall benefit of solid waste management will still depend on the amount of GHG it emits and it saves.
Open burning, dumping in bodies of water, non-segregation of waste, disposal of biodegradable wastes in landfills, and operation of dumpsites are among the waste management practices that result in GHG emissions. To effectively mitigate climate change, solid waste management should therefore shift to more sustainable approaches such as waste prevention, recycling, and composting.
Improper solid waste management practices may also lead to disastrous events. Extreme rainfall caused by climate change can be engendered by uncollected and mismanaged wastes. Human lives may also be at risk from these malpractices as they can lead to massive flooding and storm surges. Therefore, for solid waste management to strengthen disaster resilience, the approach should include continuous clean-up, declogging, and dredging of waterways. Climate-proofing infrastructure and waste management facilities should also be taken into consideration.
Instead of viewing ecological waste management as a compulsory activity, we should view it as a means to create a more progressive and livable city/municipality for its citizens. The public should actively participate and learn from the best and most effective practices. As they always say, cleanliness starts with one’s own home; practicing to segregate our waste can go a long towards preserving our planet.