DAVAO City, like many other cities in the Philippines, is facing a garbage crisis. Last November, leachate, or “garbage juice,” from the sanitary landfill in Barangay New Carmen was discovered to be seeping into the Matina Pangi River. “This is a cause of concern for all Dabawenyos,” said then city councilor, now Vice Mayor Bernard Al-ag, pointing out the very real risk that the polluted water could reach the sea and contaminate the marine environment (Sun Star Davao, November 15, 2017).
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau confirmed that the leachate was indeed overflowing from the landfill and polluting the river. Officials of the Davao City Environment and Natural Resources Office explained to the city council that the landfill, opened in 2006, was already filled up. The daily volume of garbage dumped in the landfill is 600 to 700 tons, up from the 300 to 400 tons when the landfill was opened. Rehabilitation is going on to extend its lifespan while a P100 million budget has been approved for the site of a new sanitary landfill.
Last year, the Commission on Audit reported that the failure to enforce the segregation of wastes, otherwise required by the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and Davao City’s own ordinance, was costing the city millions of pesos. The failure to segregate the garbage, COA said, increased “not only the volume of waste for collection and disposal … but also the spending for private hauling services. In addition, disposal of non-segregated … wastes in the sanitary landfill instead of strictly residual wastes reduces the useful life of the facility” (Rappler, June 25, 2017).
According to environmental and public health expert Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, who joined Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio on a waste management study trip to Kitakyushi City, Japan, last December, Davao City’s residual waste could go as low as 130 to 190 tons a day if the garbage was properly segregated, compared to the 600 to 700 tons currently being disposed at New Carmen (Report and Recommendations by Dr. Emmanuel, December 7, 2017). Segregation equals less volume dumped in the landfill equals longer life span of the landfill.
This kind of problem is not unique to Davao City. While the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was signed into law in January 2001, many local government units are violating it. It seems to be too difficult to organize garbage segregation and corresponding handling of segregated wastes, too complicated to promote recycling and to institutionalize waste minimization policies.
Every product, before it becomes garbage, is made from valuable materials in a production process that requires energy. In short, waste management is resource management. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us look at garbage as simply — garbage. The easiest ways to get rid of garbage is to dump it or to burn it. The Philippines has had a ban on incineration since 1999 but Congress is in the process of lifting this ban. The House committee on ecology has already given the go-signal for the lifting of the ban.
Peddlers of incinerators—reportedly mostly Korean and Japanese— incinerators are busy approaching local government officials to convince them that incineration is the solution to the garbage problem. Particularly popular these days are the so-called waste-to-energy incinerators. Aside from burning the garbage, they generate electricity.
The abovementioned trip to Kitakyushi City of the Davao City mayor involved visits to various Japanese waste management facilities, including waste-to-energy incineration plants. The purpose was to show the Davao City delegation that burning garbage is easy and clean. As a result, Davao City has officially requested the national government to facilitate for Davao City the acquisition of such an incinerator. On its own, the city government cannot afford the facility.
In Dr. Emmanuel’s opinion – which has often been sought by international organizations such as the World Bank – Japan is passing on to Davao City old technology that does not live up to the environmental and health standards of, for instance, Europe. A catalytic reactor which captures the highly toxic chemical compound dioxin (produced when burning plastics) is included in the Japanese incinerators sold to Europe and within Japan, but not in the incinerator that will be sold to Davao City – because it would make the incinerator too costly. Dioxins and heavy metals emitted through the incinerator smokestack will pollute people and environment, especially in the host community.
As for the electricity that the facility would generate, the Japanese manufacturer provided no details as to how much—or little—electricity is expected to be generated by the incineration process. Municipal waste is not exactly the most efficient fuel for energy generation.
Garbage is generated by all of us, directly and indirectly. The environmentally safe and economically sound solution lies in a bayanihan approach: we must all do our part to bring about the desired result.