OUR country has landed at the top of the heap. The garbage heap.
According to the recent study on ocean trash – a joint effort of the environmental business unit of internationally renowned management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company and the nonprofit think tank Ocean Conservancy – around 60 percent of all the plastic garbage in global waters comes from five countries: China, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
Together with our Southeast Asian neighbors, we are spewing more trash into our oceans than the rest of the world.
Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s marine debris program has raised the alarm saying that “at this rate, we would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in our oceans by 2025 — an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences.”
It is common misconception that the richer and more developed Western countries produce more trash. So how did the Philippines and our Asian neighbors end up as the source of the majority of plastic trash that enters the ocean?
McKinsey says the “increasing economic power [of these countries]has generated exploding demand for consumer products that has not yet been met with a commensurate waste-management infrastructure.”
Compounding the problem is the marketing strategy that’s peculiar to Asia. Many consumer goods from shampoos to snacks are often sold in tiny, cheap quantities so as to make the products affordable even to poorer laborers. As a result, companies are churning out a lot more plastic packaging.
But as McKinsey points out, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam all lack a formal recycling system.
In the Philippines, for instance, although we have so-called “materials recovery facilities” (MRFs) or stations where waste can be sorted for disposal, re-use or recycling, only 7,938 out of the 42,000 barangays nationwide have an MRF, according to data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
To aggravate matters, our MRFs are really just trash segregation facilities that mainly rely on waste pickers – scavengers who collect recyclable materials from garbage and then sell those materials to recyclers.
But the problem with waste pickers is that they only take high-value plastic scraps. And studies estimate that only about 20 percent of the plastic trash is valuable enough for waste pickers to collect, leaving the rest of the garbage to find its way into our oceans. Plastic bags, for instance, are left uncollected.
Having more MRFs could help alleviate the garbage mess. But local government units prioritize trash collection over garbage segregation and recycling.
For example, according to a report, Quezon City could have saved some 250 million pesos annually if it let barangays collect and manage their own waste through the MRF. But instead of spending P2.56 million to build more MRFs in every barangay, city officials chose to pay almost P1 billion a year – the biggest among Metro Manila LGUs – to 6 private contractors to pick up trash around the city and dump it in a private landfill in Payatas, thus proving the old adage: “May pera sa basura” (There’s money to be made on garbage.)
This practice of engaging the more costly garbage collection and disposal through private contractors isn’t limited to Quezon City. It’s the norm for Metro Manila and other highly-populated cities and municipalities around the country.
As to who benefits the most, we’re sure our readers know the answer. It definitely isn’t residents like you and me.
And even with the billions of pesos of taxpayer money spent on trash collection and disposal, throughout the “five focus countries for action” – as China, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are collectively referred to in the McKinsey report – only about 40 percent of garbage is properly collected. The rest is disposed of in makeshift neighborhood dumps or public waterways where they are swept up by the wind or discharged into the ocean.
It has also been reported that in the Philippines, “where sanitation trucks often flout the law, up to 90 percent of the plastic dumped illegally ends up in the ocean.” This is not surprising; especially with the news last week that the Ombudsman is poised to investigate nearly 600 local officials throughout the country for allegedly allowing open dump sites in their areas.
The McKinsey report is not only an indictment of our country’s environmental policies and practices. It also highlights the utter failure of the Aquino administration, and in particular, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to create the necessary waste disposal infrastructure, and to effectively implement and enforce environmental regulations during their term. No wonder the Canadians tried to dump their toxic and hazardous garbage in our country.
What infamous list will the Philippines be on next after almost six years of “daang matuwid?” Worst traffic, slowest internet, top crime hotspot, most corrupt bureaucracy, slowest disaster response?