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Solid waste mismanagement in the Philippines

Human society sustains itself by transforming nature into garbage,” said aphorist and professor Mason Cooley.

Unsurprisingly, the Philippines generates more solid waste as population increases, living standards are enhanced, and urban and rural areas are being developed. According to a report by the Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO), the country’s waste generation steadily increased from 37,427.46 tons per day in 2012 to 40,087.45 tons in 2016.

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Meanwhile, solid wastes produced by Philippine cities are expected to increase by 165 percent to 77,776 tons by 2025.

Residential areas produce the most amount of solid wastes at 57 percent, while wastes from commercial establishments, institutional sources, and industrial or manufacturing sector accounted for 27 percent, 12 percent, and 4 percent of the total waste generated, respectively.

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“More than 15 years after the passage of [the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA No. 9003)], enforcement and compliance with the law remains a daunting task due to technical, political, and financial limitations of concerned agencies and [local government units (LGU)],” said the SEPO. “Majority of LGUs have yet to comply with the provisions of RA 9003, particularly on the establishment of local [solid waste management (SWM)] Boards, submission of SWM Plans, establishment of [materials-recovery facilities], and closure of all open and controlled dumpsites.”

RA No. 9003 prohibits the use of open dumps for solid waste disposal and enjoins the LGUs to convert their open dumps into sanitary landfill.

Moreover, in its Administrative Order No. 50-1998, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) prescribed guidelines for identifying and establishing sanitary landfills such that, among others: (a) the site should not be
located in existing or proposed residential, commercial, or urban development areas, and areas with archeological, cultural, and historical importance; (b) the site should not be located in or up gradient of shallow unconfined aquifiers for drinking water supply; (c) the site should not be located near airports; and (d) the site should not be located in soft and settling soils.

As of last year, however, the DENR’s National Solid Waste Management Commission disclosed that a total of 384 open dumps still operate nationwide except in Metro Manila.

Meanwhile, according to Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative Coordinator Ramon Lopez, LGUs continue to operate landfills within environmentally critical areas, such as the Payatas landfill in Quezon City, which is less than a kilometer away from Metro Manila’s water source, La Mesa Dam.

Individuals comprising each LGU are likewise responsible for solid waste management. In fact, Presidential Decree No. 825 (PD No. 825) enjoins all citizens and residents of the Philippines, educational institutions and commercial and industrial establishments to clean their own surroundings, as well as the canals, roads or streets in their immediate premises.

Meanwhile, owners of idle lots in Metro Manila shall keep them clean to protect them from becoming breeding places of mosquitoes, flies, mice, rats and other scavengers. Otherwise, the government shall
undertake to keep said lots clean at the owners’ expense.

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Moreover, RA No. 9003 prohibits the littering, throwing, dumping of waste matters in public places, or causing or permitting the same. Any person who commits this offense shall, upon conviction, be fined for not less than P300 but not more than P1,000, or render community service for not less than one day to not more than 15 days to an LGU where such prohibited acts are committed.

These laws may have never seen the light of day, however, with garbage ending up on streets, sewages, canals and other waterways. This phenomenon may be attributed to, among others, the absence of implementing ordinances in some LGUs, residents’ lack of participation in promoting solid waste management, and the general public’s limited awareness on waste disposal and segregation.

Department of Public Services operations division technical staff Jayson Umali was quoted in news reports as saying: “One of the major problems we encounter until now is the human and cultural behavior. We can’t clean the environment alone.”

“[W]e need the community’s participation especially barangay officials… [W]e need their full cooperation and support.”

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