Why PH is world’s 3rd biggest dumper of plastics in the ocean

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has among the highest trash collection rates in Southeast Asia yet it's the world's 3rd biggest source of plastic leaking into the ocean.

A new report on plastic pollution by international group Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment looks into this alarming discrepancy.

The study, released to media on October 1, looked at 5 of the world’s biggest contributors of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Read the entire report here:

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China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam contribute over half of all plastics that end up in the seas, according to the study. (INFOGRAPHIC: Plastic in our seas: Why you should care)

What do these 5 countries have in common? They are all benefiting from economic growth, reduced poverty, and improved quality of life.

But this new-found economic power has led to “exploding demand for consumer products that has not yet been met with a commensurate waste-management infrastructure,” reads the report.

The Philippines was ranked the 3rd top source of plastic leaking into oceans in a February 2015 study. The country generates 2.7 million metric tons of plastic garbage each year, 20% or 521,000 tons of which ends up in the ocean.

Yet the country reported one of the highest garbage collection rates in the region – with a national average of 85% and nearly 90% in some dense urban areas.

So why the discrepancy?

Irresponsible trash haulers

The study found that 74% of the plastics leaking into the ocean from the Philippines comes from garbage that has already been collected by haulers and garbage trucks. This amounts to 386,000 tons of plastic trash.

Only 26% or 135,000 tons of plastics in seas actually comes from garbage that is not collected. 

The study attributed the leakage of collected garbage to two factors: illegal dumping by garbage-hauling companies, and open dump sites located near waterways.

Based on interviews with local government officials and environmental groups, the study found that waste leakage in the Philippines often happens while the garbage is transported from the collection site (households, village material recovery facilities) to the dump sites.

Some private garbage hauling companies unload their trucks on their way to disposal sites in order to cut costs. (READ: Metro Manila spent P4.2B to get rid of 2013 garbage)

“Waste is usually dumped at the roadside, at informal deposit sites, or directly into waterways in locations where it is convenient to do so,” reads the report.

This saves the haulers time and money. The reduced garbage load can even reduce fuel consumption. 

Open dump sites

The second major source of leaked garbage after collection are open dump sites which are typically near waterways.

The fact that the Philippines is an archipelagic country and with an elaborate network of rivers does not help matters, says the study.

The study specifically names as an example the open dump of Dagupan City in Pangasinan which is located right on the coastline.

The decision by local governments to put dump sites near waterways is often due to financial considerations.

“Land adjacent to rivers tends to be cheaper than in other parts of the country, and waste will intermittently be carried away by heavy rains or currents, refreshing the capacity of the dump site to receive more waste,” reads the study.

Open dump sites are illegal in the country under the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. But there are still around 600 of them in the country. Sanitary landfills, the only type of disposal site allowed by the law, number only around 70.

Sanitary landfills are a type of disposal site in which garbage is isolated from the environment, usually by being buried in a large hole lined with thick plastic or a layer of clay. It also often involves a network of pipes to prevent liquids generated by the garbage from leaking into the ground.

But sanitary landfills are costly to construct. Local governments in the Philippines often lack either political will or the budget to construct such facilities.

“Waste management is technical and very expensive. We have no land, no money, and a sanitary landfill is hard to run,” Dagupan City mayor Belen Fernandez to Rappler.

The National Solid Waste Management Commission, the agency tasked with overseeing waste management in the country, also lacks funding.

“All we can do is remind all mayors to close open dump sites. Then if they don’t comply, we tell the Ombudsman,”  said the agency’s executive director, Eli Ildefonso.

Plugging the leaks

So how can the Philippines plug these two sources of plastic leaks?

To fix the first problem, illegal dumping by waste haulers, the Philippines should first make the process of procuring garbage hauling services more transparent.

In many cases, contracts are distributed at the sole discretion of local government officials, leaving room for corruption. 

A more transparent procurement process “fosters competition between bidders and is based upon clearly laid-out performance criteria.”

Such a system should penalize illegal practices by the haulers through dumping fines or even cancellation of contracts. The haulers can be monitored carefully through GPS tracking of garbage trucks to ensure the trucks complete their designated route with their full load of waste. 

To reduce leaks from open dump sites, the study still recommends full closure or physical sealing of open dump sites near waterways and the establishment of more sanitary landfills. 

But given the cost and difficulty posed by these solutions, the study also suggests simpler, faster and cheaper solutions for the short term.

These include creating a perimeter around the dump and its access road to help limit the size of the dump. The perimeter can be made of old tired, concrete rubble, or even discarded appliances.

Using a bulldozer, excavator, or front-end loader, garbage can also be compacted and periodically covered with soil to form layers that will not easily escape into waterways.

Such equipment, along with one or more dump trucks, basic fencing, and a small guard house or office can be procured for $300,000 to 500,000 (P14 million to 23 million) per dump site, depending on the size of the dump.

Just addressing the two major sources of plastic leaks could reduce the country’s total leakage by 26%. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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