Garbage in paradise: The price of Panglao’s rise as tourist destination

Leilani Chavez
Garbage in paradise: The price of Panglao’s rise as tourist destination
Panglao, often promoted as an alternative to world-famous Boracay, has a long history of neglecting solid waste

Part 2 of a series

Part 1: Panglao: Riding the tourism cash cow

BOHOL, Philippines – Early on a Saturday, Jam Ungab leads a pack of volunteers from Plastic Free Bohol to pick up renegade trash along Libaong White Beach, a 3-kilometer stretch of white sand on the island of Panglao, Bohol.

Locals say this stretch could rival Boracay – it depends really on who you ask.

For they say the same of the other beaches on the island: a tricycle driver would point to Dumaluan Beach, a local favorite that’s connected to Libaong Beach; a local official would claim the best are the undeveloped stretches of Doljo and Danao, both overlooking the bay and the flat reef; tourists say the vibe is closer at the famous Alona Beach that has been beckoning to tourists as early as the 1980s.

Panglao boasts of 555 hectares of shoreline and 5 major beaches. But all these stretches have one thing in common: they are peppered with trash.

The 3-hour clean-up drive in Libaong alone produced 30 sacks of garbage – mostly recyclables and residuals. In September 2017, the movement collected 1,504.78 pounds during a morning clean-up on the same beach stretch.

“It’s really getting worse. Every month, we keep on picking up more and more trash. Every time we return to the same area, the garbage increased,” Jam lamented.  

Plastic Free Bohol is a movement that raises awareness about plastic pollution in Bohol. It was an organization borne out of frustration that tourism is triggering the rise of unmanaged garbage that ends up on the coastlines, explained Jam. 


Jam said she has noticed this trend in other beaches in the country, even in areas without houses and establishments. But for Jam, Bohol is home. So when she returned in 2015, she started the movement to give the beaches some badly needed cleaning.

Recently, the focus of the movement was Panglao Island where tourists flock. The presence of the group, however, was not enough to limit waste on the beaches.

Collected Trash from Panglao Beaches (in pounds)
Beach  2017 2018
Alona 808.48
Danao 755.10 2,126.93
Doljo 860.14 3,494.18
Libaong 1,504.78 819.85
TOTAL 3,120.02 7,249.44

Source: Plastic Free Bohol 

Alona Beach in Barangay Tawala, where majority of the establishments in Panglao are clustered, is considered the “most touristy” part of the island, and Panglao, the most visited area in Bohol.

But even on Alona Beach, trash litters the beachfronts.

“We expect that there will be a small volume of garbage in Alona because there are numerous establishments there,” Jam said. “They should be initiating efforts to keep the area clean, but there’s still a lot of trash!” 

Sources of waste

Panglao has a long history of neglecting solid waste.

The island’s garbage problem has been widely reported since 2003, both by the local media and locals posting photos on social media.

In 2015, Panglao came up with a 10-Year Solid Waste Management Plan with support from the Solid Waste Management Commission of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The plan is a requirement under the 2001 Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or Republic Act 9003.

In 2013, the main source of trash was the households. An estimated 69% of disposed waste come from the 6,141 households, while a small 30% are generated by tourism establishments, like resorts, dive shops, and food establishments.

This wasn’t surprising since Panglao was receiving its standard number of tourist arrivals at the time: 146,725. Also, Barangay Tawala, which covers Alona Beach, had only 70 establishments so businesses were not driving the rise in waste volumes.

These households were producing more recyclable and residual waste. Recyclable waste is the biggest with 36%, followed by biodegradables at 35%, residuals at 26%, and special waste at 5%.

Expectation vs reality

But the situation has gotten out of hand since. Now Panglao has more than 700,000 tourists and more than 600 establishments.

According to Manuel Fudolin of the municipal solid waste management office, the garbage volume  increased after the tourists started coming in 2014.

“Compared to our regular volume, the waste that we get now increased significantly. Before, garbage was tolerable and could be managed. Now, it’s hard to manage. That’s based on our observation,” he said.

Data from the Alburqueque Sanitary Cluster Landfill (ASCLF) show that Panglao dumped a total of 61.360 tons of residual waste from April to December 2017 – the biggest compared to the 12 other municipalities the ASCLF caters to.

Panglao’s biggest one-time daily disposal is around 23.680 tons. The landfill accepts and records only residuals.

The municipality estimated that by 2017, total waste would reach 14,147.43 kilograms or 15.6 tons per day. The plan conservatively estimated that Panglao’s annual economic growth rate would be at a meager 1% and population growth at 2.4% as bases for the projections.

But comparing it to actual waste disposed at the landfill, the projection is plausible – but only for residuals.

In reality, the municipality generates more waste than it can manage. And these were either disposed through household backyard composting, sold to the recyclable plant in Cebu, or, worse, thrown in the beaches.

Despite the surge, the municipality has not kept track of actual waste generated by both households and non-households to update the solid waste management plan. This makes it hard to gauge whether interventions suffice in controlling the garbage problem that hounds its beaches.

CLEAN-UP. Children often volunteer with Plastic Free Bohol in picking up trash along the coastlines of Bohol. Photo by Ben McCormack

‘Everything is allowed’

After looking at Panglao’s policies that affect tourists, we found out that there are only two that directly relate to waste: the ban on broken glasses in public and the anti-loitering policy. The municipality has a plastic bag ban that has yet to be implemented.

The policies, however, do not translate fully on the ground, especially with the quick turnover of tourists during peak seasons.

For independent tour guide Mai, who has been roaming the beaches of Panglao on a daily basis for the last 3 years, the garbage problem can be traced to the lack of cleanliness programs.

“I don’t notice that there’s any program to clean Panglao,” she said. “Smoking is allowed in the beaches so smokers just leave the cigarette butts everywhere.” She noted that these had become a common sight on Alona Beach.

There is also no standard training for tour guides and agents to brief tourists on how to handle the waste, especially mineral bottles they bring for island-hopping and animal interaction activities during the tours.

“Tourists, especially the Pinoys, have no discipline,” Mai said. “They just leave everything behind. They should bring a plastic bag, compile their trash, then throw it when they see a trash can.”

When asked if she orients tourists about proper trash disposal, Mai laughed, shaking her head. “No, I don’t.” –

To be continued: Part 3 | New system for old problems: Panglao’s struggle with solid waste

This story is part of a series on tourism and waste management in the Philippines, and was supported by the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN).

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