Philippine city shows zero waste is achievable

Aika Rey
Philippine city shows zero waste is achievable
'We cannot avoid using plastic, but we have to manage,' says San Fernando City Mayor Edwin Santiago

PENANG, Malaysia – Is zero waste really achievable?

San Fernando City in Pampanga leads Philippine cities in eliminating residual waste, or waste that cannot be recycled or composted, in a bid to reduce plastic pollution.

In a press briefing of #ZeroWaste cities on Sunday, October 13, San Fernando City Mayor Edwin Santiago shared how his city brought residual waste to just 20% from 85%.

It started in 2013 when Santiago – a newly elected mayor then – called up barangay leaders with the help of the Mother Earth Foundation to inform them about the campaign.

Santiago shared that they established 103 materials recovery facilities in barangays, schools, and commercial establishments to require segregation at source. That saved the city about 60,000 tons of residual waste per year.

“The secret [is] the cooperation of every household and barangay, schools, and businesses. We have to inspire them – not only motivate them – but educate and inform them. And we have to enforce the law 24/7,” Santiago told reporters.

Under Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, local governments are required to have a framework for reusing, recycling, and composting wastes generated in their jurisdictions.

San Fernando City banned the use of plastics as well through an ordinance.

The way to zero waste saved the city funds that could be channeled to social services instead.

“We have to put our money [in] education and health care. That’s why we are spending about P12 million and not P70 [million for solid waste],” Santiago said.

Violators, added the mayor, would be penalized if they do not follow San Fernando City’s segregation-at-source policy. Cases can be filed against individuals, barangays, or commercial establishments.

Ways to zero waste

Monica Wilson of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) USA said there may be a long way to go in achieving zero waste, but it can be done.

In the case of San Fernando, Wilson said consumption is 4 times as high than in other countries, yet the city managed to drastically bring down residual waste.

“We have a lot of work to do in many countries in the world. We can’t just depend on individuals. We need to have systems,” Wilson said.

A 2019 GAIA report found that almost 57 million shopping bags are used throughout the Philippines every day, or roughly 20.6 billion pieces a year.

The Philippines is the 3rd biggest source of plastic leaking into seas worldwide, just behind China and Indonesia, according to a 2015 study on plastic waste.

“We cannot avoid using plastic, but we have to manage,” Santiago said. –

Rappler is building a network of climate advocates, LGUs, corporations, NGOs, youth groups, and individuals for the #ManyWaysToZeroWaste campaign, a movement pushing for responsible ways to use and reduce plastic. Go here to know how you can help.


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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at