MANILA, Philippines – The centralized system of garbage collection and disposal being implemented by the Quezon City (QC) government is throwing millions of pesos away.
QC, the Metro Manila LGU that spends the most on garbage collection and disposal, pays almost P1 billion a year to 6 private contractors in charge of picking up trash all over the city and dumping them in a sanitary landfill in Payatas, also run by private contractor IPM.
But with the strict implementation of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, the city could save at least P253 million of taxpayers’ money and use it for the city’s other needs – schools, health services, socialized housing and others.
The P253 million is the amount the city would still have if it complied with the law’s provision to divert at least 50% of its waste from ending up in the landfill. The remaining amount could be used to fund materials recovery facilities (MRF) in each barangay – another requirement of the law – and pay monthly salaries of local garbage collectors. Even after spending for all this, each barangay can save P1.78 million or a total of P253 million worth of savings for the city.
The law requires LGUs all over the country to decentralize garbage collection and disposal. Section 32 orders all LGUs to make sure all barangays under their jurisdiction have an MRF where recyclables and compostables are separated from residual garbage and are stored for recycling or composting.
Though around 40 of QC’s 142 barangays have MRFs and there are plans to build more – especially along waterways – residential garbage still all goes directly to a single MRF in the Payatas landfill.
It takes around 400 to 500 trucks to transport all the garbage generated by QC residents daily, QC Environment Protection and Waste Management Department (EPWMD) Assistant Head Andrea Po told Rappler. QC is the largest city in Metro Manila and, with its 3 million residents, the most populated.
Po said that in 2013, QC paid around P998 million to 6 contractors to deploy all these trucks.
- District 1 – LEG Hauling Services
- District 2 – ACY Corporations
- District 3 – Omni Hauling Services
- District 4 – IPM
- District 5 – 316 Metro Transport
- District 6 – Halrey
If divided equally, it means each contractor is paid roughly P166 million a year to get the job done. The city’s one-year contract with LEG Hauling Services obtained by Rappler showed the city committed to pay the Pasay-based company P148.7 million or P12.4 million a month.
Aside from going around each district and collecting garbage put out by residents, the contractors also deploy street sweepers to clean main thoroughfares and send out campaigners to teach households how to segregate, reuse and recycle. This is included in the P998 million total payment to contractors.
Benefits of decentralization
This staggering amount is what contractors stand to lose if the city decentralizes garbage management as mandated by the law.
Decentralizing means funding barangays to collect their own garbage and manage their own waste instead of sending private companies to do the work for them.
By law, the barangay should be in charge of “segregation and collection of solid waste specifically for biodegradable, compostable and reusable wastes.” The town or city is only supposed to collect non-recyclable materials and “special wastes” or hazardous wastes like paints, batteries, electronic waste, spray canisters and tires.
“It’s not being done because it only benefits the community. But if you’re a businessman going for quick profit, there’s no benefit for you because the benefits are with the landfill,” said Mother Earth Foundation President Froilan Grate who has filed suits against 15 mayors, including QC Mayor Herbert Bautista, for not implementing RA 9003.
|Local Government Unit||Solid Waste Budget|
|Taguig||No data available|
The Solid Waste Management Act is designed to the detriment of private contractors. The less garbage there is to collect, the less dump trucks are needed, the less money city hall pays the contractor.
Around 52% – more than half – of QC garbage is organic waste composed of kitchen waste (45%) and grass and wood (7%). If barangays were empowered to compost this, it would mean an automatic diversion of 52% of waste from ending up in the landfill – and from wasting millions of money just to get them there.
A program by the EPWMD to clean the city’s major waterways plans to use funding from Senator Pia Cayetano’s office to build more MRFs in villages located along the San Juan River and its tributaries.
The budget initially allotted for one MRF was P50,000 but the design proposed by the City Engineering Office cost P80,000. Because of this unexpected expense, the target number of MRFs went from 32 to 20.
If they were to stick to the plan, even with the more expensive design, the city would have had to spend only a one-time cost of P2.56 million to divert more than half of the waste generated by the villages from the landfill. Yet they are willing to spend P998 million more – close to 400 times – just to bring the waste to a landfill.
But QC is not the only one to blame for not prioritizing MRFs as it should. Out of the country’s 42,000 barangays, only 7,938 have MRFs, according to data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Model barangays implement it
Grate said that most LGUs find RA 9003 too difficult to implement. Uncooperative residents and the high cost of waste management technology are some of the major obstacles they encounter.
But model cities and barangays refute this.
Barangay Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, for example, was able to divert 80% of its waste simply by building an MRF and hiring waste collectors to visit every household, check their garbage, separate organic waste and bring it to the facility. A total of 120 trucks were required to haul their garbage every month. After the project, the village needed only 30 trucks.
This saves them P5 million a year in hauling costs, more than enough to pay for the one-time cost of an MRF and P1 million yearly for the salary of 17 waste collectors.
In San Fernando City in Pampanga, a similar project achieved 55% diversion in 6 months. They were able to bring down their 120 tons of garbage to less than 90 tons. (READ: Garbage law impossible to implement? Look at San Fernando)
How? By simply following the law and putting up one MRF per barangay. In fact, the city has 100 MRFs despite having only 35 barangays. The initiative was so effective that even schools and subdivisions built their own facilities.
Because of the system, San Fernando spends only P13 per person to manage waste. QC spends P333 per person to do the same thing.
RA 9003 requires every LGU to divert at least 50% of their garbage. Po said QC diverts 42% of its garbage through programs that promote at-source segregation (residents themselves separate bio-degradable waste from non-biodegradable).
“We have waste reduction measures in different levels: barangay, community-based segregation program, private establishments, partnerships with malls for waste markets, kitchen waste collection,” she added.
But if so, why did QC’s annual budget for waste collection and disposal increase by P78 million? A Commission on Audit report showed that in 2012, the city spent P920 million. In 2013, it spent P998 million.
Po pointed to the increasing population and the growing number of commercial developments in the city as reasons.
“But that’s assuming you collect all kinds of waste. If so, then expenses will really go up,” weighed in Grate.
“But if you really implement at-source segregation, it should drastically go down and then increase in population will only have a minimal effect. The cost won’t even reach P200 million if you implement RA 9003.”
How many schools can you build?
If QC were to divert 50% of its waste, it can potentially shave off P460 million from its annual expenses on garbage, said Grate.
Instead, the P460 million can be distributed equally to barangays for the decentralized waste management system required by law. If each of its 142 barangays were to receive a P3.2 million budget, they can use P500,000 to build a DENR-standard MRF.
Hiring 10 collectors each with a monthly salary of P8,000 would cost less than P1 million every year. Even with those expenses, the barangay would still have P1.78 million. City-wide, that’s P253 million saved and 1,420 employed barangay residents.
“How many schools can you build with P253 million?” asked Grate.
|Quezon City Decentralized Garbage Management Sample Budget|
|2012 budget from COA report||920,700,000|
|Savings||460,350,000||920.7 million / 2|
|MRF budget||500,000||(one time)|
|2,741,901||3.24 million – 500,000|
|Collectors salary||960,000||10 x 8,000 x 12 months|
|Savings per barangay||1,781,901||2.74 million – 960,000|
|Savings city-wide||253,030,000||1.78 million x 142 barangays|
The sluggish implementation of the Solid Waste Management Act by LGUs can be explained by another reason.
“Garbage is a cash cow for many LGUs, especially in Metro Manila,” said Grate. It is among a city’s biggest expenses.
Some LGUs are loathe to decentralize garbage management because doing so would channel funds away from their control.
For instance, a successful solid waste management program 6 years ago in Del Monte, Quezon City was able to divert 80% of garbage from having to end up in the landfill. Some residents told the barangay officials to stop dump trucks from entering the village because there was no garbage to pick up anymore.
But even after being told by barangay officials that they no longer had to collect trash, the dump truck operators themselves insisted on entering the village. They said they had to because they were being paid by city hall per trip.
These “ghost trips” are only the tip of the iceberg (or the garbage mound), said Von Hernandez, President of EcoWaste Coalition. There are tales of dummy private contractors set up by one private contractor giving them virtual monopoly over garbage collection and the funds that go with it. There are some LGU officials who run specifically to take over the garbage collection and award contracts to friends or relatives.
|Local Government Unit||Solid Waste Budget||Per Capita Spending|
|Taguig||(No data available)||(No data available)|
RA 9003 is harder to implement in LGUs that have had a long-standing garbage program heavily dependent on private contractors for hauling and disposing. It’s these contractors – and the government officials who get kickbacks – who stand to lose money if the system is decentralized.
QC’s garbage expenses may rise even more within the year. The Payatas landfill, operational since 2011, may no longer be usable come June 30 because of over-capacity. The site now holds more than 1.3 million tons of trash. With no other landfill identified within QC, the city may have to use a landfill outside, possibly the Rodriguez landfill in Montalban.
This could quadruple the city’s garbage spending because the city will need to spend on more trucks, more fuel, and more employees.
In total, Metro Manila LGUs spent P4 billion on garbage in 2012. That excludes how much the Metro Manila Development Authority spends on tipping fees to be able to use the landfills. All in all, Metro Manila is spending around P7 billion just to throw trash.
“It’s more scandalous than the Priority Development Assistance Fund,” decried Grate.
If LGUs don’t get serious in implementing RA 9003, more millions of pesos will go to waste as opportunity costs for communities pile up as high as the Payatas landfill. – Rappler.com