Garbage law impossible to implement? Look at San Fernando

Pia Ranada

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The city in Pampanga is the only LGU strictly adhering to the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act

BARANGAY REQUIREMENT. A materials recovery facility is where all the community's garbage is separated so that only residual trash ends up in the landfill. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The non-compliance of almost all Philippine local government units with the 13-year-old Ecological Solid Waste Management Act has become a headache for environmentalists, citizens and city planners but one city in Pampanga goes against the tide.

San Fernando City is being hailed by environmentalists as the only city that has, so far, been able to follow the law to a tee. 

The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or Republic Act 9003 orders all LGUs to decentralize garbage collection. The barangay, the smallest unit of government, is put in charge of teaching residents to segregate, collecting their trash and separating reusable trash from residual trash – the kind of trash that no one will buy or have any use for.

Examples of these are used baby diapers, damaged textiles, broken ceramics, contaminated paper and very thin plastics. Residual waste is the only kind of garbage that can be brought by city-hired dump trucks to landfills.

The law requires each barangay to have a materials recovery facility (MRF) which is key to decentralizing waste management. An MRF is a place where all the garbage generated by the barangay is sorted into recyclables, organic waste, and non-recyclables or residual waste.

Each of San Fernando’s 35 barangays has an MRF. But the city has a total of 100 MRFs because subdivisions and schools decided to build their own. The city aims to add 100 more, said City Environment and Natural Resources Office Head Anele David.

The city devotes resources to ensuring each barangay has an MRF.

“We give P150,000 for the construction of their MRF. But we make sure the barangay receiving the assistance is really enthusiastic about implementing solid waste management. We also distributed tri-bikes and pushcarts for the barangay garbage collectors,” said David. 

MANAGING WASTE. A materials recovery facility in a private subdivision in San Fernando City was constructed using funds from the household association fees

Their achievements are a far cry from what is being done in other LGUs. In Quezon City, for example, the largest city in Metro Manila and the biggest spender in waste management, only 40 out of 142 barangays have an MRF. 

And according to Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) QC Solid Waste Officer Butch Caoyong, not even all of these MRFs are operational. 

Many LGUs, including those in Metro Manila, say RA 9003 is too difficult and costly to implement, said MMDA General Manager Corazon Jimenez. Others have a “different interpretation” of the law. While the barangays help conduct awareness campaigns and segregate the trash in major thoroughfares, all residential garbage is still collected by the city and brought to a landfill.

Best practices

Rappler visited Barangay Maimpis, the village in San Fernando that received an award for being the barangay with the best solid waste management program.

Barangay Captain Romeo Dizon shared how it was difficult at first to rock the boat in his village.

Their solid waste management program began only last August 2013 with the help of green group Mother Earth Foundation (MEF). 

Nag-meeting yung mga barangay captain kasama ng MEF. Maraming nagtaka kung magiging matagumpay yung programa. Ayaw namin. Hindi namin kaya, sabi namin. Magastos, tapos pag pinagawa mo sa mga constituents mo, parating na yung barangay elections, baka hindi kami iboboto,” said Dizon. 

(We, barangay captains, met with MEF. Many were skeptical the program would succeed. We didn’t want it. We couldn’t do it, we said. It’s expensive and if you ask your constituents to implement it – with the barangay elections coming – your constituents might not vote for you.)

At the time, residents were simply throwing their trash without segregating. Vacant lots were turned into dumpsites.

Despite this, Dizon and the Maimpis barangay council decided to take a shot at it. 

With the help of MEF, they conducted a door-to-door information campaign teaching each of the village’s 4,000 households how to separate their trash into organic waste, recyclables, and residual waste.

THE COLLECTORS. The garbage collectors of Barangay Maimpis say they are proud of the work they do and make a decent living out of it

Four garbage collectors with tri-bikes and pushcarts visit each house to pick up the trash. If it isn’t segregated, the collectors leave the trash and inform the barangay hall of the residents’ non-compliance.

The violator is called to the barangay hall where officials dialogue with them. They are then asked to sign an “Agreement Logbook” verifying they understood the program and promise to comply with it. 

Upon second warning, the violators are fined P500. Come third violation, a case is filed against them.

Benefits for the community

The garbage collectors bring all the segregated garbage to the village MRF where each kind of trash is put into its own special compartments. 

The organic waste – which makes up almost half of San Fernando’s garbage – goes into compost bins. With the help of bacteria, they turn into fertilizer used by the barangay for its garden. The fertilizer can also be sold, adding to the barangay’s income.

Recyclables like bottles, plastics, carton, metals and paper are also sold to junk shops. Paper sells at around P6 per kilogram, metal at P19 per kilogram. 

The residual waste – 10% of the barangay’s total generated garbage – is picked up by dump trucks and brought to the Metro Clark landfill. 

After a few months of implementation, the benefits were apparent.

The barangay was able to save money. From spending P700,000 a year to pay for the dump trucks and the fuel they consume, the barangay brought its garbage expenses down to P400,000, saving them P300,000.

The P400,000 goes to the maintenance of the MRF, the salary of the garbage collectors, enforcers and MRF manager.

They still pay for dump trucks to pick up the residual waste. But instead of picking garbage up every day like before, the trucks need only come twice a week and even then, they aren’t filled up.

HYGIENIC. All the organic waste (like kitchen waste) is composted with layers of soil and sawdust to keep the pit from being smelly and attracting flies

There are health benefits as well.

Maimpis used to have the highest number of dengue incidents in the city, around 30 cases a year. After the program was implemented, the number of cases dropped to two.

But one of the biggest impacts of the program was how it uplifted the community’s morale. That year, Maimpis won the Best Barangay award and 5 other special awards. 

Nung nakita ng mga ka-barangay yung mga streamer, proud sila. Sumuporta sila sa programa at binoto ulit kami, siguro para ma-continue yung programa,” said Dizon.

(When the residents saw the streamers, they felt proud. They supported the program and voted for us again, maybe because they want the program to be continued.) 

For LGUs that refuse to decentralize and depend on trucks to bring mixed garbage into congested landfills, San Fernando City and its barangays are proof that following the law brings too many benefits to ignore. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.