Garbage crisis: Possible solutions

(Part 2, continued from last week)

For Metro Manila to defuse its ticking time bomb of garbage, several things need to happen―more sanitary landfills need to be built, more recycling centers need to be operated, environmental laws must be enforced to the letter, and political systems running the business of trash have to change or improve.

The first point is perhaps the most crucial, as sanitary or engineered landfills are the modern world’s basic waste disposal system, never mind the open dump sites and bodies of water that trash often end up in.

On numbers alone, if the country’s current ratio of sanitary landfills (186) to the local government units (407) they serve is extrapolated, the National Capital Region’s 16 cities and one town need at least seven such landfills―not just the two they are currently using in Navotas City and Rodriguez, Rizal.

They keep using these facilities (or may have no other recourse but to do so) in part because the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority pays for the “tipping fees"―the amount the government pays a landfill owner for the right to dump trash in its facility. LGUs typically would pay out of their own pockets.

As of 2019, the tipping fee rate was P600 a ton of trash―or a whopping P7.2 million a day from the MMDA if Metro Manila’s 12,000 tons of daily refuse were to be dumped in just one landfill.

But setting aside the billion-peso financial aspect of garbage, building more landfills and operating them more efficiently is a solution Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu endorsed in an event last January.

He said accessible and affordable sanitary landfills must be established to allow more LGUs to have their own solid waste management facility, noting that building and maintaining a sanitary landfill “can be costly and somewhat complicated.”

“Make the establishment and operation of a sanitary landfill simpler and less costly without sacrificing the main objective of proper garbage disposal, which is to prevent leachate from going to waterways,” Cimatu said.

The former Armed Forces chief of staff proposed that neighboring towns or cities should band together and pool their resources to establish a common sanitary landfill.

If they need funds, Cimatu said, LGUs could avail themselves of government loans, particularly the one being offered by the Development Bank of the Philippines under its green financing program.

“LGUs can come up with a scheme to pay back the loan, such as through collection of tipping fees,” Cimatu said.

Then again, the cost that would entail an environment-friendly and engineered landfill is not cheap and would take time to build, not to mention the limited space of areas that is not too far from Metro Manila and other key urban centers, particularly in the fringe areas of Northern and Southern Luzon.

Unless the LGUs put up their landfill sites and facilities that are just similar to the existing and traditional landfills in Navotas and Rizal province, that would eventually end up as not that  “environmentally safe,” an exercise in futility.

Not to mention the fact that LGUs will fall short in maintaining the proposed landfills, as local politicians have to run for re-election every three years with a maximum three-year term, or nine years.

Experts believe that to build a sanitary landfill is the easy part―but maintaining it is entirely a different story. They say it will always be best for LGUs to just dispose their municipal wastes in a privately-operated landfill facility rather than investing tons of money and venture into the operations and maintenance of such facilities.

One landfill shouldn’t just serve two or three LGUs for that matter, as the ideal NCR ratio would indicate.

Metro Manila’s mayors only need to look north to Capas in Tarlac, where the sanitary landfill operated by Metro Clark Waste Management Corp. is serving over 100 local governments in Central and Northern Luzon, including the Clark and Subic free port zones.

In operation since 2002, Metro Clark currently handles 3,000 tons of waste per day―about a fourth of Metro Manila’s trash output―including garbage from the cities of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, Angeles in Pampanga and Tarlac City.

It even takes in refuse from Baguio City and towns as far north as Pangasinan and La Union, as the company is poised to handle more trash with the growth of New Clark City.

Topics: garbage , Metropolitan Manila Development Authority , Roy Cimatu
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