(Conclusion, continued from yesterday)
While the efforts of private firms like Metro Clark Waste Management Corp. to build world-class engineered landfills are to be lauded, Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act—a law crafted 20 years ago—places the onus on local government units (LGUs) for effective and efficient solid waste management in their areas.
The law specifically prohibits the use of open dumps for solid waste disposal (hence the closure of the Payatas dumpsite in Quezon City, which used to be Metro Manila’s preferred trash bin, in 2017), and enjoins the LGUs to convert their open dumps into sanitary landfills.
Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are a crucial mandate of RA 9003, as every village in every locality is required to have one for processing recyclable and biodegradable waste.
But as of 2016, the National Solid Waste Management Council reported that just one-third of the country’s 42,000 barangays had a functioning MRF serving them, with Metro Manila’s rates unclear.
The law also requires at least 25 percent of all solid wastes from waste-disposal facilities to be diverted or recovered through reuse, recycling, composting, and other resource-recovery activities.
However, the diversion rate for solid waste in Metro Manila as of 2015 is just 48 percent; outside NCR, the rate is 46 percent, according to a paper by the Senate Economic Planning Office in November 2017.
That means the other half of the solid waste LGUs should be processing in their areas is going elsewhere—and, as one Asian Development Bank officer noted in a paper in 2017, a crucial limitation to building municipal solid waste (MSW) facilities was local officials’ own “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) mentality.
“The biggest constraint to establishing proper urban waste disposal facilities in the country is refusing to accept them in your own city,” noted Aldrin B. Plaza, ADB Urban Development Officer. “It’s like saying ‘yes, we need dumpsites, but please put them somewhere else.’”
That’s another reason why waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies hold much allure to officials looking for new ways to treat and dispose of the solid waste without burning it—another no-no under RA 9003. In fact, two senators recently submitted bills to adopt WTE across the country.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who heads the Senate energy committee, filed Senate Bill 363 that seeks to provide a framework for the entire value chain of WTE facilities, and, in turn, ensure the uninterrupted supply of waste as feedstock for renewable energy (RE) generation.
Senator Francis Tolentino has also filed SB 401, which seeks to establish guidelines for the use of WTE technology to reduce solid waste and increase energy generation.
The dumpsite in Capas, incidentally, has German technology in place that would help it transition from being just a sanitary landfill to become a high-tech recycling and RE operation via WTE, said Metro Clark Waste Management president and CEO Rufo Colayco.
“Garbage is a by-product of economic prosperity. As the Philippines’ economy improves, we will only continue to produce more and more garbage. Where will all this be dumped?” he said last November.
ADB’s Plaza, however, observed that apart from NIMBY, financing and governance are other hurdles for LGUs planning to operate their own landfills. He also noted that the Philippines is the only country globally that bans incineration of solid wastes, “which eliminated a viable alternative to landfilling.”
“The investment costs and management burden of a comprehensive MSW management system are too burdensome for many cities. But the law does not cite specific enforcement actions, and many LGU officials lack management and technical competency,” Plaza added.
Unlike their peers in the countryside, Metro Manila’s mayors may not lack in experienced executives and consultants to help figure out their gargantuan garbage problem. But Navotas is still the only city in NCR with an engineered landfill in its area (operated by Phil Ecology Systems Corp. in Barangay Tanza) while it and the Rodriguez dumpsite are close to being filled.
In other words, Metro Manila, MMDA and the national government are short on time, both to avoid the continued destruction to the environment and from being engulfed in a tidal wave of trash—not unless a better alternative is set in place.