It took a tragic trashslide at the once open dumpsite in Irisan barangay five years ago to jolt Baguio into seriously complying with the provisions of Republic Act 9003, or the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
A torrent of trash came crashing down on Aug. 27, 2011, claiming the lives of five innocent residents sleeping away the heavy rainfall that had been pouring on the city for several days.
Since that tragedy, the city government has tried to sustain its efforts in managing the ever-increasing volume of solid waste generated and collected from the 128 barangays of the city.
In 2006 and 2007, it became apparent that garbage woes were blowing out of proportion and efforts to contain the problem came at a steep price.
With the retaining wall at the open dumpsite damaged, the city government decided to haul out its solid wastes to landfills in Tarlac, then in Pangasinan and back to Tarlac again, which is still being used up to the present.
One thing is clear – with this system of garbage management, millions are spent annually just to haul out the city’s trash.
To be exact, the city government allocates P100 million for garbage collection and disposal, the bulk of which is spent on hauling waste to another city.
“That amount could have been utilized for other priority needs of the city if we had our own functioning integrated solid waste management facility,” admitted Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who said it is the objective of his administration to cut down on expenses for hauling of wastes.
General Services Officer Romeo Concio said the city spent P72M for hauling of city wastes to the lowlands in 2015, which is more or less P30M lower than the P100M spent for the same purpose in 2014.
In a span of four years since 2011, the city has spent an average of more than P80M for hauling of garbage to the lowlands alone.
Ever-increasing volume of garbage
While hauling of garbage to other city landfills remains the most practical and convenient way of managing the city garbage, it also happens to be the most expensive remedy of dealing with the ever-increasing volume of waste generated in the city.
From the 160 tons of daily wastes generated in recent years, the volume has now increased to 402 tons in modern-day Baguio.
Concio said from the more than 400 tons of garbage generated daily, GSO collects an average of 190 to 200 tons daily.
The city brings an average of 135 to 150 tons of garbage to landfills in the lowlands, paying P1,432 per ton of wastes shipped. When the city started to haul waste 10 years ago, the city was charged P3,400 per ton.
Garbage generation, however, increases during peak season such as the annual Baguio Flower Festival, Holy Week, and Christmas and New Year celebrations in this mountain resort.
“We also pay a relatively higher hauling fee during the rainy season because the rain adds weight to the garbage,” Concio said.
Segregation at source: An effective solution to garbage woes
Former city administrator and now Councilor Peter Fianza, who has always been deeply involved in finding solutions to the garbage problem, said that the city’s standing “No Segregation, No Collection” policy remains to be the most cost-efficient solution to the problem.
“If the volume of generated wastes in the barangays has been reduced due to the partial implementation of the policy, then we need to strengthen it until the current volume of wastes generated in the barangay level is further reduced every three to five years,” Fianza said.
The councilor said reducing the volume of waste at source is part of the three basic components of waste management which are the three Rs, which stand for Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Sec. 21 of RA 9003 states that segregation of wastes shall primarily be conducted at the source, to include household, institutional, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sources.
“We can likewise reduce waste generation if residents and establishments mutually cooperate by avoiding too much plastic use and even the use of Styrofoam as food packs. So, we laud establishments that use paper bags and encourage their customers to bring their own eco bags,” Fianza said.
The councilor likewise said that Baguio, being the mother LGU of 128 barangays, should come out with a plan on how to reduce waste generation every five years until the volume of waste collected from these barangays has been greatly reduced.
Sec. 20 of RA 9003 also states that each LGU should set a target or schedule to reduce or divert at least 25 percent of all solid wastes from waste disposal facilities through reuse, recycling, and composting activities and other resource recovery activities.
The same provision mandates LGUs to increase every three years the volume of waste that should not be brought to any dump facility because of an effective reuse, recycling, and composting activities.
Setting up of material recovery facilities in the barangay or cluster of barangays is one of the components for the reduction of waste being collected for disposal in a landfill.
Lone MRF in Baguio
Sadly, only one MRF, established during the term of former President Gloria Arroyo more than seven years ago, is functioning, catering to the cluster of barangays Lualhati, Gibraltar, Mines View, and Pacdal.
Other barangays, through the initiative of their local officials, have also introduced some waste reduction methods but were not sustained because of certain issues, such as the garbage not properly contained. There have also been some complaints of foul odor emanating from the waste recycling sites.
The MRF at Lualhati barangay is the only successful facility among the supposed three major MRF sites for Baguio as earlier envisioned by Arroyo during her presidency.
In 2009, Arroyo directed the Philippine Military Academy and John Hay Management Corp. to assist Baguio in solving its garbage problems by setting aside portions of their reservations for MRFs. So far, no MRF that caters to concerned barangays has been established in these reservations.
With some of these basic solutions seeming to fail, Baguio officials are confident the recently approved 10-year Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan for Baguio as approved by the National Solid Waste Management Commission late 2015 will improve the situation.
The 10-year ISWMP of Baguio
Of late, members of the city council are questioning the executive branch as to why the 10-year ISWMP was approved by the NSWC without first being reviewed and endorsed to the legislative branch.
But out of 75 towns and two cities in six provinces in the Cordillera, only Baguio and the town of Tineg, Abra have a 10-year ISWMP approved by the NSWC. The ISWMPs of the rest of the eight other towns in Abra have been approved conditionally by the same agency.
To be fair with the city government, it is among the few LGUs, including the capital town of La Trinidad, Benguet, that is strictly complying with RA 9003.
Other LGUs in Cordillera still violate RA 9003 with at least 13 open dumps being utilized, while most LGUs have resorted to constructing MRFs to save on cost.
Notwithstanding the disagreement, the 10-year ISWMP as envisioned by the City Solid Waste Management Board aims to establish a six-cycle waste management and disposal system on a 50-hectare city-owned lot in Barangay Sto. Tomas-Apugan.
To be set are centralized machine-operated MRFs, a waste-to-energy facility, an engineered sanitary landfill, an anaerobic digester, and medical waste facility and the transfer of the environmental recycling machines from Irisan where it is currently operating.
The implementation of the 10-year ISWMP at Sto. Tomas Apugan, if pushed through, will again entail huge resources, as the city will have to spend at least P200M for site development alone. This includes widening of the road leading to the site.
The Land Management Services of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera has declared the site for the ISWMP as feasible following a series of site inspections.
But social acceptability of the project among residents – either with legitimate or illegitimate land claims – remains a major stumbling block.
The residents in their opposition have cited various reasons, including fear of water and air pollution and possible trash leak or seepage during strong rains or typhoons, while others feared possible displacement. Baguio officials, in a series of previous reports in the tri-media, have addressed these concerns.
Providing incentives to the barangays
While the long-term solutions to waste management remain on the drawing board, encouraging and providing incentives to barangays with high compliance to the “No Segregation, No Collection” policy will help the city address the mammoth of problems on solid waste management.
Giving recognition to barangays alone will not simply encourage them but giving incentives in a form of fund assistance or provision of soft and hard infrastructure projects will.
Under the policy, residents must segregate their wastes into two types as follows:
Biodegradable or compostable wastes include food waste, fruit and vegetable peelings, vegetable trimmings, leaves without twigs, toilet wipes, garden wastes, cigarette butts, fish entrails, egg shells, fish shells/scales, spoiled food leftovers, seeds, wet paper and newspapers and tissues, wet carton/cardboards, expired bakery products, chipped branches, sawdust, “kusot”, poultry and livestock manure, pet manure, corn cobs and sheaths, spoiled animal entrails, rice hulls, peanut shells, animal carcasses, coconut shells and husks, garden/grass clippings, and other similar materials.
Biodegradable waste should be drained and dried and must be stored in plastic bags properly tied and stored in dry and covered containers.
Non-biodegradable waste refers to clean and dry paper products, cardboards/cartons, cellophane, tin can, scrap metals, Styropors, glass containers, bottles, aluminum materials, plastic materials including sando bags, Monobloc materials, plastic bottles, old shoes, baby wipes, diapers, sanitary napkins, rugs, textile/old clothes, old tires, broken household appliances and other similar materials.
Non-biodegradables must be placed in durable containers like plastic sacks and if possible pressed or tied to lessen the volume.
Both types of wastes must be brought out only during collection schedule and must never be mixed.
A long-term concern
The seriousness of the solid waste management problem in Baguio and the rest of the Cordillera was the main focus of the 1st Cordillera Environment Summit held in the city in July.
No other than DENR Sec. Gina Lopez through ASec. Juan Miguel Cuña warned every LGU that the Environment Management Bureau has been conducting investigation and inspection on violations of RA 9003 by LGUs, such as operation of open dumpsites and mismanagement of MRFs. Elected officials of LGUs found to have violated the law are now charged before the Ombudsman.
Committed in its mandate to implement the law, the DENR has filed cases against 55 LGUs and officials nationwide for violation of key provisions of RA 9003 such as non-submission of their 10-year ISWMP and continued operation of open dumps.
The 10-year ISWMP of Baguio, if implemented as planned, will save the city from huge expenses from hauling of wastes, according to Domogan, as he recalled that the city was left with no option but to continue shipping its waste to the lowlands when the NSWMC did not act on the first 10-year ISWMP submitted by the city in 2007.
“Had that plan been approved in 2007, we could have saved that amount spent,” Domogan said.
Now, if Baguio wants to cut down on its huge expenses for hauling its wastes, city officials must strike the balance between promoting their political agenda and the welfare of the city and the public that has long-suffered from environmental and garbage woes.
Meantime, the best solution yet to Baguio’s garbage woes is the strict implementation of the “No Segregation, No Collection” policy. (This special report was published in the Baguio Day supplement of the Courier on Aug. 28, 2016.)