Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talking Trash: Lessons Learned from the Philippines

In one of the most populous countries in the world, solid waste over the past thirty years, has remained the most visible, and silently dangerous, environmental problem in the country.

In July 2000, tragedy struck the community of Payatas in Quezon City. Hundreds died, buried alive underneath filth, as mountains of garbage collapsed due to heavy downpour. To date this is one of the worst human-made disasters to ever hit the Philippines. This tragedy served as a wake up call to the rest of the country that proper waste management is crucial to everyone’s livelihood. 

The country’s garbage problem has a lot to do with lifestyle. With a rapidly growing population, an estimated 92,226,600 in 2009, that is heavily dependent on single use purchases and disposable this and that every individual must be responsible for the wastes he or she generates. 

Luckily, in the Philippine solid waste composition is generally highly-organic (biodegradable) and recyclable, with 50 percent of the wastes made up of yard, wood, and kitchen wastes. The high percentage of biodegradables is an indication of the great potential of composting as a means to recover this type of waste, especially those coming from agricultural zones. Moreover, potentials for recycling are good considering that the remaining wastes are made up of recyclable materials.

What is most needed now is a shift in behaviour. The big obstacle is getting people to view their trash as a resource and not just something to be thrown out the window. The government in the Philippines has already made trash a priority regulating the closure of all open dumpsites and encouraging more municipalities to establish their own sanitary landfills or eco-parks. However, the real progress begins when municipalities and communities move beyond simply collecting and segregating their waste but into turning their waste into a resource.

My hope over the next two years is that I can take some of the lessons learned in the Philippines and incorporate them into the Solid Waste Management Planning here in Ende. There are still many hurdles standing in the way such as financing, education, technical expertise and that big elephant in the room, Language. 

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