“Solving the Philippine Garbage Crisis”
Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 3:00 PM
Session Hall, Senate of the Philippines
Delivered by the Honorable Win Gatchalian, Senator of the Republic:
Mr. President, respected colleagues, good afternoon.
Mr. President, I take the floor today to bring to the attention of this esteemed body an issue that has been on my radar since the beginning of my political career: Garbage. Basura.
When I ran for mayor of Valenzuela City for the first-time way back in 2004, one of the key points of my platform of governance was to address the city’s worsening garbage problem. Unfortunately, what was once just considered a problem that needed to be addressed at the local level has grown into a national crisis that requires immediate concerted action from the government and civil society. To cut to the chase, Mr. President, the Philippines is facing a garbage crisis — and we need to act now before it is too late.
Truth be told, Mr. President, the garbage crisis we are facing today has been driven in large part by the happy development of two strong decades of steady economic growth, as well as rapid population growth. After posting a negative gross domestic product growth rate in 1998, the Philippine GDP grew annually over a span of twenty straight years between 1999 and 2019, at a brisk average rate of 5.36%. During that same period, the population of the Philippines grew from 75.33 million as recorded in the 2000 census to an estimated 108 million in 2019, with an annual average growth rate or AAGR of 1.78%. This is the second-fastest population AAGR in ASEAN during those two decades, second only to Singapore’s 1.8%.
All these have led to an increase in industry and consumer demand for raw inputs and finished goods. In very layman terms, we are using a lot more stuff today than we did twenty years ago. A natural consequence of this is that we are also producing a lot more waste than we did before.
Using the 2015 waste generation data of the National Solid Waste Management Commission, we project that from 14.66 million metric tons of waste produced in 2014, we will produce 16.63 million metric tons in 2020 — a 13.44% increase. By way of comparison, the Philippines generates the third-most solid waste per annum among ASEAN countries based on 2018 data. Only Thailand and Indonesia produce more.
To make the data more relatable, Mr. President, let us discuss what these numbers mean at the micro level. This year, the average Filipino produces 0.414 kilograms of solid waste every day. That doesn’t sound like too much, right? Well, by December 31, 2020 the accumulated daily solid waste produced by each Filipino will amount to 150 kilograms. That means that the average Filipino adult produces between two to three times their own body weight in trash over the course of a single year.
We project that by 2030 each Filipino will be producing five additional kilograms of solid waste per year. The result of this will be an overall increase of annual solid waste production or a total of 20.51 million metric tons by 2030. This is a 39.90% increase compared to the 2014 numbers.
Now, I am sure we are all in agreement that this is a lot of garbage. But exactly how much is it? Well, Mr. President, allow me to put the sheer magnitude of our national garbage production in more tangible terms.
The 16.6 million metric tons of solid waste we are expected to produce by the end of this year is equivalent to 58.2 million cubic meters. That is enough trash to fill 23,279 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That is enough garbage to fill 99 entire Philippine Arenas, from the ground all the way to the top of the dome. If we continue down this current path of waste generation, the amount of solid waste we are projected to produce in 2030 is enough to fill an additional 5,435 Olympic-sized swimming pools or another 24 Philippine Arenas!
Mr. President, we should note at this point that municipal solid waste is a broad term that covers different types of garbage. In terms of waste composition, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or DENR’s 2014 data states that 52% of municipal solid waste in the Philippines is biodegradable such as food scraps, kitchen waste, and garden waste; 28% is recyclable such as certain plastics, paper, metals, glass, textiles, leather, and rubber; 2% is special waste such as paints, thinners, batteries, oil, and consumer electronics; and 18% is residual waste such as sanitary napkins, disposable diapers, contaminated paper, and candy wrappers.
The proper management of these wastes has been enshrined in Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. The law provides a clear policy framework for solid waste management in the Philippines, with a strong emphasis on LGU empowerment. Unfortunately, 20 years after its enactment, the law is yet to be fully realized. We have identified three areas of concern when it comes to the implementation of RA 9003.
The first area of concern is the lack of segregation. Different components of solid waste need to be segregated for the purposes of composting, recycling, or final disposal. However, during the January 28, 2020 hearing of the Committee on Energy, the DENR mentioned that only 30% of barangays actually segregate their collected waste properly. This implies the mismanagement of solid waste produced by as many as 77 million Filipinos throughout the course of their day-to-day lives.
The lack of waste segregation is also likely caused in large part by the second area of concern: lack of Materials Recovery Facility or MRF. RA 9003 provides that every barangay or cluster of barangays should have its own MRF. The MRF is where LGUs are supposed to receive, segregate, process, and even store waste. Essentially, MRFs play a critical role in ensuring that different types of waste are properly disposed of.
Unfortunately, as of 2014 only 31% of barangays had access to MRFs. This means that only 3 out of 10 Filipino families live in barangays with proper waste segregation facilities. This is a problem because without MRFs, the waste collected by LGUs may not be segregated properly. Thus, many materials which could have been recycled or composted will just be dumped instead. Based on my experience in Valenzuela City, this is an especially troublesome problem in urban barangays where MRFs were not built due to lack of land space.
The third area of concern, and perhaps the most troubling one, is the country’s lack of sanitary landfills. RA 9003 provides that all residual waste must be disposed of in sanitary landfills. Sanitary landfills are specifically designed, constructed, and operated to minimize environmental and health hazards posed by the dumping of this waste. Open dumps — where garbage is indiscriminately disposed of without any environmental and health protections — are strictly prohibited .
Sadly, Mr. President, illegal open dumpsites in the Philippines outnumber sanitary landfills by a ratio of 2.5 to 1. DENR data show that there were 164 sanitary landfills as of 2018 but 404 illegal open dumpsites. What’s more, DENR records for the same year show that only 22% of the 1,634 cities and municipalities nationwide can be accommodated by these sanitary landfills. This implies that three out of every four cities and municipalities have nowhere to properly dispose of their residual waste.
Even if the number of sanitary landfills increases to 662 in 2025 as projected, DENR estimates that this can only properly dispose roughly 40% of LGU waste generated that year.
Unless the capacity of waste that ends up in sanitary landfills is reduced and the number of solid waste management treatment facilities are increased, the remaining 60% of municipal solid waste will end up in our drainage system, streets, forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, seas, and oceans. This will contaminate our water and our air. It will also make large stretches of land unusable for any other purpose after being used as a sanitary landfill, or worse as an illegal dumpsite.
This accumulation of waste poses significant danger not just to the environment, but to public health as well. A 2016 study by Ziraba et. al. noted that exposure to solid waste is not limited to those who come into direct contact with it while working or living in landfills or dumps. People who live in communities which host solid waste dumps are also at risk of suffering from several forms of cancer; respiratory symptoms; irritation of the skin, nose, and eyes; gastrointestinal problems; fatigue; headache; psychological disorders; and allergies. Another study by Porta et. al found that babies born in communities within 2 kilometers of a landfill or illegal dump were also found to be more likely to suffer from congenital defects or low birth weight.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, the risk to public health and the environment does not stop there. We must also contend with the far-reaching consequences of leachate at waste disposal sites. According to Norsa’adah et. al., leachate is produced when water filters down through a landfill or dump site and picks up dissolved materials from the decomposing waste. This filthy water can contaminate both groundwater and surface water, and eventually pollute the food chain with heavy metals and other toxic substances. The adverse health risks would affect not only to those living at or near the waste disposal site — it would also affect the health of anyone who has contact with the contaminated water or food chain.
The same study found that residents living near the Sabak dumpsite in Malaysia have a significantly higher risk of sore throat, diabetes, and hypertension. The negative health effects are true for other jurisdictions as well. In South Africa, residents near a landfill frequently reported influenza-like illness, eye irritation, and body weakness compared to those living farther from the site. While in Helsinki, Finland people in a former landfill area were 1.63 times more likely to have asthma compared to people living outside. Detrimental health repercussions were also recorded for people living near landfills in South Wales, United Kingdom and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Mr. President, it is clear that the implications of the garbage crisis are simply too grave for us to sit back and do nothing. We must take action now to the end the garbage crisis before it degrades the environment and poisons the bodies of future generations of Filipinos.
The most immediate action we can take, Mr. President, is to urgently and strictly implement the 5Rs of the Waste Hierarchy:
REFUSE generating waste.
REDUCE the amount of waste produced.
RECYCLE waste materials.
RECOVER other uses for residual garbage.
Implementing the 5Rs requires fostering a new culture of conservation and sustainability within our households and communities. Mr. President, I humbly call on the Senate to lead the charge in this cultural shift by crafting and implementing guidelines to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle right here in the Senate. I am confident that implementing simple policies such as discouraging the use of disposable masks by non-medical personnel, encouraging the use of refillable water bottles and washable food containers, and transitioning towards a paperless work ecosystem in the Senate would make an impact and set a good example for others to adopt the 5R culture.
Nevertheless Mr. President, even if everyone practices the first 4 Rs, this garbage crisis will not be solved without the fifth and most difficult R: how to Recover serviceable material from residual waste.
Mr. President, one of the solutions to dealing with the residual waste conundrum is to diversify the types of solid waste management treatment facilities in the Philippines to include waste-to-energy facilities. These facilities have a dual function of producing additional energy and minimizing the volume of waste for final disposal.
This is a topic the Senate Energy Committee has studied closely as it addresses stability and sustainability, two principles which have guided my leadership as the Chair of the Committee. I am excited to report on this more in greater detail in the near future, specifically how energy technologies can help the country’s waste problem.
Just to reiterate, Mr. President: the Philippines is facing a garbage crisis that threatens to do irreversible damage to ecosystems across the country and human lives.
We, together with other agencies and instrumentalities from the national government, LGUs, and civil society should practice, inform, and educate our fellow Filipinos on how to effectively implement the 5Rs.
There is still hope for us to solve the Philippine garbage crisis, Mr. President. However, time is running out. We need to act now.