One big dump
Last week, soon after the monsoon rains stopped and floods receded, Metro Manila’s streets were once again left littered with plastic cups, PET bottles, retail packaging, styrofoam, take-out boxes, etc.
Other solid waste — including a refrigerator, a king-size bed and a sofa, according to one TV report — choked waterways and mouths of pumping stations across the metropolis, blocking water flow.
Officials often cite the indiscriminate garbage disposal practices of Filipinos as among the reasons flood prevention measures have not improved.
It is not uncommon to see people throwing their trash carelessly on the street, probably thinking that a wee piece of candy wrapper, a tiny bus ticket or cigarette butt won’t hurt the environment.
But that seemingly inconsequential piece gets washed away to join other trash until a virtual carpet of stinking, dangerous detritus is created on the waterways.
“Every day, our workers go down the drainage and waterways just to haul these garbage,” said Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Danilo Lim.
The MMDA recently conducted declogging operations in flood-prone areas. Scooping the enormous trash required heavy equipment, and the equivalent of more than 400 trucks of garbage were eventually collected.
It only took a few days, however, for the waterways to brim over with fresh trash, endangering once again the communities around it.
The civic group Eco Waste Coalition noted, in particular, that trash dumped into the Pasig River and its tributaries, and into Manila Bay, “[aggravate] the pollution of our water bodies and the oceans with waste and chemical contaminants.”
But this problem is not unique to Metro Manila; cities and towns across the country experience the same problem with recklessly thrown garbage.
Last year, the environmental group Greenpeace ranked the Philippines the “third-worst polluter” of the world’s oceans after China and Indonesia.
The country is among five Asian nations that contribute to more than half of the 8 million tons of plastic waste dumped into the oceans every year.
Greenpeace pointed to western consumer giants as exacerbating the situation by selling products packaged in cheap, disposable plastic, known as tingi or sachets, to Filipinos.
These single-use plastics were among those gathered by the group in a clean-up campaign in September 2017.
The Philippines does not, in fact, lack a solid waste management law. Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, prohibits the dumping of waste in streets, canals, esteros and other public places.
It imposes a fine from P300 to P1,000, or a penalty of one to 15 days, or both, for violators. It also bans the manufacture, distribution or use of non-environmentally acceptable packaging materials, and a fine of P500,000 for violators.
In addition to this law, many local governments have also spearheaded campaigns to replace plastic with paper bags and encourage the use of reusable bags.
But old habits die hard; people still patronize single-use plastics and dispose their trash carelessly, often treating their surroundings as their extended dumping ground.
The public may blame it on the lack of garbage bins on the streets, or the absence of proper garbage segregation and recycling facilities.
But this also reflects badly on how Filipinos are taught the value of general cleanliness outside of their homes and bodies.
Amendments to RA 9003, including making manufacturers more accountable for waste products, are pending in the Senate.
Lawmakers should consider stiffer penalties for casual offenders, while the government should ensure not only that the law is firmly implemented, but also that more public-awareness programs are done to encourage citizens to keep their part of the bargain in ensuring clean, garbage-free communities.
The Metro Manila of today simply reflects the reality of that familiar but all-too-often ignored warning a netizen posted on Twitter: “Lahat ng basura na itinapon mo, babalik din sa iyo (All the garbage you throw will return to you).”
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