Learn from Baguio City “Garbageslide,” LGUs told

The collapse of Baguio City’s monstrous garbage repository that killed at least five people prompted the EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watchdog, to press anew for effective closure and rehabilitation of dumpsites nationwide.

Last Saturday, the retaining wall of the Irisan dumpsite gave way at the height of typhoon “Mina,” killing siblings Apolinario, Franco and Reviller Flores and Gefonie and Noemi Cael.

“The crumbling of the Irisan dumpsite evoked memories of the Payatas tragedy on July 10, 2000 when a mountain of trash tumbled, burying a community and killing over 300 people,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“As families grieve over their tragic losses and as the city government removes truckloads of garbage off the road, we urge LGUs to learn from this latest garbage disaster and ensure it does not happen again,” he added.

“As we all know, simply erecting a fence or wall around the dumpsite is not enough,” he noted.

Systematic rehabilitation of decommissioned dumpsites is required to reduce the continuing biological, chemical and physical threats from these disposal facilities, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized.

“We therefore urge concerned LGUs to carry out robust dumpsite closure and rehabilitation plans that will ensure public health and safety, especially during fierce weather disturbances,” Alvarez stated.

“As an immediate step, the Environmental Management Bureau and the LGUs should conduct honest-to-goodness compliance checks for all disposal facilities to determine if basic safety requirements are adhered to,” he added.

“Such compliance checks must involve all stakeholders, including representatives from host communities and from environmental health organizations,” he added.

The EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace had previously asked the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) through former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to adopt “best practice” in dumpsite closure and rehabilitation.

The “best practice” for dumpsite closure and rehabilitation, the groups pointed out, includes: public disclosure of closing and rehabilitation plans; formation and empowerment of a multipartite monitoring team per dumpsite with strong representation from the concerned stakeholders at the start of the process; a historical assessment of the dumpsite/waste disposal facility to get a better understanding of the nature of wastes in the dump and determine appropriate measures to deal with the closure and rehabilitation properly; as well as the establishment of leachate collection systems.

Closure and rehabilitation plans, the EcoWaste Coalition stressed, should adequately address the needs of dumpsite waste pickers and their families, ensuring that they are provided with humane homes and livelihoods.

To eliminate dependence on costly garbage disposal facilities, the EcoWaste Coalition also asked LGUs to effectively implement community-driven, inclusive Zero Waste resource management, including discards separation at source, reusing, recycling, and composting.

“Zero Waste will significantly help in reducing the volume and toxicity of garbage and divert reusable, recyclable and compostable materials away from dumpsites, landfills and incinerators,” Alvarez said.

There are 790 open and 382 controlled dumpsites all over the country, according to the NSWMC website.

Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, stipulates the closure of open and controlled dumpsites by February 16, 2004 and February 16, 2006, respectively.

Among other requirements, RA 9003 directs the establishment of materials recovery facilities (MRFs), also known as ecology centers, in every barangay or cluster of barangays to promote and support waste prevention and reduction at grassroots level.