QUEZON City, and possibly other parts of Metro Manila, might soon be “constipated” with garbage due to the closure of the Payatas Sanitary Landfill (SLF). In addition to "constipation," thousands of people who rely on the landfill like scavengers and junkshops will lose their livelihood. The waste facility is a major source of livelihood of more than 5,000 individuals, including approximately 2,000 engaged in waste picking and around 3,000 in the underground economy. Waste pickers recover around 7 percent recyclables from incoming waste.

Citing numerous environmental violations and susceptibility to trash slide, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) rejected the request of the Quezon City government to allow the SLF to reopen until December this year. The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) conducted a joint inspection of the facility and came up with adverse findings. The two agencies concluded that the landfill operator, IPM Environmental Services Inc., violated existing environmental laws and their respective IRRs.

Violations include the presence of foul odor even with the use of deodorizer and the leachate from the landfill which is still flowing towards the creek without undergoing treatment. The MGB said that the landfill was "highly susceptible to trash slide" based on its geomorphological and environmental assessments. It added that the "undercutting of garbage toe increases the risk of trash slide along the slope of the garbage dump west of Gawad Kalinga Village.

The Payatas SLF used to be a huge open dumpsite. A landslide in July 10, 2000, killed 218 people living on the dumpsite and caused several missing persons. This incident fast-tracked the passage of RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. Payatas dumpsite was converted to a “controlled disposal facility” in 2004 and then closed in 2010. The Payatas “sanitary landfill,” started operations in 2011.

So where will Quezon City’s 2,970 tons (or 1,247.4 cubic meters) of trash per day go? It is being disposed to the SLF’s in Vitas in Tondo, Manila, and to Rodriguez in Rizal province for now but this is only a band-aid solution to the decade-old garbage problem. It’s just a matter of time before these facilities will be full as well.

The long term solution to the garbage problem is proper waste management, particularly 3Rs (reuse, reduce and recycle) and the composting of biodegradable waste. A quick fix, albeit an expensive one, will be waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities which are allowed by law to operate. The National Solid Waste Management Commission already came up with guidelines on the operation of WTE facilities. Environmentalists of course are not in favor of such facilities.

Now that it’s closed, the Payatas SLF is not totally useless. Gas collection pipes can be drilled to recover the methane coming from biodegradable waste. There is enough biogas to run a small power plant. The closure of Payatas SLF is a reminder to other Local Government Units that sanitary landfills are not the permanent solution to their garbage disposal problems. Kalangitan SLF in Capas, Tarlac will also reach its end-of-life. So better be prepared now or be "constipated" later.