REPUBLIC Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, is now 20 years old. Approved on January 26, 2001, it was the first law signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after taking over the Presidency from Joseph Estrada during the so-called Edsa-2 People Power Revolution.
Prior to RA 9003, there was no system of managing solid waste in the country. It is basically a “tapon-hakot-tambak” (throw-collect-dump) system, which is not environmentally sound. Open dumpsites are everywhere. The practice of 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycling) and composting is not institutionalized.
In the late 90s, our group, the Zero Waste Recycling Movement of the Philippines, pushed for the enactment of a law that would address solid waste. I remember joining our senior (elderly) members and fellow director Bebet Gozun (who would later become DENR Secretary) in lobbying at the Senate. One Senator even gave us the cold shoulder.
The unsafe and unsanitary dumping of solid waste created mountains of garbage all over the country. It was worst in Metro Manila because of limited land space. And so the inevitable happened. In July 2000, a huge garbage dumpsite in Payatas, Quezon City, collapsed due to heavy rains killing hundreds of people. This tragedy prompted the passage of RA 9003.
So what has improved after 20 years? Open dumpsites have long been prohibited but some are still in operation. The law mandates the use of sanitary landfills (SLF) for final disposal. The government made it easy for local government units (LGUs) to comply with this provision by allowing cheaper designs based on the volume of garbage they generate.
According to the DENR, there are currently 189 SLFs in operation servicing 399 LGUs across the country. The number of SLFs remains small 20 years after RA 9003 took effect. The DENR is targeting to establish around 300 more SLFs nationwide by 2022 through public-private partnership.
With the passage of the DENR Administrative Order on Waste to Energy (WTE) in 2019, WTE plants are now being considered by LGUs. In Mabalacat City, there was a groundbreaking ceremony last year for a WTE facility in Barangay Sapang Balen.
The DENR has also announced the scheduled public consultations this January on the possible list of Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products (NEAP). This is one of the controversial provisions of RA 9003. Some companies fear it might affect their products or packaging. After 20 years, no list has been prepared. Products shall not be prohibited until there are alternatives available to consumers at a cost that is no more than 10 percent greater than the disposable product.
Other than technical solutions, the government must also find ways to encourage people to do the basic things such as segregation, the 3Rs and composting. I suggest they also do an audit as to how solid waste management was incorporated into the academic curriculum as mandated by RA 9003, and if it’s effective in educating the young.