WHEN we throw away the vegetable and fruit peeling in our kitchen garbage can or the empty shampoo and conditioner sachets, the destination of these solid wastes are usually the least of our concern. We take the trash out when it’s full to the designated collection points in our barangay and forget about them once the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) garbage trucks collect them around 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

With nearly a year into community quarantine when almost everyone stays at home, Davao-based environmentalists become more and more concerned about the increase in solid waste the public has accumulated over time. In celebration of World Wetlands Day 2021, the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (Idis) conducted a clean-up and waste audit at the wetlands located in Sitio Gravahan, Matina and Barangay Bucana, Davao City early this month.

In this clean-up drive, almost seven sacks of assorted solid waste were collected. Most of the waste was plastic materials, as stated in a post on Idis’ official Facebook page on February 5, 2021.

This is still different from the 1,194 pieces of different types of non-biodegradable solid waste such as plastics, cans, bottles, face masks, and face shields gathered during Idis and Bantay Bukid’s clean-up drive at the Panigan-Tamugan Watershed in Baguio District, Davao City on January 27, 2021.

"More than the plastics, we are alarmed that we found bottles of pesticides in the rivers. We call on those who are using pesticides especially those whose areas are near rivers to bury empty containers in accordance with good agricultural practice, or better yet, practice organic farming to protect our rivers and watersheds," Mavic Hilario, Idis program coordinator, said.

Instances like this raise great alarm to the community as Panigan-Tamugan Watershed is being tapped to be the next source of potable water in Davao City. Dirty watersheds not only bring negative effects to the animals and life forms nearby but eventually to the residents in the city.

“It only shows that plastic pollution is not just an urban environment problem but also of the upland environment especially of our watersheds... Plastics never biodegrade. They only turn into microplastics, which could find their way into our drinking water if treatment and filtering are not good. More so, the river current only hastens the disintegration of plastics into microplastics. Without us knowing, our body has been accumulating plastics through the water we drink,” lawyer Mark Peñalver, Idis executive director, told SunStar Davao.

This is why Idis and other environmental groups in Davao City continue to advocate against the use of single-use plastic. Different alternatives were being pushed to the public to lessen plastic waste: menstrual cup/reusable pads in place of disposable sanitary napkins, wooden utensils in place of plastic ones, bamboo or steel straws (or none at all) in place of plastic straws, and eco-bags in place of plastic grocery bags.

“A shift in paradigm or practices necessarily entails effort. It will be uncomfortable and hard, but the long-term effect of our efforts should be the motivating factor to somehow unburden us from shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle. Bringing water containers, utensils, bags, and other reusable containers and packaging are efforts that may add burden to the comfortable life plastics give us. But if we see these efforts as our social responsibility and contribution to better our environment, to better our beloved Davao City, this might give us a better perspective on what a sustainable lifestyle it can give us, the environment, and the future generation. For me, the best way to improve solid waste management is by making a shift towards a more conscious, responsible, and sustainable lifestyle,” said Peñalver.

Getting the most of our biodegradable waste

As environmentalists loudly and openly advocate against the use of single-use plastics, the proper disposal of biodegradable waste can sometimes be shoved to the side.

On July 1, 2011, the city government implemented the “No Segregation, No Collection Policy” ordinance, which was signed by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio on May 3, 2011. The said local ordinance complies with Republic Act 9003, or the Act Providing for Ecological Solid Waste Management Program. Those who do not segregate waste will be fined not more than P3,000 or maximum imprisonment of six months.

But 10 years after, this local ordinance seemed to have been forgotten by garbage collectors and residents themselves as garbage collection still takes place even when garbage is not segregated.

“Magsalig man gud ang mga tao kay malata lang ang biodegrable waste so ang thinking pwede ra malabay bisan asa (Many think that it is just okay to throw biodegradable waste anywhere because it will simply decompose),” Lyen Yap-Joaquin, project head of The Yellow Drum Projectm said in an interview with SunStar Davao.

The Yellow Drum Project is an initiative by the Davao Thermo BioTech Corp. (DTBC), a waste management company that collects, transports, and treats biodegradable waste. DTBC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Bo Puentespina said they started the project with industries whose wastes were segregated before they started their trial run in the barangays. This project has been going on for around four years.

Puentespina said people should also pay attention to the way biodegradable waste is being disposed of as 60 percent of waste is biodegradable.

In 2011, he conducted a study on bats together with Japanese scientists and found out about the coronavirus and ebola. He said, in their study, these bats lived in caves but forage in landfills.

“If we manage our biodegradables, that's 60 percent of our problems solved. We have to realize that the spread of Covid and other diseases has a lot to blame on our solid waste management,” he said.

When the pandemic came, some of the companies they were working with had to close and so the Yellow Drum Project decided to shift its focus in November 2020 and help out private individuals and residents.

For P500 per drum, subscribers will be provided a 60-liter yellow drum where they could dump their biodegradable waste. They can also fill it with compost starter to help lessen the smell should there be any. Acceptable biowaste to be put in the yellow drum include food waste, kitchen waste, fruit waste, paper waste, yard waste, barbecue sticks, tissue, hair and nail clippings, pet waste, and cat litter.

According to Yap-Joaquin, they do pick up and deliver the yellow drum every Tuesday and Saturday in any part of Davao City. They currently have 40 subscribers covering areas of Communal, Indangan, Mintal, Tacunan, Catalunan Grande, and even the downtown areas in Davao City. After subscribers filled their third yellow drum, they will be given incentives in the form of a 10-kilogram (kg) compost starter, 10-kg potting mix, or 2-kg biofertilizer.

“We use an activator with a patent from Japan. It makes use of aerobic bacteria that eliminates odor on contact. We encourage Yellow Drum Project subscribers to really think natural. We are also thinking, what’s in it for them if they subscribe? In the process, pathogens such as Ecoli and salmonella will be killed,” said Puentespina, highlighting that subscribers need not worry about the foul smell that it may leave.

He shared that once all the gathered biowaste of their subscribers are brought to the plant, it will be mixed with other substrates, in the process producing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. They will be placed in separate compartments as the bacterial activators produce moisture and steam, then the temperature rises to 100 degrees Celsius, killing anything hazardous like pathogens and bacteria in the process.

One of the subscribers of the Yellow Drum Project is Rommel Real, a Dabawenyo residing with his family in Agdao. Real spent a few years in Australia studying and living in a dormitory. He shared how people are very organized even with their garbage there. People were very disciplined when it comes to segregation, recycling and composting. When he came back to Davao City, he was looking for that practice as well but failed to find one. When the Yellow Drum Project launched late last year, he was one of the first to avail.

“I strongly recommend this one, especially for those na may limited space lang sa bahay. At the same time, I’m thinking maka-benefit pud ang mga naay carinderia or eatery since daghan sila mga lamaw or leftover food,” Real said. Now on his fourth drum, he said it was really helpful during the holiday season when they had so much cooking going on. With the vegetable and fruit peelings, the drums easily filled up.

“My recommendation sa local government, pinakauna gyud dapat naay awareness on properly managing waste ang mga tao. Sunod, naay proper infrastructure such as recycling facilities na mudawat gyud recyclable waste (there should an awareness campaign on proper waste management. There must also be proper infrastructure like recycling facilities that will accept recyclable waste),” added Real.