Recently, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has approved the adoption of what it calls ‘the total solid waste management solution’ in sanitary landfills (SLFs). The objective is to optimize waste recovery and extend the life of these final disposal facilities.

The DENR announcement and the resolution itself did not contain details. It only said that “NSWMC will integrate processes and technologies for the management of biodegradable wastes, recyclable wastes, and residuals with potential for diversion, and the treatment of special wastes or household hazardous wastes before disposal”.

My understanding of this new system is that there will be segregation of waste at the SLF before disposal. Most probably, the recyclable items will be retrieved and sold and the biodegradable materials will be composted in another location. This is good because recyclable materials should go to recycling mills and not in SLFs.

Ideally, only residual waste, or those which are not reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable, should go to SLFs.

However, in the NSWMC resolution, it was mentioned that this is not the case. Based on records of the Environmental Management Bureau - Solid Waste Management Division, mixed wastes still enter SLFs despite the issuance of a resolution from NSWMC and an administrative order from DENR.

While the intention of the new procedure is noble, my concern is that it is not consistent with RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, which requires segregation at the source. At the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) of a Barangay, all recyclable and biodegradable waste should have already been removed and only residual waste is sent to SLFs. The situation on the ground however is less than ideal, like what was stated in the resolution, so the integrated system is like a backup.

Why is there a need to optimize SLFs? First, SLFs are not cheap. They are expensive engineering structures.

Second, they use large swaths of land. If the government will keep on using this type of facility, the time will come when there will be no more available land. That’s precisely what happened in the infamous story of the New York City floating garbage barge.

In 1987, the SLF of the City of New York had reached its capacity. The city then shipped its waste to North Carolina, but it was not accepted. The garbage barge then proceeded along the coast looking for another place to offload but continued to meet stiff resistance. Louisiana, Alabama, and three other states, and the nations of Mexico, Belize, and the Bahamas refused the load. With no takers, the garbage barge returned to New York City. After several months of negotiations, the stinking garbage was incinerated.

Incineration, specifically waste-to-energy facilities, is now allowed to operate in the Philippines. But the best solution for me is still the 3R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – and composting.