Perhaps, no other dumpsite can evoke perspectives so extreme. From a scene of tragedy and shame, to become a showcase of best practices, recognized not only locally but internationally. From a poster child of hopelessness, to the Payatas residents’ becoming entrepreneurs, learning about consolidation and expansion.
All these in just seven years. All it took was a determined local government that refused to be locked by traditional approaches. Stubborn political will, practical sense the dumpsite had to be managed well because it was all that Quezon City had), and orientation to be a pioneer (Quezon City liked being first), the availability of technology and the resources to engage that technology were the key ingredients in this dramatic transformation.
Former Mayor Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte reduced the main considerations to the following, “We had to follow the full spirit of the law (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or Republic Act No. 9003); we had to take care of the people; we had to keep the City clean.”
On January 26, 2009, the Payatas Disposal Facility rehabilitation program of the Quezon City government, will receive an award from the President of the Philippines and the Galing Pook Foundation, highlighting the many forms of recognition that it has received over the past few years. The program is pioneering. Quezon City is the first Urban Center to implement the Solid Waste Management Act. The Department of Environment and natural Resources’ Special Award was given to the Quezon City local government in August 2004, recognized the LGU’s “promising and innovative program in achieving environmental improvements with the conversion of the Payatas Dumpsite into a Controlled Facility and being the first in the country to capture methane gas from the dumpsite as an alternative energy source, thus ensuring the health and safety of the community.”
The Administration of Mayor Herbert Bautista is continuing the previous administration's reengineering interventions to improve the dumpsite’s operational efficiency, restructure, and upgrade the dumpsite, while resulting in savings on its operating costs, and at the same time, making the facility safer and more environment-friendly. The program is widely recognized for being a laboratory and showcase for solid waste management initiatives and a model for other local governments.
The Payatas dumpsite has become a destination and a must-see in Quezon City for students and local and foreign institution representatives, as part of their learning experience, and for other visitors who simple want to see the vast improvement in the disposal facility, that ensures safety of areas near the dumpsite and provides livelihood opportunities to the residents.
A Tragic History
More than 30 years of use and misuse of the open dumpsite took its toll on July 1, 2000, when a hill of garbage fell on a slum community in Payatas, resulting in the death of nearly 300 people and leaving hundreds of families homeless.
The Payatas dumpsite had multiple impact. More than just a dumpsite, it also represented a source of livelihood to residents of its neighboring areas. Closing it also adversely affected the cleanliness of the whole City.
Now a showcase of good environmental practices
In 2001, the City government launched several pioneering and innovative projects to address this challenge.
Foremost among these was the conversion of the Payatas open dumpsite into a controlled waste disposal facility. The City government initiated developmental and rehabilitation works, including slope reprofiling, stabilization and greening, leachate collection and recirculation, drainage system improvement, fortified roadways and access to the site, gas venting and material recovery. All these were aimed at the rehabilitation of the dumpsite to address: environmental health and safety, stability of the dumpsite, safety and livelihood needs of the immediate community, and compliance with RA 9003.
In 2002, the City government collaborated with Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC)-EC and set up a 100-kW Pilot Methane Power Plant at the dumpsite in 2004 as part of the conversion program of methane gas into electricity.
Reducing greenhouse gases
In 2007, QC signed an agreement with Italy-based environmental firm PANGEA Green Energy and its local counterpart, PANGEA Phils., for the development and implementation of the Biogas Emissions Reduction Project. This is the first clean development mechanism (CDM) project in solid waste management in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia.
It was registered under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Febrauary 1, 2008. The Project, which converts biogas emissions into electricity, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an annual average of 116,000 tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). It will improve local air, water and soil quality, eliminate fires and explosion hazards and trashslides in the dumpsite.
Aside from generating electricity, employment and building capacity from the transfer of technology and know-how, the City will gain additional financial resources with its share from the sale of CERs (Certified Emission Reduction) or carbon credits and the electricity generated and exported to the grid. This is Quezon City’s humble contribution to the mitigation of global warming and climate change.
Using old tires for cement manufacturing
The Used Tire Retrieval project with Holcim Cement, is an innovative and environment-friendly management of discarded tires. More than 600,000 used tires dumped at the disposal facility have been retrieved and cleaned, and transported to Holcim’s plant, where the tires are used as alternative fuel in the production of cement.
There are also plans for Holcim to recover residual plastic materials from the dumpsite for use in the same manner. Should this project prosper, we expect a huge reduction in plastics that is finally deposited at the dumpsite, aside from additional income for the waste pickers.
Wastepickers raise their livelihood ambitions
The Payatas dumpsite is the 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 enhance the City’s Waste Diversion Program with the recovery of around 7% recyclables from incoming waste, further reducing volume of garbage being dumped at the facility.
Ironically, the City’s strict implementation of RA 9003 has led to reduction in the quantity and quality of the recyclable content of waste brought to the dumpsite, leading also to drastic reduction in the income of waste pickers.
To prevent infighting among the scavengers and enhance their recovery efficiency, the waste pickers are organized into formal groups which are accredited, regularly consulted with and whose inputs are seriously considered in the formulation of operating systems in the management of the dumpsite. Sorting and recycling areas are allocated to these groups to facilitate their livelihood.
Junkshop operators are given assistance in legitimizing their business or operation. Through networks and linkages developed and facilitated by the City, scavengers, recyclers and junkshop operators can avail of financing, education and skills training, that would enable them to earn additional income and/ or embark on alternative livelihood. Some groups are amortizing trucks to become collectors of garbage in nearby communities, thereby raising their income prospects.
Payatas: Not a dumpsite, but a thriving community
Payatas is now green in many ways. Its residents enjoy a park, where the old dumpsite used to be. The stench of garbage is barely there. There is a composting plant, greenhouses, plant nurseries. Electricity is practically given away. Streetlights in nearby roads are powered by the dumpsite. The City government has also launched “Plantsahan ng Bayan,” in the community area where people can simply plug their electric irons and do their laundry with free electricity.
The Bautista Administration continues to invest extensively in road networks and sewerage systems, as well as social development programs, in this community that is now well known in many parts of the world for many right reasons.