(Image courtesy of John Gastanes)

A local business startup working towards improving the quality of life of informal waste collectors in Puerto Princesa City was recently awarded a $250,000 grant to improve waste collection systems by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to ECO-Kolek project director John Gastanes, the funds will be used for their community training programs. These include creating a safer waste collection system for waste collectors, whom he described as vulnerable to the elements and to exposure to toxic waste.

In an interview with Palawan News Thursday, Gastanes explained that ECO-Kolek, a business startup project of the Palawan International Technology Business Incubator (PITBI). The company’s briefer states that it is an initiative that assists informal solid waste collectors (“mangangalakal”) by providing proper waste collection gear and providing their transportation needs.

The company also holds leadership training activities for their beneficiaries to make the project sustainable in the long run.


An informal waste collector, one of ECO-Kolek’s main beneficiaries.   (Image courtesy of John Gastanes)


“So ngayon we are professionalizing them by giving them mga sasakyan. Gumagawa rin kami ng mga damit nila, where they get to choose their own design. We also teach them the principles of servant leadership. Madalas kasi nangyayari sa mga project, maraming excited sa una, pero habang tumatagal, nawawala kasi walang leadership,” he said.

In a virtual event held Thursday for the USAID’s Clean Cities, Blue Ocean program, ECO-Kolek was one of the five chosen business startups that were awarded a $250,000 grant each. Gastanes stated that the grant will be used to develop the company’s official website and finance their community training activities. Its main beneficiary, the Samahan ng mga Mamayan ng Jacana (SMJ), composed of nearly 188 members involved in informal solid waste collection, is their main beneficiaries, according to the company briefer.

ECO-Kolek is one of several startups that Project Zacchaeus Cooperative, a social enterprise company composed of Palawan locals, and was formed as a response to the plight of local informal waste collectors, whom Gastanes described as susceptible to various hazards due to the nature of their profession.
“Sa aking line of work, may mga nababalitaan ako na mga mangangalakal na namamatay sa heatstroke, sa exposure, kasi nga hindi sila properly equipped. nakakalungkot isipin kasi essential sila pero ganyan ang kalagayan nila,” he said.


(Fifth from top left, in spectacles) ECO-Kolek project director John Gsatanes during an event in Barangay Bancao-bancao (Photo courtesy of John Gastanes)


Using a separate funding scheme, ECO-Kolek is also looking into developing a mobile app that will enable users to alert nearby waste collectors to pick up their reusable solid waste, such as cans and glass bottles. Gastanes stated that they will be testing out the planned system in Barangay Bancao-bancao.

“Sa app, we are working with the government on that. A prototype of the system will be done in Barangay Bancao-Bancao, where households will be given a designated container. Kailangan nilang mapuno ‘yon ng mga reusable waste. Kapag napuno, puwede ‘yon kunin ng mga collector. Ang mga outstanding na mga households will receive an “Eco Warrior” sticker para ma-recognize sila,” he said.