Imagine holding your fart inside a small room full of people and you can’t get out for some reason. At any moment, something has got to give because, by law of nature, you have to let go.
The city of Puerto Princesa is stuck in a similar dilemma with its existing garbage dump in Barangay Santa Lourdes. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently slapped a cease-and-desist order (CDO) on the sanitary landfill’s leachate treatment plant (LTP) that is supposed to process the liquid collected from under the garbage dump before it is released outside where it can no longer cause any harm.
The DENR action did not stop the operation of the existing landfill. Tons of garbage collected from residential and commercial establishments continue to pile up in Santa Lourdes on a daily basis. But because of the DENR sanction on the LTP facility, which effectively sealed off its discharge outlets, the collected leachate is now simply being poured on the top of the heap in an endless loop cycle.
The fart analogy ends here because in the case of farts there have been scientific studies that showed smelling them may actually be good for the health, for the liver and all. In the case of leachate, actual studies in Santa Lourdes and its neighboring Barangay Tagburos have shown they cause mercury poisoning.
The DENR sanction has enjoined the city government to come up with a pollution control program as a condition to lifting the CDO. It remains to be seen what this program will contain, as there has been no initiative in the horizon that appears close to the only viable solution to the problem, which is to implement waste segregation according to an already existing law, the Solid Waste Management Act.
Where other cities and urban areas have successfully experimented and implemented strategies to adopt waste segregation as a policy, Puerto Princesa City has failed. Call it lack of political will or lack of discipline on the part of its local citizens, the simple reality is we don’t segregate garbage as other places do.
Instead, our policymakers seem to have embraced untested solutions such as a proposed waste-to-energy project as their ace card. The project, a planned joint venture with a private company, promises to turn the garbage dump, along with all its leachate and other dangerous byproducts, into a power generation facility to make a handsome profit for the city and help address the growing power supply demand. It remains wishful thinking until we can see an actual feasibility study, which is currently not even available.
Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with picking up the pieces of our solid waste policy by sincerely pushing for segregation at source, compelling barangay local governments to do their part and educating residents as well.
The present situation is also not as if the pollution time bomb that is the Sta. Lourdes sanitary landfill has yet to explode. It already had, as the Department of Health as early as two years ago warned about the continuing mercury pollution in Santa Lourdes affecting many of its residents, caused primarily by a former mining operation and abetted by seepage leaking from the dumpsite.