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Politics of pollution

Ike Señeres .

IF you think that pollution is dirty, think of how much dirtier are the politicians who make money from the mismanagement of solid waste, whether wittingly or unwittingly. By wittingly, I mean local politicians who do not give a damn whether solid waste is managed or not. By unwittingly, I mean being ignorant about the many ways that solid waste could be managed well, including having zero waste. Perhaps being ignorant would mean not being able to realize that good waste management could actually be turned into an opportunity for the Local Government Units (LGUs) to make money, instead of not making money or worse than that, to waste money. Truth to tell, the recycling of renewable materials from post consumer waste is very much like mining or urban mining if you please. The only difference is, it is the kind of mining that does good things to the environment, instead of doing harm to it.

In theory, it could be said that all solid wastes could be segregated and recycled, except perhaps for hazardous wastes, including hospital wastes. In that same vein, it could be said that once everything is segregated and recycled, nothing should be trucked out of a community except for hazardous wastes, but that is exactly where the problem lies, because near zero recycling would also mean zero income to the dirty politicians, and surely they do not like that. Simplistic as it may sound, the problem really lies in the fact that there is an inherent conflict of interest among the corrupt LGU officials. The conflict of interest stems from the fact that these corrupt officials make money each time that a truckload of garbage leaves a community. Aside from that, they also make money each time that same truckload is unloaded into a dumpsite.

As it is supposed to be, dumpsites are already illegal and by comparison, only landfills are legal so to speak. While the construction of landfills may be the right thing to do, the corrupt officials see it as the wrong thing to do, because it would reduce the amount of money that they could still from. Besides, it does not really matter to them whether the garbage truck dumps its load into a dumpsite or a landfill, because either way they make money, dirty money, that is. The truth is, they are not really pushing for recycling at the household level, because in effect that would also reduce the number of trips that the garbage trucks would make, hence it would mean lesser money for them. Clearly, this is another conflict of interest that would tear their conscience apart, if only they really have the conscience of God fearing and law abiding citizens.

As it is supposed to be, every barangay is supposed to have a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where practically 100 percent of solid wastes are recovered, including kitchen wastes. Also as it is supposed to be, the municipal officials are supposed to enforce the law of building the MRFs, but then again the corrupt officials have to wrestle with another conflict of interest. As you can see, the more solid wastes that could be recovered from the MRFs, the lesser trips the garbage truck has to make, and therefore that means lesser dirty money for the corrupt officials. In that kind of a scenario, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) should already sue the LGU officials for negligence. If the DILG does not do that, another agency of the government should sue the DILG, perhaps the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Given the choice of fighting corruption and fighting pollution, I would rather fight the latter, but with the added twist of fighting poverty by way of poverty reduction. From a strictly technical point of view, recyclables have an economic value meaning to say that they are neither trash nor garbage. There is money to be made from the recovery of recyclables, but the question now is where the money should go. If the recyclables are properly recovered and these are sold to the post consumer waste market, the money would of course go to the people who are doing the recycling. The alternative to that is not to recycle and to just dump everything into the garbage can, in which case the corrupt officials are the ones who will make the money, because the unsorted garbage will just add to the volume that is trucked and dump.

There is a saying about not fighting City Hall, and we really should not do that. If we continue dumping unsorted garbage into the trash cans, we will be helping the corrupt politicians and not ourselves. If we really want to help ourselves, we should recycle everything as much as we could. There is a catch however, because the segregated recyclables will just be thrown in with the rest of the garbage if there is no separate system of collection. If the City Hall would not do it, the people in the community should take the initiative of organizing a collection system that would enable them to earn from their own efforts. In reality, there would really be no need for MRFs if the recyclables are fully recovered. As a matter of fact, there would be no need for dumpsites or landfills anymore.




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