Philippines: Small Towns Find Solutions In Their Backyards to Fight Pollution

August 26, 2011

  • Around 13 million Filipinos are affected by the pollution in the Laguna Lake, which they depend on for drinking, fishing, irrigation, hydropower and economic activities
  • LISCOP aims to help save the lake from further degradation by working with stakeholders to reduce pollution and improve the environmental quality of the lake and its watershed
  • Under LISCOP, communities plan and carry out solid and wastewater management projects to save the Laguna Lake by finding solutions in their own backyards

Laguna, Philippines, August 26, 2011—In a manner of speaking, Laguna Lake is the cradle of civilization in Luzon, the country’s most economically vibrant island. But pollution from industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic sources have been poured into the lake and have made it a virtual septic tank for various types of effluents.

Around 13 million people directly depend on the lake for drinking, fishing, irrigation, hydro-electric power and employment through eco-tourism and other economic activities. One of them is Pacita H. de Guzman, 41, who lives in Sta. Cruz Laguna. With the high cost of caring for a child with special medical needs, garbage meant cash to her.

“When I first learned that they were going to build a dumpsite near our home, all I could think was it would be smelly. I hoped they would build it somewhere else, not in my backyard,” she said in Filipino.

But the Sta. Cruz Material Recovery Facility (MRF) turned out to be one of the most well-managed MRFs in the country. It didn’t smell nor had it been swarmed with flies and it even became a source of additional income for Ms. de Guzman and some of her neighbors. She is now part of a group of 23 garbage-pickers; they reduce the amount of solid waste polluting the Laguna Lake.

Jennie D. Corpuz, the MRF Supervisor, said Sta. Cruz had a growing plastic and biological waste problem forcing the community to take solid waste management seriously. The MRF, funded and monitored by the Laguna de Bay Institutional Strengthening and Community Participation Project (LISCOP), is a model of how a local government unit with a tiny budget can run a state-of-the-art facility.

Models of Innovation

LISCOP is a World Bank-funded project that aims to improve the environmental quality of the Laguna Lake and its watershed through a “solution-in-my-backyard” approach. The project is slowly changing the way small towns around Laguna Lake think about garbage management, sanitation, using natural resources in a sustainable manner, soil erosion control, flood prevention, and eco-tourism, among other things.

Another Sta. Cruz initiative supported by LISCOP is the construction and operation of a wastewater treatment facility that treats wastewater from the town’s slaughterhouse prior to discharge into the river. A visit to the slaughterhouse showed young people swimming in a nearby river where water from the slaughterhouse is released. Biogas is also harvested from the treatment facility that is used by the workers in cooking their food and boiling water.

“A lot of our visitors are surprised that a slaughterhouse can be this clean and can release water that is safe for bathing,” says Edwin M. Kalacas, Officer-in-Charge of the slaughterhouse. “Cleanliness is very important to us.”

Recycling lifestyle

Also in Laguna is the Kalayaan Sanitary Landfill, the only one in the country fully operated by a small town for its own use, benefiting 4,314 households in three barangays. Situated on the Sierra Madre mountain range 220 meters above sea level, the landfill is a scenic place with a vegetable garden where local residents come for picnics.

“Garbage is a big headache for us. That is why we really have to involve the community and enforce political will. We are operating strictly on a no-segregation-no-collection policy,” says Reinelsa B. Corpuz, the town’s Municipal Environmental and Natural Resources Officer. “They hated me in the beginning, but we just had to take the heat until they got used to it.”

Through such initiatives, LISCOP has built concrete steps towards a pollution-free Laguna Lake. In January 2011, the World Bank noted a 10 percent reduction in pollution in the lake from the firms that have been regulated by LLDA since 2004. Enterprises increased compliance with environmental regulations by 30 percent.

LLDA OIC General Manager and concurrent Assistant General Manager Dolora Nepomuceno said LISCOP's support to LGUs led to the upgrading of 23 out of the 41 LGU-operated open dumps into well-managed, solid waste management facilities like MRFs, composting facilities, and sanitary landfills.

“An assessment of 11 MRFs with composting has shown that these facilities have diverted about 500 metric tons of solid waste annually,” he said.

Ms. Nepomuceno said the project has also strengthened LLDA's capacity, modernized its regulatory and planning instruments through the use and expansion of the environmental user fee system (EUFS), and improved its partnership with key stakeholders including the LGUs. (EUFS refer to the market-based policy instrument designed to encourage companies to invest in water treatment facilities, practice waste minimization as well as reusing, recycling and greener production techniques.)

“A particularly noteworthy result of the expansion of the EUFS is the reduced average industrial biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) loading, from 24.34 to 1.29 metric tons per firm for those covered by the EUFS. Firms are shifting to more efficient and cleaner production technologies,” said Ms. Nepomuceno.

(BOD refers to a standard method for determining the amount of organic pollution in water bodies.)

World Bank Country Director Bert Hofman said the EUFS has led industries to invest in pollution abatement systems. "This innovation with EUFs could be replicated in Manila Bay and other parts of the Philippines consistent with the 2004 Clean Water Act," said Mr. Hofman.

Those involved in LISCOP say solutions to pollution, big or small, could be found in communities’ own backyards especially with the adoption of best practices tested around the world, and a collaborative, can-do attitude.