Under the cerulean skies and bright, scorching sun, an empty can flipped in the air as frisky kids struck it with tatty slippers. Faces were smudged, clothes were stained, yet the people in the vicinity still wore priceless smiles. Along with the ambiance was the stinking odor of rotten trash that overwhelmed the place. Buzzing flies can be seen in every corner jumping from one heap of trash to another. Huge trucks that contained putrid garbage roared along the roads en route to a nearby dumpsite, but there was a grave problem looming. Davao City’s landfill has already reached its limit; and drastic actions will soon be decided upon.
This is the situation of the people living in New Carmen, Tugbok, Davao City, where the city’s sanitary landfill is located. Now in its ninth year, the New Carmen landfill has gained the attention of environmentalists for reaching its maximum capacity level and has caused alarm to health advocates for the multitude of risks that an unregulated dumpsite poses.
A worsening condition
According to Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) Officer-in-Charge, Engr. Fortune De Castro, the landfill is evidently overstaying its welcome in the community of New Carmen. While the maximum capacity level should supposedly be from 700,000 to 800,000 tons, the landfill has already accumulated 900,000 tons of garbage since 2016.
“This sanitary landfill is already full of rubbish or trash. Nasa full capacity na siya, kaya dapat by this time, nasa rehabilitation in closure na ang New Carmen kay mag 10 years naman siya,” he said.
Due to the lack of space, Engr. De Castro emphasized that they opted to extend the landfill’s operations to an adjacent portion of land which was not supposedly part of the landfill’s contract. While the City Government is currently eyeing a land intended for another sanitary landfill, it has yet to purchase the plot as they are also considering the establishment of waste-to-energy facility in the city.
As of the present time, it claims that the extension is the only viable solution to pacify the worsening condition. Nonetheless, De Castro also acknowledges the risks it might bring if the problem will not be addressed as soon as possible.
Child scavengers of New Carmen
With the current condition of the New Carmen landfill, the children are in the greatest form of danger. Carmen Bangkal, the Purok Leader of New Carmen, shared that some of the dumpsite scavengers are children, a majority of which have already stopped schooling and preferred looking for money along the decaying garbage.
Given that the children are part of 4Ps families, Bangkal believes it is alarming to have them labouring at a young age. What is dangerous aside from their poverty and lack of proper education is the children at risk of dying, whether by sickness caused by the dumpsite or falling of New Carmen’s cliff. The area has even been a site of grim, accidental deaths as a result of reckless driving.
“Bisag miyembro sa 4Ps, pasagdan man sa ginikanan nga mangahig. Mao nang among ginalataw karon kay bisa’g unsaon pag storya sa ginikanan, gahi rama’g ulo kay muingon ra man nga wala daw sila kabalo, mubangon ra daw kalit ang mga bata muadto sa landfill mamasura,” expressed Bangkal.
A slew of alternatives
As a result of these stacking issues, CENRO is planning to implement a Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plant to convert Davao’s trash to usable energy, similar to the ones run in Japan. Unfortunately, this would still take a long time to materialize given the large amount of resources needed to build this project. This plan, however, is being opposed by environmental groups like Ecoteneo.
“I believe that siting a new landfill and supporting materials recovery and recycling in the city must be given priority instead of pushing the WTE plan or incineration plans of Davao City. Burning our solid wastes is a band-aid solution that is host to many problems such as public health and air pollution,” Carmela Santos, Director of Ecoteneo in Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) stated.
On the other hand, CENRO is well aware of the threats of the project as De Castro details that environmental groups have not really understood the science behind all their criticisms. Despite the arguments raised by both sides, it is important to note that first-world countries have abandoned WTE due to its costliness, among other concerns with respect to the environment.
Furthermore, De Castro called for the residents of Davao City to be more disciplined in the segregation of their garbage properly since, in actuality, the only things that must be deposited in the landfill are residual trash – these are wastes that can be re-used and recycled through the use of energy. Unfortunately, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable trash are thrown in the landfill which is one of main reasons why it has reached its maximum capacity quickly.
“The city government is aware of the poor implementation of segregation and materials recovery at the household and barangay level. And even more pressing is the lack of MRFs or materials recovery facilities. Of the 182 barangays in Davao City, only a handful or less than 5 have functional MRFs,” Santos stressed.
Amid these concerns, New Carmen residents like Wilfreda Banyados have mixed comments when it comes to the landfill. While she acknowledges that it may, to some extent, affect their health, she believes that it also enables them to generate income necessary for survival. As with most residents living in the vicinity of the landfill, Banyados earns a living through a small karenderia. To mitigate the health risks, her products are all wrapped with cellophane to prevent flies from coming in contact with her food.
“Okay ra man. Naanad ra man pud mi. Mas nakatabang pud ug nay basura kay dako-dako ang income kay daghan man tao so kusog ang halin sa paninda,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ecoteneo is once again voicing out on the issue of New Carmen. For instance, the environmental organization is very much aware about the informal sector that is dependent on the landfill, especially those in the business of materials recovery. They believe that continuing on with WTE or incineration plan will only displace the marginalized people, just like Wilfreda, working under the blistering heat every day to earn an income for themselves and their families.
More than just a cause of environmental concern, New Carmen has also become a symbol of inaction and greed over the years. With every delay in the search for a new sanitary landfill, the more dangerous it becomes to the environment and the lives of the citizens in the area. Sacrificing one for the other may not be the best possible solution as there is so much at risk.
While the local government’s idea to push through with WTE could be a possibility, but at the same time, a concerning alternative, forcing people to relocate and lose their jobs is just as fatal. Given these pressing concerns that encompass health, income-generation, and environmental degradation, the situation of New Carmen should not be taken by a government that so often benefits the mighty few.