DYAN MABUNGA RODRIGUEZ, Country Manager
Waste to Wages: Changing Narratives
The capital of the Philippines, City of Manila, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The smallest administrative division in the Philippines is called barangay and in the city of Manila alone, there are 896 barangays.
One of these barangays serves as the location of the Waste to Wages initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It is one of the project areas comprising the Municipal Waste Recycling Program across Asia administered by the Development Innovations Group (DIG).
“Baseco consists of an island and two stone breakwaters, one borders the Pasig River and the other protects shipping in the South Harbor. Both breakwaters extend into the Manila Bay. The lessons which the Waste to Wages project are learning and the solutions which can be identified will be valuable not only to the well-being of the residents and the leaders but to the growing call to address marine litter.”
This is Barangay 649, also known as Barangay Baseco. The acronym stands for the defunct Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Corporation. Barangay 649 or Barangay Baseco is recognized as one of the biggest urban poor communities in the Philippines with over 60,000 residents.
The implementation of the Waste to Wages initiative is a collaboration between World Vision, the Barangay Local Government of Baseco; the urban poor organization, Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran Baseco Incorporated (Kabalikat); and the Plastic Bank.
Waste to Wages intends to achieve the following: improved mechanism for waste collection in targeted communities; increased livelihood opportunities for informal sector waste collectors; established credit/saving schemes among recycling entrepreneurs; increased knowledge of community residents on waste segregation and plastics recycling; and a reorganized barangay materials recovery facility (MRF).
The project convenes stakeholders and engages them in dialogue. In the past month, the project has facilitated dialogues with waste collectors, street sweepers, and junkshop operators. This essay aims to unpack the emerging Solid Waste Management (SWM) context in Barangay Baseco and suggest recommendations for stakeholders including project holders.
The emerging context is characterized by the following:
- High volume of biodegradable wastes – High potential for barangay-wide composting initiative. A recent Waste Analysis and Classification (WACS) study shows that residents of Barangay Baseco produce: 60% of biodegradable wastes; 30% recyclables; 9% residuals; and 1% other types of wastes. The community organization, Kabalikat, intends to scale up its community garbage composting initiative to accommodate the burgeoning rate of compostable material from the community. In order to expand the work, this requires infusion of resources on technical expertise, awareness raising on segregation at source, logistical chain encompassing recovery and aggregation of compostable wastes, and fostering a circular model to ensure viability and sustainability.
- Low awareness – High demand for behavioral change communication. Stakeholders convey that a majority of the residents have low knowledge and lack of commitment towards segregation at source with a few stakeholders specifically noting that only 3% would have the knowledge and the commitment. The challenge to have households segregate at source is multi-faceted and is not typical to urban poor communities alone. The consequences of the lack of segregation at source is only made more tangible in urban poor communities due to population density and the lack or absence of facilities and services ensuring efficient waste recovery and collection. To be relevant and actionable, awareness raising activities by the project and other stakeholders must be galvanized into micro infrastructures to motivate households to segregate such as clustering households, identification of collection sites, and provision of segregation bins and creative signages. More importantly, empowering and formalizing a human infrastructure to make the SWM processes efficient is crucial.
- Push and Pull Factor – The Need to Integrate the Informal. There are over 6 junkshops operating within Barangay Baseco alone. Junkshops, in essence, fill the gaps within SWM governance. As recycling centers, their value can be optimized. Junkshop operators form part of the other end of the circular model for recyclables within Barangay Baseco. Within their micro businesses, recyclables such as paper, metal, and plastics find longevity. Unintended consequences include decreasing the volume of wastes produced within the barangay which dovetails into numerous benefits. Direct consequences include providing a steady and accessible source of income for the residents including street sweepers formally engaged by the Barangay Local Government as well as over 30 informal waste pickers. In a focus group discussion, junkshop operators expressed their need for trainings on micro business management; policies and guidelines on junkshop operations; and segregation techniques. The project commits to setting up the avenues for these trainings. Potentially, junkshop operators can serve as the most apt resource persons on segregation within the community, fostering a livelihood-centric segregation at source program in Barangay Baseco.
- Children as a sub-sector – let us talk and act. Street sweepers and waste pickers earn extra income by collecting commingled household wastes for a small fee paid by each household. They segregate the wastes, sell the recyclables to the junkshops, and deliver the residuals to a collection point or to the city government’s garbage truck. These activities are not process-oriented nor are these linear. A lot of factors are at play based on differing anecdotes: perceived inconsistency of garbage trucking schedule and/or inverse proportion between truckload capacity and the volume of wastes; population density and impassibility of roads; and children as informal collectors and pickers. Children are out of scope of punitive laws regarding garbage disposal. It is reported that the spate of garbage visible throughout the barangay is largely attributed to children who collect household garbage for a minimal fee and then dispose the residuals where convenient. Junkshop operators reportedly confirm that around 50% of the residents who sell recyclables are composed of children. Child protection should be mainstreamed within the sector no matter its informality and more so because of its informality.
- Increasing number of stakeholders must lead to increasing coordination. Coordination saves resources and amplifies results. Within Barangay Baseco, there are other SWM stakeholders such as the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) working with Smokey Tours and Coca-Cola Foundation collaborating with Caritas Manila in Baseco. The Barangay Local Government can lead the way in providing an avenue and a platform for SWM coordination. Waste to Wages project can optimize these platforms to develop its strategies and down the line, strengthen its exit and handover strategy.
- Addressing the status quo: Overhaul or Minor Repairs? Barangay Baseco is a strategic location for learning. Baseco consists of an island and two stone breakwaters, one borders the Pasig River and the other protects shipping in the South Harbor. Both breakwaters extend into the Manila Bay. The lessons which the project are learning and the solutions which can be identified will be valuable not only to the well-being of the residents and the leaders but to the growing call to address marine litter. Failures in SWM in Barangay Baseco metaphorically and literally leak to the Pasig River and the Manila Bay with irreversible intergenerational consequences especially when leakages comprise plastic residuals. The project does not purport to solve all the problems but what it can do is trigger communities of practice within a barangay of over 60,000 individuals:
- A holistic effort of targeted behavioral change which includes pragmatic answers to questions (e.g. how to segregate, where to bring recyclables, as well as residuals) and tangible actions from the project including government leaders to invest in strategic clustering households towards collection, segregation, recycling, composting, and disposal.
- Empowering collectors as community advocates and resource persons whilst increasing their incomes. By strategically guiding residents to segregate at source, it can be inferred that there will be a higher volume of recyclables which have lesser contamination: decreasing volume of household wastes and increasing value of collected recyclables.
- Intentionally engaging Junskhops as Recycling Centers to develop a stronger circular model for recyclables within the barangay.
- More importantly, identification of a robust, visible, and sustainable MRF is key as it becomes a center for information, recycling, and advocacy. The establishment of the MRF must be reflective of the experiences from the past wherein MRFs were established but were not sustainable due to a myriad of reasons.
Beyond exhortation, we need action. Meaningful action requires investment of time, skills, and monetary sources. In an urban poor barangay of over 60,000 individuals geographically located near bodies of water, with countless competing demands – leaders and project holders alike need to be strategic amidst constraints, realities, and aspirations.
Indeed, what can be done for Barangay Baseco’s SWM, with its sheer scale and volume, may be done elsewhere.