Community Participation in Solid Waste Management: The Waste Warriors of Brgy. Potrero, Malabon City

In 2016, the world generated approximately 2.01 billion tons of waste (World Bank, 2018), or the equivalent in weight of one billion average-size cars. In the Philippines, solid waste generation was estimated at 13.48 million tons in 2010 and is expected to reach 18.05 million tons by 2020 (DENR, 2018).

As populations grow, so will the amount of waste. Proper solid waste management (SWM), thus, is an urgent undertaking.

This is a critical issue in disaster-prone countries like the Philippines – ranked third most at-risk to disasters in the 2018 World Risk Index – and where poverty levels are high. This is because ecosystem degradation and disasters disproportionately affect the poor. They will also bear the brunt of climate change impacts, which may be aggravated by increased greenhouse gas emissions brought about by improper disposal of waste. In the context of waste management, they are “often unserved or have little influence on the waste being disposed of formally or informally near their homes” (World Bank, 2018). Many also work in the informal waste sector, relying on meager, volatile incomes, and exposed to unsafe working conditions.

However, urban poor communities and informal settler families are typically characterized as polluters and waste generators, citing their tendency to buy products in sachets, i.e., in smaller, cheaper quantities. These claims are made despite the fact that, around the world, consumption patterns point to higher spending capacity being positively correlated with higher waste generation. Still, they are usually seen as part of the problem. This study argues that they are also a vital part of the solution.

Good Practice:The Waste Warriors of Barangay Potrero

Barangay Potrero’s Waste Warriors is a good example of an SWM practice that supports the case for increased community participation.

Prior to 2015, Barangay Potrero’s solid waste was unsegregated, and collection was mostly uncoordinated and conducted only twice a week, using trucks that would pick up bags of trash discarded by residents by the side of the road. Because of this collection schedule, and because some roads are too narrow for the trucks to pass through and some areas are only accessible by foot, piles of garbage would often accumulate by the curbside.

It was only in 2015 that their SWM practice took on a more formal, structured process. The Waste Warriors is a group of waste collectors and waste monitors from the local community in Barangay Potrero, Malabon City, whose participation in SWM was made official by the barangay in 2015. Currently, it is composed of 40 waste collectors and 15 waste monitors. The group receives an allowance from the local government – PHP 120 a day for 3-4 hours of work, Mondays through Saturdays – and waste collectors get all the profits from selling the recyclables they collect – which can range from PHP 400 to PHP 2,000.

To date, Barangay Potrero’s compliance with R.A. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, is at 95%, according to Potrero Councilor Khate Nolasco. The barangay is a recognized leader in SWM, having won the Best in Solid Waste Management Award at the 2015 Barangay Power contest hosted by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). In the same year, Potrero also received the Gawad Kalasag Award for Best Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction Committee from the Office of Civil Defense.

Findings: The Benefits of Engaging Communities in Solid Waste Management

By presenting the good practices of Barangay Potrero in the area of SWM, as embodied by the Waste Warriors, this study highlights how engaging, capacitating, and mobilizing local communities to participate in SWM benefits the environment, the individuals, and the community as a whole. This study found that several interrelated factors contributed to the success of Barangay Potrero’s SWM.

1. Their noteworthy SWM practice is a good illustration of what concerted, well-coordinated action between the government, civil society organizations, and communities can achieve. Because there was proper coordination, the process of managing the barangay’s solid waste became more efficient.

2. It shows that strong LGU support and prioritization is an important factor in the success of any program.

3. It highlights how enabling community participation in SWM creates a sense of ownership among community members, which in turn contributes to the sustainability of SWM programs and lets the barangay widen its reach as community members become advocates for proper SWM themselves.

4. It not only leads to improvements in environmental conditions but also improves the livelihoods and social positions of communities who have traditionally been excluded from formal programs and processes. This, in turn, makes their community a more just, inclusive, and resilient one overall.

Particularly for those who have been historically disadvantaged, the formalization of community members’ participation in SWM facilitates social inclusion, or the process of “improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society – improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity” (World Bank, 2018). The program does so by giving them improved livelihoods and thus better access to basic services, opportunities for participation and integration into the formal sector, and an overall higher chance of living a more dignified life. Community members get a sense of accomplishment and improved self-worth, and a sense that they have a voice in their community. Through the related capacity building opportunities, they also become more aware of their rights and are able to assert them, especiallywhen faced with discrimination.

Barangay Potrero’s approach is consistent with the principles of Integrated Risk Management (IRM). Because IRM stresses that people are a vital part of ecosystems, protecting the environment must also mean protecting people. In the area of SWM, as the case of Barangay Potrero shows, this could mean tapping and enriching local capacities and allowing for the formal participation of the most vulnerable. This not only ensures the protection of the environment but also increases the resilience of the community members individually and their community as a whole.

However, in the MBSDMP, there is scant mention of programs, activities, or projects that involve tapping and strengthening the capacities of local communities, particularly the urban poor and informal waste workers, or even of consultations with communities in order to arrive at problem definitions and solutions that are grounded in the reality of the targeted localities. But as the case of Barangay Potrero illustrates, there are many benefits to encouraging the participation of community members in SWM initiatives. Moreover, increased community participation in SWM respects the vital role that people play within ecosystems and recognizes them as a crucial part of the solution. Thus, this study argues that the MBSDMP would do well to draw from the good practices of Barangay Potrero and incorporate SWM programs that enable community participation and maximize their capacities.

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