From Clogged Waterways to Zero Waste

Potrero’s Journey to Zero Waste

Sherma Benosa

Residents sorting waste at collection. ©Eidyl Khate Nolasco

Several years ago, no one would have thought that Barangay Potrero, a village in the coastal city of Malabon in the Philippines, would one day become a Zero Waste model community. Its streets and alleys used to drown in litter; its waterways clogged with plastic waste.

Lying below sea level and situated near a heavily silted river, this densely populated village is a catch basin, perennially submerged in flood water during the rainy season. The residents have become used to staying in evacuation centers during the onslaught of heavy rains and floods, and conducting clearing operations when the flood water has subsided, during which volunteers would haul heaps upon heaps of garbage. 

But the village has done a 180-degree turn, now boasting streets without litter, materials recovery facilities that are clean and feature a mini-garden and eco-store, and residents who are cooperatively segregating their waste. It still gets flooded, but the flood water no longer drowns the community in solid waste. 

Potrero’s journey to Zero Waste started when its leaders decided to do something about the floods that regularly plagued them. Realizing that the trash piling in their streets and clogging their waterways were  exacerbating their woes, they worked with Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) and the National Solid Waste Management Commission to manage their waste. 

With guidance from MEF, Potrero leaders employed a holistic approach to solid waste management. They conducted trainings on waste management (segregation, collection, and composting) and strictly implemented the ‘no segregation, no collection policy,’ making households segregate their waste at source. They employed door-to-door segregated waste collection. They built materials recovery facilities (MRFs). At the MRFs, waste workers composted biodegradable waste collected from households. “The barangay is very big. I thought it would be impossible to enforce waste segregation. And it was difficult at first. People were initially not cooperative. But the people saw we were serious in implementing the law. Then, months into the implementation, there was typhoon-induced flooding. The people were surprised to see that there was less garbage floating in the flood water. They became more cooperative after that,” shared Sheryl Nolasco, member of the village’s council. She was the village head of Potrero when the village started implementing the Zero Waste program.

Materials Recovery Facility. ©Eidyl Khate Nolasco

Jobs and Savings

Besides making the barangay cleaner and safer, the Zero Waste program has also borne many other benefits for the residents. For one, it has generated jobs and increased income of the informal workers who were previously barely making enough to meet their daily needs. As of March 2016, the implementation of Ecological Solid Waste Management has provided 65 jobs to local community members. Among those who benefited were the informal waste workers who became authorized garbage collectors or monitoring staff for the daily collection of waste. 

According to Mariedel Barbin, a waste worker, she receives an allowance from the barangay for her work as garbage monitor where she accompanies the waste collector to ensure that the households are segregating their waste properly. On top of the allowance, she also makes extra from the sale of recyclables they get from their door-to-door segregated waste collection.

“It’s not much,” she says. “But it helps make both ends meet.”

The implementation of waste segregation also saved the barangay millions of pesos from avoided tipping fees to landfills or dumpsites. By recovering the recyclable materials and composting biodegradable waste, the program significantly reduced the amount of waste that went to landfills. Where before four truckloads (roughly four tons) of waste from the barangay were brought to the landfill daily, now it is only one truck weekly.

“What spelled the success of Barangay Potrero was the political will of the Punong Barangay [village head] to implement the law on solid waste management; the intensive information, education, communication campaign; and the effective community organizing to change the mindset of a throw-away culture to resource conservation,” said Sonia Mendoza, Chairman of Mother Earth Foundation.

According to Mendoza, the residents’ cooperation and commitment was also an important contributor to their success. 

Segregated waste collection. ©Eidyl Khate Nolasco

“If Barangay Potrero, a densely populated urban barangay in flood-prone Malabon City can be a Zero Waste model barangay, all barangays can do it,” she added.