A man operates a brick-pressing machine that mixes shreds of sachet laminates with wet cement to produce an ecobrick at Filipino social enterprise Green Antz Builders in Taguig City, south of Manila, the Philippines, October 9, 2019. (Photo by Virma Simonette/Xinhua)
This reality has motivated a group of engineers and entrepreneurs to take up an initiative that repurposes sachets, from being polluters to an effective solution to the plastic waste problem of the country.
Green Antz Builders started as an advocacy among friends in 2012, but grew to become a social enterprise that produces eco-friendly construction hollow blocks, called "ecobricks", made of plastic sachets and other non-recyclable wastes.
"Sachets are residual wastes, they are of no commercial value, they can't even be sold to junk shops. But we saw their potential. We decided to turn sachets into something useful", co-founder Mark Yulores told Xinhua.
An ecobrick is composed of 100 plastic laminates, shredded and then mixed with wet cement. This mixture is poured into a brick-pressing machine that the group also invented. The finished product can be used to build various infrastructures, from houses to schools, and buildings.
A set of ecobricks fresh from the machine are being dried at Filipino social enterprise Green Antz Builders in Taguig City, south of Manila, the Philippines, October 9, 2019. (Photo by Virma Simonette/Xinhua)
Ecobricks look different from ordinary building blocks and resemble lego blocks. The plastic laminates also act as an insulator that locks out the heat passing through normal hollow blocks, making ecobricks cooler and more durable.
"We did not just incorporate the plastic sachets so we can call it a 'green' product. We saw a property in those laminates that complement our innovation. And this formulation makes our ecobricks five times stronger than commercial alternatives," Yulores added.
By tapping on public schools and communities, the group was able to encourage the public to segregate their waste, collect the plastic sachets and bring them to their ecohubs. Their involvement will not go unrewarded -- every 2.5 kilos of sachet they collect will get them a discount on ecobricks they buy.
The reception was positive that led them to open a few eco-stores, where people exchange for food using the sachets they collected. This incentive system is helping Green Antz Builders develop a chain reaction of good environmental practice.
"It's a circular economy model. We take in their waste collection and convert that, but in return we give them a form of incentive, and then they help us in the demand side by using our ecobricks. The more demand, the more plastic we need to process," he said.
A community in Plaridel built a daycare center by collecting and donating their one-off plastics to Green Antz. With discounted ecobricks, the local government was not only able to save money, but provide a sustainable learning facility for kids.
"We are very glad that they helped us put up our center. This is a very ideal project, a first in our community. Because you can never realize that out of trash we can build something like this," said Teresa Viernes of the social welfare office of Plaridel.
A stack ecobricks are displayed in one of the newly-opened ecohub of Filipino social enterprise group Green Antz Builders in Taguig City, south of Manila, the Philippines, October 9, 2019. (Photo by Virma Simonette/Xinhua)
Green Antz Builders is not alone in their cause anymore. Private construction companies have started to partner with them, building ten operational ecohubs all over the country. By 2020, the group hopes to build 90 more.
A recycling company in Davao City, southern Philippines, is addressing the shortage of school chairs by converting plastic waste into useful furniture. Thirty kilos of plastic makes up one school chair, which is seen as a significant contribution to the city that handles 500-600 tons of trash every day, most of which end up in waterways.
Meanwhile, a village in Muntinlupa City, south of Manila, has offered rice to its residents in exchange for plastic. The initiative, which started in August, had already collected more than 500 kilos of plastic waste.
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The problems on waste management remain a challenge for many developing countries including the Philippines. Although various policies have been formulated to address these concerns, there are many underlying issues that affect their effective implementation such as the political will and capability of the leaders, the availability of appropriate waste management technologies, and the understanding and willingness of the members of the society to act cooperatively towards achieving more sustainable waste management.
The increasing population, urbanization, and changing lifestyle have contributed to the continued increase of waste generation in the Philippines. Based on the 2015 census of population (POPCEN), the country has a total population of 100,987,437 persons (Philippine Statistics Authority [PSA], 2017). The waste generation per person is 0.70kg/day in highly urbanized city areas, 0.60kg/day in urban city areas, and 0.30 kg/day in rural areas (Aguinaldo 2009, as cited in Atienza, 2017). The National Capital Region (NCR) has the highest waste generation rate of 0.71 kg per capita per day while the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has the lowest with 0.30 kg per capita per day. It was estimated that the total waste generation was 35 tons per day or 13.1 million tons per year (National Solid Waste Management Commission [NSWMC], 2016).
With the above-mentioned data, there is indeed an urgent need to find ways on how to effectively manage waste in the country. As in many developing countries, a higher volume of waste generated was not properly collected and thus, ended up in open dumpsites or waterways which caused severe flooding especially during typhoons. The country experienced a waste management tragedy in 2000 when the former open dumpsite in Payatas collapsed due to heavy rains and thus, killed about 200 people (Atienza, 2013).
In response to the growing problems on waste management in the country, the Philippines Republic Act 9003 (RA 9003), also known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, was enacted in January 26, 2001. Unlike previous waste management policies which seemed to be a piecemeal approach, RA 9003 is considered as the most comprehensive act which declares the policy of the state to adopt a systematic, comprehensive, and ecological solid waste management program which shall ensure the protection of public health and environment (Republic of the Philippines, RA 9003, Article 1, Section 2). It has been eighteen years since it came into force, however, the rate of compliance is still low.
As mandated by the RA 9003, all local government units (LGUs) through its solid waste management (SWM) boards, shall prepare a 10-year solid waste management plan which shall ensure the efficient management of solid waste within their jurisdiction. But as of October 2018, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) reported that only 30.4% (497 LGUs) have approved SWM plans; 62.4% (1,080 LGUs) are for evaluation and pending approval; and 7.2% (117 LGUs) have not submitted their plans (NSWMC, 2018).
In terms of waste diversion, it is cited from RA 9003 that each LGU shall divert at least 25% of all waste from waste disposal facilities within five (5) years after the effectivity of the law in 2001 through re-use, recycling, and composting and other resource recovery activities; and that this 25% diversion goals should be increased every three (3) thereafter (Section 20) or after 2006. However, it was reported by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) that as of May 31, 2011, the average waste diversion rate in Metro Manila was only 33.92% (MMDA, 2011). It is assumed that there is even lower diversion rate in other parts of the country. Based on the report of the Philippines Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO), there was a 48% solid waste diversion rate in Metro Manila while 46% outside of Metro Manila as of 2015 (SEPO, 2017).
Based on the National Solid Waste Management Strategy 2012 - 2016 of the Philippines, it was reported that more than 50% of municipalities in the country are classified as low income communities and do not have sufficient funds for waste management activities. Others may have financial resources but lack the technical capacity to effectively implement these activities (NSWMC, 2016). This implies that the low compliance rate of LGUs may not necessarily be due to their unwillingness to comply with the law, but is dependent on their level of capacity. Hence, it is necessary to also review other underlying causes of the low compliance rate of the LGUs to RA 9003 and the possible strategies to effectively implement solid waste management policies and programs in a more sustainable manner.
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