Thursday, January 10, 2008

A cleaner year

The Christmas season ended last Sunday on the Feast of the Epiphany which is about manifestations of the divine kind. Don’t’ we hope to also see manifestations of the human kind, the kind that would ease the burden on the environment and us critters?

The garbage and the pollution that Christmas and the New Year had wrought should have eased up by now. (The holy season has become a dirty season.) It’s time to clean up. Clean up our surroundings and our insides. And let our singing of “and heaven and nature sing” become a reality.

There is hope for the flowers. Here’s some good news:

2008 Waste Trading Markets. The Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE), the Ayala Foundation and several big corporations are continuing the Waste Trading Markets where trading and buying of waste and junk take place.

Trade your scrap paper and cardboard for bathroom tissue, table napkins, bond paper and notebooks. Exchange your empty ink and toner cartridges for remanufactured ones. Your plastic bottles and plastic scraps could be exchanged for hangers, basins, pails and stools.

If you don’t want to trade, they will buy your junk electronic/electrical equipment (PCs, laptops, radios, etc.) and broken appliances; used lead acid batteries (from cars, UPS/voltage regulators, busted rechargeable lamps); used PET plastic bottles and other plastics; aluminum and tin cans; scrap paper and cartons; used ink/toner cartridges.

There are drop-off areas for polystyrene and styrofoam scrap, junk cell phones and cell phone batteries.

Venue and dates: Jan 11 and every 2nd Friday of the month (8 am to 3 pm, Goldcrest Car Park, Ayala Center); Jan 12 and every 2nd Saturday(SM San Lazaro); Jan. 18 (to be confirmed, Alabang Town Center); Jan. 19 and every 3rd Saturday (SM Southmall, Las Pinas); Jan. 25 and every 4th Friday (Trinoma, North Edsa, QC); Jan. 26 and every 4th Saturday(SM Fairview, QC, SM Davao City. Every 1st Saturday 8 am to 2 pm (SM Marilao).

To be very sure, please call PBE, 6352650 to 51 or email

I’ve been classifying my garbage for the longest time. All the wet biodegradables go to the compost area in my backyard and become fertilizer for my plants. All that the garbage collectors have to take away are the dry stuff—paper, plastic, etc. But I’ve always been hesitant to dispose of the hard gadgets (e.g., voltage regulators, cartridges, batteries) via the garbage trucks because I don’t know where and how they’ll end up. Yes, the Waste Trading Market would know where and how.

Shocking news:
The Inquirer has just come out with a three-part series on the polluted state of the Bulacan rivers that have become the dumping place and carrier of hazardous wastes. What a shock to know that the rivers of Obando, Marilao and Meycauayan (collectively called the Meycauayan river system) have made it to the world’s Dirty 30. What a dishonor for this historic province that cradled heroes and noble Filipinos.

So close to Metro Manila (a couple of its cities are in fact part of Metro Manila), and yet not quite part of the metropolis, Bulacan, or part of it, has remained pleasantly rural and bucolic to the eyes. Until one gets a whiff of that smell and beholds the rivers that are groaning under loads of toxic heavy metals. The tanneries and the factories are among the main culprits. Include local government officials who don’t care and play blind.

And I thought Bulacan was becoming a hub for green efforts. Years ago I did a long magazine feature on one man and a community’s effort to do something—in a big, innovative way, in fact—with the garbage in Sta. Maria, Bulacan (“Garbage Turns Green in Sta. Maria,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine). At that time, I thought, wow, Bulacan is going to show the way.

Luis R. Vargas, a balikbayan who had lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, came home to find the folks back home with the same sad refrain: garbage.

With lots of guts, basic science, technology and management, Vargas, concerned townsfolk and officials turned an environmental headache into warm, rich earth.

Vargas put up a composting plant where the town’s market waste went. The primary goal was not making organic fertilizer, although there was a demand for it. The goal was zero waste with fertilizer as the by-product. Incineration was out of the question.

Sta. Maria’s Waste Processing and Recycling Project was a joint effort of the municipality, Aware Inc. headed by Vargas and the Sta. Maria Economic Foundation headed by Dr. Roman Cucio. The mayor at that time, Reylina Nicolas, was supportive of the project.

Vargas’ Aware Inc. became the town’s garbage collector and for his heroic effort, Vargas could keep the garbage and turn it into green gold—organic fertilizer.

I remember going to the plant and smelling the rich smell of the earth. It was amazing to watch the stages—from garbage collecting to composting with the help of trichoderma to harvesting to bagging to marketing.

But this was also a business. Recycling for profit would have been easier than dealing with wet, smelly, biodegradable garbage but the latter has few brave takers. A balikbayan had to show how.

It’s time for me to find out what has become of that innovative venture.

Mercury! The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) features mercury and the problem it poses on the health care system and the environment.

PCIJ announces: “In its latest report on global mercury reduction, the International Health Care without Harm cites the Philippine experience as a model in switching to alternatives and creating policy solutions.” Log on to