Ten zero-waste cities: Community participation worked wonders for San Fernando

The whole community played an integral role in making the implementation of the zero-waste programme city-wide, a success

By Sonia Henam, Swati Singh Sambyal
Published: Tuesday 19 November 2019
City of San Fernando, Pampagna, The Philippines. Photo: VJ Villafranca / GAIA

Community participation worked wonders in making the Philippines city of San Fernando implement its zero-waste programme successfully, according to a report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

According to the report, the empowerment of the city’s barangays (communities) was very crucial to sustain efforts for environmental protection.

The whole community played an integral role in making the implementation of the zero-waste programme city-wide, a success. The participation of the community was what pushed the programme to greater heights and made San Fernando the model ‘Zero Waste City’ that it is today.

San Fernando initially struggled with the implementation of the waste regulation RA 9003. According to the law, the prime responsibility of waste management rests with the barangay.

The barangay has to implement waste segregation at source; collect and manage all biodegradable, reusable, and recyclable wastes; build necessary facilities and acquire the appropriate land and vehicles to manage wastes; and employ personnel to deliver waste services.

However, initially, compliance among barangays and constituents was low.

Waste generation, particularly of residual waste, was on the rise, and open dumping and burning of waste remained prevalent. Despite the numerous setbacks to the city’s solid waste management goals, the former city Mayor Oscar Samson Rodriguez (2004-2013) remained adamant on finding a sustainable and ecological solution for the city’s garbage woes.

New beginnings

In 2011, San Fernando formed a partnership with Mother Earth Foundation (MEF), a GAIA member in the Philippines that actively promotes zero waste. MEF provided technical assistance to local leaders about RA 9003, including a more comprehensive way of addressing household segregation.

When the new administration led by city Mayor Edwin Santiago took over in 2013, the city’s waste management programme was not only sustained but also saw great improvements.

“One of the first strategies that MEF assisted San Fernando in was leading an intensive public information, education, and communication (IEC) campaign for residents,” Sonia Mendoza, chairperson, MEF, said.

Aside from doing an IEC campaign in barangays, schools, and business establishments, the city also introduced a novel concept to encourage at-source separation and home composting: a live TV show called ‘Win-win for all.’

The TV show, which goes live every Friday and is hosted by a local artist, awards a small sum of money to households that separate their waste properly. Every episode, the hosts make surprise visits to unsuspecting households from the week’s chosen barangay to check if they do proper waste separation.

Five winners are awarded PHP 2,000 ($39.21) each if they pass the inspection, Mendoza added.

To further combat the increasing volume of residual waste, San Fernando passed a Plastic-Free Ordinance in 2014 (Ordinance No. 2014-008) which targets business establishments and aims to gradually phase out the use of plastic bags and styrofoam packaging for food products.

The ordinance also details penalties that business establishments will face should they violate any of the provisions stated within the ordinance. The penalties start with a warning and can escalate to the cancellation of their business permit if they reach a fourth offense.

As of June 13, 2015, San Fernando has declared a total ban on plastic bags, which has an 85 per cent compliance rate today. A policy of no-segregation, no collection has also been strictly implemented.

In these models, household compliance is monitored by the barangays, while compliance of business establishments and other institutions are monitored by the city.

Business establishments, private schools, and private healthcare facilities are required to contract a private hauler to collect segregated waste and bring residuals to a final disposal facility.

To make sure that private contractors and businesses are separating at source, staff from the Creation of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office or CENRO, a separate office whose primary responsibility is to implement the Solid Waste Management programme, conduct regular spot-checks.

Healthcare facilities are required to contract accredited infectious and hazardous waste treatment facilities to dispose their infectious waste properly.

San Fernando is one of the few local government units (LGU) in the Philippines where the city solid waste management board (CSWMB) is properly constituted and fully functional. The board meets regularly and acts promptly to create or adjust the city’s overall waste programme.

The city awards a small honorarium for CSWMB members during meetings as an additional incentive. All relevant sectors are properly represented in the board, including waste workers and the youth.

Perhaps one of the biggest improvements in San Fernando’s programme is the recognition given to its waste workers. The city integrated the informal workers in the system and was formalised since 2012.

Waste workers have also organised themselves into the city-wide San Fernando Waste Workers Association, the president of which sits in the CSWMB.

“There are currently around 160 barangay-hired waste workers working as collectors, drivers, segregators, street sweepers, and MRF managers that earn a monthly average salary of PHP 4,800 ($ 94) with a range of PHP 1,000-10,800 ($ 19.5-211) and an added average potential additional income sourced from sales of recyclables collected from households of PHP 4,700 ($92),” Mendoza added.

Today, the city is considered a pioneer in zero waste and is considered as the first LGU that strictly complies with the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 in the Philippines. 

This is the fourth of a 10-part series

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