Friday, August 13, 2010

President Noynoy Aquino's plan to revive the Pasig River, plastic sachets, and flooding in Metro Manila

After writing the previous post on President Noynoy Aquino's visit to an estero near Malacanang, I found myself unfortunate enough to experience something that underlines just how important it is that the President makes good on his promise to revive the Pasig river.

Yesterday afternoon, I was awakened from a rather long nap by a frantic cellphone call from my wife.  She hollered over the sound of the rain and passing cars that it was raining hard and she couldn't get a taxi cab home.

So, roused from my sleep, I trundled over to the car and proceeded to drive towards Tomas Morato on E. Rodriguez.

At the front of what used to be called Q.I. or Quezon Institute, traffic slowed to a crawl.  The reason? Most of the street was flooded from the gate of QI to the corner of G. Araneta.

Now, this confounded me a bit because the corner of G. Araneta and E. Rodriguez is just a short walk away to a rather large tributary of the Pasig River.  Now, ordinary figuring tells me that this corner shouldn't be flooded because the storm drains in this area should be able to dump the flood water directly into the tributary just a few meters away.

I was able to look at the tributary as I drove past it on E. Rodriguez.  From the looks of it, it seemed that the level of water flowing through it was not unusually high, leading me to think that the drains leading to the tributary from E. Rodriguez was blocked.

Normally, when people are asked about what block storm drains, they normally say that storm drains are blocked by compacted mud or silt.  However, a friend who happens to be an engineer, pointed out that mud and silt normally flows along with the storm water.  What causes the blockage is not compacted mud or silt but debris and other solid waste -- the most prevalent of which are plastic grocery bags, plastic pounces and sachets.

The corner of E. Rodriguez and G. Araneta is where you can find Puregold Supermarket (a major source of plastic grocery bags), several subdivisions, and at least two major squatter colonies.  

It doesn't take too much figuring to come up with the idea that perhaps the people who buy their groceries at Puregold eventually discard plastic bags and wrappers in garbage bins which later gets picked through by people in squatter colonies for recyclables that they can sell.

Plastic bags, plastic pouches, and sachet wrappers are sometimes discarded all over the street after garbage pickers are through with them.  These things eventually end up in storm drains and voila! Storm drains get blocked.

While the major cause of Pasig River's pollution is untreated waste water from households, commercial establishments, and factories,  another major source is solid waste in the form of plastic packaging.

The plastic packaging that blocks storm drains, esteros, and even some parts of Pasig river tributaries contribute to the worsening of the pollution.  Stuck up waste water eventually becomes so concentrated with pollutants that when it is finally carried into the Pasig river, the natural processes that normally lead to its degradation is overwhelmed.  Plastics can also, at times, form a foundation on which algae and after that weeds can grow -- further choking esteros.

Now, I don't know just how serious President Noynoy Aquino is about reviving Pasig River is.  

Perhaps one of signs that he is serious about cleaning up the Pasig river would be if he comes up with an order to that would curb plastic pollution at its source.

In searching for possible solutions to plastic pollution on the internet, I came across what appears to be a paper on it.  Titled "The Dilemmas of Plastic Wastes in a Developing Economy: Proposals for a Sustainable Management Approach for Ghana", it proposes ways to get companies that use plastic packaging to pay for cleaning up the mess they create.

Here is a section of that paper:

Recent Government response
Realising the need for some structured plastic waste collection process for addressing the plastic waste menace in the country, the Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City together with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly proposed that plastic waste producers in the city of Accra should bear the cost of collection of the plastics, declaring a levy of 11,000 Ghanaian cedis (about 1.2 US dollars) per kilogram of plastic raw material.
Given that any undertaking or activity that generates residuals into the environment and/or degrades the environment should contribute to environmental cleaning under the “Polluter-Pays” arrangement, such undertakings and activities have a social and corporate responsibility to contribute to a plastic collection and environmental cleaning tax fund (pollution responsibility charges). As such, for the retrieval of plastic wastes from the environment in Ghana, a plastic polluter pays (PPP) levy system is advocated. This calls for an appropriate incremental levy system (perhaps per kilogram of plastic) that takes into account the margin of plastic pollution to be placed on all actors.
A weighted proportion of the levy should be borne by producers of the plastics (production pollution levy) and a correspond-ing weighted proportion also borne by the consumers who patronise the plastics or plastic packaged products (consumption pollution levy). Under this incremental levy system, it is possible to estimate the production capacity of the plastic producer and then calculate on monthly basis. This production pollution levy will be a fraction of its marginal profit and the quantity of plastics produced by the producer, which then can return into the environment to cause environmental pollution, if uncollected. Now, consumers of plastic products incur consumption pollution charges by buying plastics or plastic packaged products.
This will be a certain percentage of the production pollution charges calculated based upon the rate of consumption. The consumer PPP levy is meant to instil discipline in consumers regarding the way they dispose off plastics and this levy is retrievable by the consumer based on a tax refund system (or cash-back), which is part of the proposed levy system. The administration of the PPP levy system would be such that several plastic collection points are set up in various towns and cities across the country. This should give plastic consumers or thrash pickers an opportunity to be given cash back when they return plastic wastes to any of
these points. Cash back may be dependent on a kilogram of plastic returned or any other acceptable calculation. It should be convenient for the populace to reach these plastic collection points, which can be established both in residential and commercial places, as well as in some supermarkets. In this case, when one drinks, for instance sachet iced-water, there is financial motivation to keep the sachets and return them in exchange for cash-back on the product.
Similarly, people would be encouraged to return their black plastic carrier bags to the collection points for some cash back. Otherwise, anybody who collects plastic wastes from the floor and takes back to the collection point would enjoy the corresponding cash back. If the plastic wastes are not returned to the collection point, then city/town authorities have the responsibility to use the consumer PPP levy on the plastics to pay scavengers to collect these wastes from the corridors of the cities and towns. In effect consumers of plastic products would bear a portion for the collection of the plastic wastes. The consumers, however, have the choice not to bear this levy when they return the plastic waste to the collection point. This kind of system has already proven to work informally in many cities in sub-Sahara Africa as some low income groups often pick-up potentially useful waste materials from the curbside for resale to the public.


pasigriveravenger said...

political will is what will solve this problem about clogged sewers and tributaries.

the occasional clean ups, which i think are done mostly for show by some companies and government agencies, really don't mean much if you consider how much faster people generate garbage. as you already pointed out plastic comprises much of our garbage.

the government should start using some political will to impose drastic changes. banning plastics for certain types of packaging in favor of biodegradable materials is one idea.

related to this, have you noticed that some stores are now actually selling reusable shopping bags. some even come in funky designs. unfortunately, while these bags are selling quite well, they are not being used as intended. most shoppers still use plastic bags, which are of course provided by groceries, supermarkets, department stores etcetera.

asapakayo said...

Do you seriously think this administration will be able to revive Pasig River? Have you been living under a rock? Former President Fidel Ramos was a civil engineer and he failed to bring the river back to life. His successor, Joseph Estrada, was — well — never mind. And, how about Former President Gloria Arroyo? Nada.

What makes you think or rather hope President Benigno Aquino III has what it takes to reclaim Pasig River from those who have made it their backyard? I’m not only referring to the informal settlers who have made the banks of Pasig River their home and toilet. There are much bigger fish to fry. Of course I’m talking about the big companies that continue to operate their factories along the river.

I have a theory. These big companies and some of the squatters along Pasig River are in league with each other. Do a visual inspection and take note of the physical layout of the squatter colonies. You will notice that these colonies are usually in close proximity to these companies’ manufacturing plants, factories, and warehouses. It’s as if the shanties serve as buffer, a protective wall for those industrial facilities.

Believe you me, this administration will not succeed in rehabilitating Pasig River unless it develops serious political will. Rehabilitating the river requires lots of it. For how else should the government deal with the squatters and the local and multinational companies that continue to operate along the river and its tributaries.

Piecemeal solutions such as clean up operations done one estero at a time are not effective. It’s obvious more needs to be done all at once. Remove the source of the pollution you prevent further damage to the river.

Will the Aquino administration dare pursue this approach. No chance in hell. So stop this nonsense about Pasig River’s rehabilitation. Just accept the fact it’s dead.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we just dump soil and cement into the river and turn it into reclaimed real estate?

advocam said...

Our research is faulty. Misdirected. We are looking at the waste we can resell, We are looking at the volumes of fresh water we can sell, we are looking at energy and transport dimensions. No one is really looking at the river.

It can be done. We must understand the river and not demand of it.

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