Trash collectors face new problem amidst pandemic: Used face masks

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Trash collectors face new problem amidst pandemic: Used face masks

The risks imposed on garbage collectors are seemingly increasing, yet another problem emerged on solid waste management due to the pandemic: improper disposal of biomedical wastes. 

Environmental frontliners continue to battle with their lives as signages were posted in streets saying: “Ilagay sa tamang tapunan ang ginamit mong facemask,” following the growing problem on how to properly discard infectious wastes in Olongapo City.

In 2020, The Ecowaste Coalition told the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Diseases to regulate and enforce proper disposal of used facemasks.

“To draw attention to this pressing problem and the need for citizens’ cooperation, LGUs may enact new ordinances or simply enforce existing ones that prohibit and penalize littering of waste materials in line with R.A. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,” said Jove Benosa, Zero waste campaigner of Ecowaste Coalition.

According to the local officials of Barangay Mabayuan, in Olongapo, the City has already created policies against improper disposal of face masks, but as a separate institution from the city, the Barangay will have a different implementation which is still in the process of signing and approval.

“We already have projects to minimize improper disposal of face masks. There will be a penalty for those who are caught in doing so, as well as, a sanction to perform community service,” said Joel Delos Reyes, Kagawad of Barangay Mabayuan.

Solid waste issues

Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines have already faced circumstances on how to manage waste disposal. The country produces 16 million tons of garbage yearly. However, the pandemic added 46 million face masks and 353 tons of medical wastes daily.

Twenty years after the approval of Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which aims to promote proper discarding of garbage, only 1,005 out of 1,634 LGUs in the Philippines have a National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC)-approved 10-year solid waste management plan as of November 2020.

On the other hand, the lack of equipment and expertise has also contributed to the issues on solid waste management. It requires a well-planned system, yet some LGUs admit that their resources are not infinite.

Strengthening environmental frontliners 

Although few Local Government Units (LGUs) have taken initiative on giving support for garbage collectors by providing Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) like Barangay Batong Malake and Baybayin in Los Baños, Laguna, it is already a first step on giving more effort for the less appreciated frontliners.

“I came up with the initiative to provide PPEs to our Garbage Collectors and other barangay because I realized the fact that like us, they are also in the frontlines of this COVID-19 Battle,” said Ian Kalaw, Lupong tagapamayapa of the said Barangay.

Furthermore, the local government of Mandaue in Cebu also donated 1,600 sets of PPEs that consists of 60 double and single respirators with cartridges, 104 pairs of high-duty reusable safety gloves, and 1,500 pairs of disposable gloves for environmental frontliners. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also reiterated the importance of giving protection for garbage collectors considering that an individual from the said job has been recorded positive for COVID-19.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu asked DILG secretary Eduardo Año to follow seven measures which are : (1) requiring garbage collectors to wear PPEs, proper segregation of solid waste at source, regular collection of garbage; and, disinfection of garbage bags prior to collection and loading at the garbage truck and upon disposal at the sanitary landfill.

This story was written by Lanz Aaron Sabio as a final output for AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Program – An Intensive Virtual Environmental Journalism Training for young writers and journalists.

Featured photo from EcoWaste Coalition.

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