Taking garbage into their own hands

Wednesday, 26 April 2023


In Brgy. Bernardo Pulido, GMA, a sewing livelihood program has paved the way for better solid waste management—with many people now taking the initiative


In the small classroom beside a basketball half-court in Brgy. Bernardo Pulido in General Mariano Alvarez (GMA), Cavite, there are no children today, even if educational materials remain plastered on the walls. Instead, the hum of two electric sewing machines fills the air as sewers Juanita Sebastian and Rose Babaran work quickly to assemble small, circular basahan (rags). The rags are stuffed with scrap fabric, which Marivic Montilla and Gina David, both barangay health workers, are helping trim at the adjoining table in their free time.


The rags are tied in bundles of 30 that sell for P40. Of that amount, P20 is used to buy materials, P12 goes to the sewer, P1 is set aside for sewing machine maintenance—“sahod ng makina” (the salary of the machine), Babaran says—and P7 goes to the trimmers. If the two sewers finish 10 bundles in one afternoon, they get P60 each. “Iipunin namin yung kita, at kukunin kada dalawang linggo” (We save the earnings and get them every two weeks), says Babaran. “Sa isang buwan, kung tatlo o apat kang araw magtrabaho sa isang linggo, aabot na rin ng P1,100, depende sa sipag, depende sa magawa mo sa isang araw. Pandagdag na rin sa gastos.” (In one month, if you work three or four days a week, you can make P1,100, depending on how industrious you are and how many you can finish in a day. It helps with our expenses.)


 Sewer Rosa Babaran (left) says she can make an extra P1,100 a month, working three days a week on making rags. Like Babaran, sewer Juanita Sebastian (right) must also accept jobs outside of Kaagapay to make ends meet.


The four ladies are members of Kaagapay (Partners), the people’s organization (PO) of sewers in Brgy. Pulido, established in 2018 when the Caritas Diocese Foundation of Imus, Inc. first reached out to the barangay, considered a vulnerable community because almost all of its approximately 15,000 inhabitants were relocated from other places, including Manila.


Barangay health workers and Kaagapay members Marivic Montilla and Gina David trim strips of fabric to stuff into rags in their free time. The rags are bundled, with 30 pieces sold for an average of P40.


In fact, GMA was formerly part of another municipality, and used to be known as the Carmona Resettlement Project, managed by the then People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC), now called the National Housing Authority (NHA).


While Brgy. B. Pulido is in a landlocked area that is mainly residential, it is also potentially dangerous because the barangay sits on an incline, which could aggravate flooding or landslides, and because the community is about 1.5 km from a major earthquake faultline.


Caritas began its outreach by training Brgy. B. Pulido’s residents on disaster management. “Na-enganyo kami sumali dahil may mga project” (We were encouraged to join because there were several projects,” says Montilla. “Tinuruan kami kung paano maghanda para sa bagyo, paano tumulong sa sarili namin at sa kapwa kung may kalamidad, tulungan yung mga may sugat o nadaganan kung may lindol, para hindi lang palaging aasa sa gobyerno.” (We were taught how to prepare for typhoons, how to help ourselves and others during a calamity, how to help those wounded or crushed during an earthquake, so we don’t always have to just depend on government.)


‘Sewing Hope’


As with most community development efforts, Caritas eventually helped put together the PO for livelihood, with sewing as the preferred activity for the stakeholders. Under the aegis of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines, the women also began sewing face masks and cheesecloth bags by commission, such as for corporate events, under the PO’s project name “Sewing Hope.”


As it turned out, however, “We were already planning basic sewing machine training for more sewers when the pandemic came,” recalls Caritas Imus lay pastoral worker and community organizer Cherrylyn Reyes. “We had to use the budget for ayuda [pandemic aid], which was distributed to the community.”


With the livelihood work now resuming, Montilla says, they could certainly use such training, because the income is not enough for a full-time job, and the number of sewers and Kaagapay members has diminished because of the return to full-time work.


Another option which came up, however, was an interesting one: the making of eco-bags from recycled plastic sachets, which the sewers are currently training for. The connection was made, Montilla says, when the local government’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (DRRMO) also taught people how to segregate their trash. “Bawa’t huling Biyernes, yung mga sachet ng plastic, kinukuha at tinitimbang, at may kapalit na bigas. Pero ngayon, kahit walang bigas, tuloy-tuloy na rin ginagawa.” (Every last Friday, sachets of plastic were collected and weighed, and exchanged for rice. But now, even without the rice, people continue to do it.)


The effort had received an added boost in January 2020, when the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) in Cavite Province (Plastic Wastes Recycling Project) was first launched through a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines Inc. Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) coordinates the implementation of the project in partnership with Caritas Imus and working closely with the Provincial Government of Cavite, through the Provincial Government-Environment and Natural Resources Office (PGENRO).


Brgy. B. Pulido was identified as one of five sites in Cavite province—along with Brgy. Bucana, Ternate; Brgy. San Rafael, Noveleta; Brgy. San Jose, Tagaytay City; and Brgy. Banaybanay, Amadeo—where the project aimed to diversify the province’s large volume of solid waste. Originally meant to run until 2021, the project was recalibrated and extended until December 2022 after the proponents employed data analytics, in the form of a plastic circularity audit, a community needs assessment (CNA), and a waste analysis characterization study (WACS), to help determine more appropriate, efficient steps and community-owned actions for solid waste management (SWM).


Community needs assessment in Brgy. B. Pulido to identify community-owned actions for solid waste management.


The WACS, in particular, revealed what exactly people were throwing away, and what could be done about it. By composition, biodegradables made up 63.78 percent of the total weight of Brgy. B. Pulido’s garbage, with food and kitchen waste accounting for 61.9 percent of that amount. Recyclables came next at 13.77 percent of total weight, with plastics making up 6.47 percent of that. Residuals with potential for recycling accounted for 13.15 percent, with most of that (8.48 percent) being flexible plastics, and residuals for disposal accounted for 8.31 percent.


Ubiquitous PET bottles



Still, plastic from all the categories constituted 21.46 percent of total weight, 4.91 percent of that figure being the ubiquitous polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, 4.90 percent being pouches, sachets, and wrappers, and 4.70 percent being grocery and food bags.


The volume of waste for this barangay, which had a population of 14,358 people from 3,263 households in 2020, is projected to rise from 19,640 cubic meters in 2022 to 22,980 cubic meters in 2032.


First-term Barangay Captain Joel Ganado recalls how the barangay first learned about segregation from the non-government organization Ecowaste Coalition in 2019, and confirms how Coca-Cola provided incentives for segregation. “Noong 2021, nahikayat ng Coke yung mga tao na ipunin yung basurang patapon at di napapakinabangan ng junk shop, para sila ang bibili sa P5 bawa’t kilo.” (In 2021, Coke encouraged the people to collect the useless garbage that couldn’t be sold to junk shops, and bought it for P5 a kilogram.) Ganado added to the motivation: He threw in one kilogram of rice for every five kilograms of plastic. There were other corporate efforts, as well, such as a manufacturing company that bought back plastic wrappers of all their own products.


Ganado was also among the barangay officials who joined the Caritas-organized Lakbay Aral last October 4, 2022, an exposure trip to observe best practices on SWM in model barangays like San Jose, Tagaytay. “Nakakamangha yung programa nila” (Their program is amazing), he says. “Two birds with one stone: nabawasan ang problema sa basura, kumita pa” (they reduced their garbage problem, and they made money).


Ganado, who was a kagawad (barangay councilor) for 11 years before being elected for his first term as barangay captain, tackles SWM by sharing accountability and constantly disseminating information. Inspired by the good practices in Brgy San Jose, he plans to conduct information drives per block, hold public consultations, and establish memoranda of understanding with the community members to be able to charge a P20 garbage collection fee per household. “Hindi kinokolekta ng eco-aide yung basura kung hindi naka-segregate. Kailangan kasama ang mga tao. Nakikita na nilang may pera talaga sa basura, at madami na din naman yung kahit walang incentive, ginagawa na. Pero hindi puedeng one-time lang yung information campaign. Dapat tuloy-tuloy. Madami nang batas, kailangan lang sundin.” (Eco-aides don’t collect the trash if it’s not segregated. The people have to be in on it. They see that there’s really money in trash, and many already manage their waste even without the incentive. But the information campaign can’t just be one-time, it has to be continuous. There are already many laws, they just have to be followed.)

B. Pulido Barangay CaptainJoel Ganado believes in delegating responsibility, and getting even ‘purok’ (district) leaders involved in solid waste management.


Lead by example


Coordinators for each of Bgy. B. Pulido’s 42 blocks also have to show the way and lead by example in properly managing the waste. After all, GMA already has 16 municipal ordinances on SWM, the earliest being 96-03, the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Ordinance, in 2003.


The benefits of the ESWM Project are certainly being felt today in Brgy. B. Pulido, among them the advantage of using data analytics, proper resource leverage, and motivation to amend Cavite’s 10-year-old SWM law, Provincial Ordinance No. 007-212. Most evidently, however, the project has galvanized the community to literally take their garbage problem into their own hands.


Marunong na rin ang mga tao—sinasako, tinatalian ang basura, hindi katulad ng dati na nakakalat” (People know already—they put the garbage in sacks and tie them up, not like before when it was scattered), says David. “Meron naman pagbabago, alam na kung paano aayusin ang basura, hindi na sama-sama sa iisang lalagyan.” (There’s been a change, they now know how to fix the garbage, it’s no longer dumped together in one container.)


Sila na yung nagtatanong, ‘May hakot ba ngayon?’” (They’re the ones who ask, ‘Is there garbage collection today?’) Montilla adds. “Alam na nilang para ito sa kalusugan ng tao, kundi maraming langaw, ipis, daga. Pati mga bata, inuuwi sa bahay yung supot ng tsitsirya galing sa eskuwelahan.” (They know it’s for the people’s health, otherwise there will be flies, cockroaches, rats. Even the kids bring home the wrappers of their snacks from school.)


Caritas community organizer Cherrylyn Reyes (right) looks at some tote bag and rags, products of the sewing livelihood program of the women of B. Pulido’s people’s organization, Kaagapay.


For community organizer Reyes, such changes are enough to keep her going. “You are inspired by these people. Hindi yung organizer ang magaling, it’s the people—nagsasama-sama sa isang layunin. (It’s not the organizer who is good, it’s the people—coming together for one goal.)


“That’s why the Coke funding is a big help. Sabi nga, puede mo pakainin ang mga mahihirap, pero pag turuan mong mangisda, mas maraming mabubusog.” (Like they say, you can feed the poor, but if you instead teach them how to fish, more people will have full stomachs.)

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