How a city increased its recycling rate from 12% to 80% in 6 years and reduced its waste management

Going Zero Waste is possible, and some large cities are proving it! This article summarises some of the highlights from the case study published by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) for the city of San Fernando, in the Philippines.

The full report is available here.

San Fernando, the capital city of Pampanga, in the Philippines, is home of 306,000 inhabitants, and covers an area of 6,774 hectares, and is divided into 35 villages or barangays (smallest administrative unit in the Philippines).

Of all waste management policies, Zero Waste is considered as the most cost-effective solution in the medium and long-term and provides substantial benefits at the community level. One of the keys for success is political will.

Waste management in the Philippines is governed by a national law called the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or Republic Act 9003 (RA 9003). This law puts the prime responsibility of waste management on the barangay. It requires the barangay 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.

During his term, the former city Mayor Oscar Samson Rodriguez (2004-2013) implemented a series of initiatives to develop suitable infrastructures in order to comply with RA9003. Despite several setbacks to the city’s solid waste management initiatives the municipality remained committed on finding a sustainable and ecological solution for the city’s garbage challenges.

In 2011, San Fernando formed a partnership with Mother Earth Foundation (MEF), a GAIA member in the Philippines that actively promotes Zero Waste to drive a more effective approach to achieving San Fernando’s waste management goals. MEF provided technical assistance to local leaders about RA 9003, including a more comprehensive way of addressing household segregation.

After 6 years, the results were there!

Diversion Rate per year in San Fernando

Here is the list of some of the initiatives, policies, and best practices that were introduced by the city:

  • Creation of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), a separate office whose primary responsibility is to implement the Solid Waste Management program.
  • Financial support (subsidies) to barangays to build their own Material Recovery Facilities (MRF). MRF are facilities where discards are sorted before being sent to recyclers. Decentralising waste separation also ensure a local commitment to proper waste segregation.
  • Supply of pushbikes to barangays to facilitate the collection of waste.
  • Partnership with an environmental organisation (Mother Earth Foundation) to provide local leaders with technical assistance on how to address household waste segregation challenges.
  • Educational and communication campaign led by Mother Earth Foundation. It included a contest between the different barangays to identify the best performing one. This tends to stimulate the sense of ownership at the community level. A local TV show also organised impromptu visits in households and offered a reward if they were segregating properly.
  • Enforced a plastic free policy to phase out disposable plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging for food products. On 13th June 2015, San Fernando has declared a total ban on plastic bags.
  • To make sure that private contractors and businesses are separating at source, CENRO staff conduct regular spot-checks.
  • Official recognition of the city waste workers with the creation of San Fernando Waste Workers Association. This led to a better integration of these workers to the local community and higher salaries.
  • Although the waste hauling fees increase, the city expenditure on waste management went down from PHP 70 M to PHP 34.6 M in 2018, so 50% cost savings.

There are still some work to be done to achieve 90% diversion rate, but they are on track to reach the goal!

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About Zero Waste City

Zero Waste City is a consulting business specialised in waste reduction for commercial and industrial facilities. We help companies to save money by reducing waste and to achieve Zero Waste goals. Our services include:

Our services include:

  • Waste audit (quantifying waste streams and identifying immediate cost saving opportunities)
  • Compliance with regulations such as:
    • Mandatory Packaging Reporting
    • Mandatory Waste Reporting
    • Mandatory Food Waste Segregation
  • Project implementation and on-going support
  • Measurement and Verification of savings
  • Guidance to achieve Zero Waste goals and certifications.