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The closure of Inayawan landfill

CEBU, Philippines - The current administration of the Cebu City government earned brownie points from its supporters for being able to close the Inayawan Sanitary Landfill within a year, although it was expected to do this in 2005 yet.

Last Dec. 7, the landfill was finally closed to all forms of dumping following the cessation order issued by Mayor Michael Rama that took effect last Dec. 10.

After six years of operating beyond its full capacity the landfill is ready for rehabilitation. Rama and the Cebu City Solid Waste Management Board assured that after the cessation of all forms of dumping at the landfill, preparation has commenced for the application for total closure, and soon, the rehabilitation and conversion of the site.

History

The landfill was built and funded in 1998 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The construction of the landfill cost about P209 million.

The landfill was designed to last only for seven years which means it was supposed to close in 2005.

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The total land area it is occupying is 15.41 hectares but only about 11 hectares are used for actual dumping.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been urging the city to close the landfill because it has ceased from operating as a sanitary landfill but has become a dumpsite long ago. Any open dumpsite is declared illegal under Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act.

Numerous notices have been sent to the city government warning about the risks that the landfill poses to the immediate community and the entire city for every day it continues to operate.

Just before Rama closed the landfill from dumping but left it open for processing last April, the DENR called the city's attention several times for the mounting garbage that exceeded the height allowed under DENR standards. DENR also warned the city on the quality of wastewater discharge found to have high biological oxygen demand (BOD) that is feared to contaminate water resources since it leaks to the ocean and other receptacles.

To recall, the landfill has also experienced several fires, the most serious occurred in April 2009 when the city had to declare a state of calamity in the sitios surrounding the landfill after residents complained of health problems from inhaling smoke emitted by the burning garbage. Residents of the sitios affected had to be evacuated to safer ground because almost 200 of them started acquiring respiratory diseases.

This and the many other problems pushed the mayor to exercise political will in closing the landfill amidst questions and criticisms from those who doubt the viability of closing the landfill and diverting the garbage elsewhere.

The repeat of the same incidents is feared if the landfill continues to accept garbage. Considering the development of the city over the years, the volume of garbage being generated continues to increase. Currently, the city generates almost 500 tons of garbage daily.

Since the city re-implemented the "No Segregation-No Collection" Policy last April 1, the garbage collected has reduced to about 350 tons daily. Last April, the city also established a Material Recovery Facility to process the garbage while they are scouting for ideas how to manage the garbage for the short-term and long-term bases.

But even this is not enough to solve the city's garbage dilemma.

The Cessation Order

The cessation order issued by Rama last Dec. 7 marked the start of the diversion of garbage to a private landfill in Consolacion.

A private sanitary landfill was built by Asian EnergySystems Corp. in Barangay Pulog which accepts garbage from neighboring towns and cities such as Cebu City, Mandaue City, Cordova, Liloan and other interested areas.

Consolacion's Sanitary Landfill, Methane Recovery and Power Generation Facility agreed to allow the city government to dump its garbage at a tipping fee of P700 per ton for the first 200 tons and P350 per ton for the succeeding tons of garbage that the city will bring to the facility.

Everything sounded good since the city has found an alternative site where to dump garbage. But city officials admit that the decision to divert the garbage to a private facility was not arrived at easily. 

The Hitches

The decision to divert the city's garbage to a private landfill in Consolacion comes with challenges like as the narrow roads leading to the landfill, the traffic, poor lighting and the poor condition of garbage trucks of most barangays.

The city has taken the route of Talamban-Pit-os-Cabangahan-Pulog where there is less traffic. The city was also forced to take this route in going to Consolacion after Mandaue City banned the city's garbage trucks from plying the national road going to Consolacion.

It was Mandaue City councilor Benjamin Basiga who authored a resolution banning garbage trucks of other local government units from using the city's main thoroughfares.

Basiga said allowing garbage trucks from outside to pass by the city may cause traffic and its leachate discharges may also pollute their streets.

Following the approval of the said resolution, Cebu City officials appealed to Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes to reconsider.

Cortes did not make any commitments at first but later the garbage truck ban was pursued as a way to decongest traffic in the city.

Some portions of the route the Cebu City garbage trucks have to take daily are narrow and steep that small garbage trucks and even the big ones can't handle. There is also limited visibility during the night in some areas in Consolacion since these are isolated roads.

Since most of barangays complained that their garbage truck cannot survive the long and rough travel to Consolacion, the city had to rent about 10 more garbage trucks in addition to the existing 20 trucks that will transport the garbage of the barangays to the private landfill.

They also had to establish a transfer station where the garbage collected by the barangays will be unloaded and transferred to the designated garbage trucks that will transport them. The city leased a lot near the Inayawan landfill for this purpose.

Even this transfer station was subject to criticisms because it is allegedly not operating according to what it is intended for. Councilor Nida Cabrera, chairwoman of the council's committee on environment, said the transfer station has become a mere dumpsite because it lacks the appropriate facility and because of the presence of scavengers.

The scavengers were allowed into the area for humanitarian reasons, said an official from the Solid Waste Management Board. They were allowed there for the meantime until the city is able to determine how they can be assisted in terms of livelihood.

In terms of the cost, the city is set to spend some P70,262,500 in tipping fees a year granting they will generate 350 tons of garbage daily. This excludes the rent of garbage trucks and heavy equipment. Not to mention the cost for additional fuel consumed, now that they have to travel a long distance.

But city officials claim that the cost of maintaining the landfill is still more than the projected cost they will incur in diverting. It is either they will be able to save or just break even.

What happens to the landfill?

Following the cessation order, Rama assured that the Solid Waste Management Board has started preparing for the application for the full closure of the landfill before the DENR.

Granting they will be issued a closure order, the city has to implement remediation and rehabilitation measures at the landfill because it cannot be abandoned just like that.

There are many ideas being floated for the long-term plan for the landfill including its conversion into a park, a housing project or simply a waste-to-energy power plant.

Proposals are being studied carefully including the estimation of the cost the city has to spend to rehabilitate the facility.

The rehabilitation of the landfill is expected to take years and millions of pesos.

But as of now the city is focusing on finding long-term solutions to solid waste management. Officials cannot determine yet how long they will divert the garbage to Consolacion or if there is a possibility to establish a new landfill within the city.

"One at a time," Mayor Rama said. — /BRP (FREEMAN)

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