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Rubbish on Fire

By: Charmaine Shek

Littering and Burning

My host family’s house seems to be the favourite gathering spot for neighbouring children. Their frequent visits have eventually made me stock up individually-packaged snacks, like polvoron and chocolate biscuits, so I could give them these sweet delights when they come around. As usual, they would tear the packages, devour the snack, leave the torn packages on the floor, and resume what they are previously doing.  At that time, I thought that perhaps they were too young to understand littering was bad behaviour. Yet, I later realize this littering problem had a much larger scale then I have anticipated.

 If you take a closer look of the rubbish along the roads from Jagna to Tubod Mar, there are emptied beer bottles, used baby diapers, potato chips packages and more. It is evident that many people regardless of their age practised littering.  The locals understand that letting the garbage mounts up is not a solution, instead, this may leave them drowning in a sea of garbage as time goes by. Therefore, they regularly built little domes of litter and fallen leaves and burn them into ashes in an open area. When all garbage, including those lying in the garbage bin and those sitting by the door, will inevitably be moved to the outdoor for burning, there is little incentive for the people to “properly” dispose the waste into the bin.

One day I observed my host family burning their rubbish. They first ignite a plastic bag with a match, then buried it under piles of rubbish. Not long after, an orange flame emerged with thick white fumes. The pungent and burnt smell of the fume penetrated every single corner of my host family’s house. After 3 to 5 minutes of burning, the little domes of trash were reduced to greyish sand. I asked my host family’s eldest sister if there is a landfill nearby, so they could save the trouble of burning trash, and she said, “Yes, there is a one, but the trash-collecting truck only stops at Jagna and it is so troublesome for us to bring our trash there.“

Carrots and sticks

I am very concerned with the health effects of burning of waste, particularly when there are many children in this community. Burning plastics could emit dangerous chemicals such as dioxins and furans, which may induce liver problems, skin disorders and impair people’s immunity system. While people in Hong Kong are concerned with the filtered gas emitted from the incinerators, people here directly inhale in the gases of the burning waste.

Despite “open burning of solid waste” is an infringement of Ecological Solid Waste Management Act in the Philippines, which could leave people with P300 + fine and imprisonment up to 15 days, the lax enforcement here leave much room for people to handle waste by burning them. And I reckon that it is extremely difficult for the enforcement unit to go after people that engaged in trash burning, especially when there are so few police stations and the extremely dispered villages in this region.  While it is possible for the job of survielling and reporting to be  delagated to the people in the community, the strong emphasis on harmonous-relationship with one-another in the Philippines, in conjuction with the fact that people do not understand the risks of trash burning, prevent intra-community monitoring from happening.

When it comes to introducing successful changes, I believe getting to the roots of restrainig forces maybe more effective than simply introducing incentives. Putting this into this rubbish burning context, while providing cash reward for people to bring their trash to Jagna (so the trash could be sent to the landfill) could effectively reduce the number of trash burning, yet things may return to what it was before once the subsidy is lifted. In the contratry, recognizing the long way to Jagna city prevents people from disposing their trash in the landfill, re-routing the trash-collecting truck to visit the neighbouring communities may be a better solution.

However, even with the re-routed trash-collecting trucks, people have little ownerships to the trash-burning problem. This is the reason why, education , is truly indispensible to deliver sustainable changes. When people truly grasp the potential health problem that come along with trash burning, they will come to realize trash burning is not only a problem for the government, but also themselves. The spotlight on their personal interest (their health), could nudge them to solve the problem on their own. With strong ownership the the problem, solutions could emegered and evolved organically.  For example, it is possible that he villagers may introduce a new occupation, Tubod Mar-Jagna Trash transportor, when the re-routed trash collecting trucks solution is a not available to them.

It is naïve to think that people would change their behaviour instently after they are exposed to the new information. It is also naïve to think that one’s effort would change a social norm. However, I would at least try to use my effort and tell my host family that the white fumes, emitted from the burning trash is not good for their health, so they themselves and the childrens could aviod inhaling as much of the white fume as before. This paragraph is also an accurate conclusion to my student consulting journey under the course TBI. I sincerely hope that the little changes I delivered here, could contribute to a bigger impact that helps the community here to thrive.

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