Philippine Daily Inquirer
COLLECTING CASH FROM TRASH
It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
And that somebody helping properly dispose the trash produced by a growing list of towns and cities in Luzon is Metro Clark Waste Management Corp. (MCWMC), which operates what is reputedly the country’s most advanced, engineered sanitary landfill that aims to help reduce the adverse impact of rapid urban development in the Philippines.
At the helm of the company bent on increasing the volume of trash that is disposed correctly via its landfill within the 100-hectare property in the Clark Special Economic Zone is 76-year-old Rufo Colayco, president and CEO of MCWMC.
Colayco, who has chalked up tours of duty in both the private and public sectors, should be kicking back and relaxing at his age.
But the former CEO of Kuok Group Companies in the Philippines and president and CEO of the Bases Conversion Development Authority is doing the exact opposite, choosing to invest in and manage a business that offers sustainable waste management solutions to bring the Philippines a step forward in its journey to zero waste.
Colayco told the Inquirer that he and his partners invested in the company in 2003 because they believed in the merits of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
“But when we started, we saw that the government was not strongly interested in enforcing it. So for a long time we were just bumping along,” Colayco says.
But in 2013, perhaps because the effects of climate change can no longer be ignored, Colayco says the company felt the subtle shift in the government mindset. It also helped that the government was prompted by popular sentiment—and the truth finally sank in—that there was no such thing as “out there” for trash. What one throws away inevitably comes back, either in the form of polluted waters or through clogged drains that contribute to flooding.
“People were beginning to feel that garbage was a problem after all,” he says.
MCWM provides a solution, which is proper disposal of waste so that garbage will not end up in bare earth and that the leachate—the foul liquid produced by decaying waste—will not find its way into the water table.
The Clark Landfill operated by MCWM integrates worldclass technology and engineering through a partnership with German conglomerates BN Ingenieure GmbHand Heers& Brockstedt Umwelttechnik GmbH.
It is lined with material imported from Germany and welded seamlessly to keep leachate and gas contained, thus preventing groundwater and air contamination.
“The German technicians weld the plastic electronically to ensure that there will be no leaks,” he says.
As for the leachate, it is collected via plastic pipes and then diverted into a treatment pond where hard metals and chemicals are removed for safe disposal into the water system. When the leachate comes out of the pipe, it is like squid ink. Then it goes to another pond where it is further treated until it becomes like brown coffee. After going through the last section, the water becomes clear.
The treated water at the end of the treatment cycle is still not potable, but at least fish can safely swim in it, says Colayco.
At present, the high technology facility come 80 kilometers north of Manila collects and manages an average of 1,600 tons of solid waste every day from about 90 cities and municipalities, mostly in Central Luzon. It gets trash from as far north as Lingayen in Pangasinan and from as far south as Bulacan. For a year, it also accepted waste from Muntinlupa.
The towns or cities collect garbage from households, offices and commercial establishments within their jurisdiction and then these are delivered to the facility either directly via trucks or via transfer stations, where MCWM can pick up trash using 40-foot trailers that can carry about 2530 tons of trash at a time.
The basic fee that MCWM charges for the proper disposal of trash is P650. That goes up if there are hauling charges involved and varies by distance—the farther away, the more expensive.
Of course, it is an investment, considering
that other people can just burn the trash, throw them in an open dump or directly into the sea. But the environmental cost can be staggering as what was already seen during tropical storm Ondoy and whenever the cities become flooded because of clogged waterways from all the trash choking the system.
Colayco says it is fortunate that more local government officials are seeing the value of investing in proper waste disposal and, consequently, caring for the environment.
Because of the growing environmental consciousness, MCWM, among the first sanitary landfill operators in Asia to receive the ISO 9000 series of 2015 certification for quality management systems, is starting to turn a profit, but Colayco is quick to emphasize that he and his partners are not in the business simply for the money.
“It has become an advocacy for us, to be able to help solve a serious problem,” he says.
Doing his share has always been his philosophy even as a new associate of SGV and Co., where he was able to contribute to nation-building by promoting investments in the Philippines by companies such as Texas Instruments, Motorola and Timex. Then as head of BCDA, he was able to kickstart the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, the first Philippine expressway since 1970.
“You realize that in govern- ment service, you can do a lot more than being in the private sector,” he says.
MCWM provides the pros of both sides as he can have the freedom and speed afforded by being in the private sector while making a real and direct social benefit, as if he were still in government service.
The work can be taxing, he says, as more people still need to be educated on the value of proper waste disposal. Still, he will not trade his hectic life for a life of leisure.
Retirement is not for him, Colayco says, seeing too many of his classmates dying soon after they retire. There is still a lot to do, after all.
“We still need to get more trash,” he says.