Garbage to cash: Garbage collectors help stem tide of plastic pollution, earn thousands of dollars

The world’s capacity to generate waste exceeds its capacity to manage it. In Cavite, informal waste pickers are helping stem the tide of plastic pollution by turning waste into useful products with help from the ASEANO project.

ASEANO is a project under the Environmental Management Partnerships for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), a regional organization that advocates for integrated solutions to coastal and marine issues. It promotes sustainable measures to reduce the environmental impact of plastic pollution. The Imus River of Cavite is the main area of ​​interest for its Filipino sub-component.


Metals, plastics and other useful wastes are sold by waste pickers to second-hand shops, which then sell them to recycling facilities that have the capacity to convert the waste into raw materials, explained Gregg H. Yan, PEMSEA consultant. , in an email. .

“The energy required to create new metal alloys through mining far exceeds the effort required to simply melt copper, steel or iron,” he said. Business world. “Recycling is a green and more economical option.

In a press release, Thomas Bell, PEMSEA’s resource facilities program manager, added that supporting waste pickers and recycling facilities converts a significant portion of the waste – which would otherwise be dumped in landfills or rivers – into useful products.

“These cottage industries also support the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Filipinos,” he said.

In 2018, Cavite generated an average of 1,514 tonnes of waste per day, 22% of which was still recyclable, according to the Environmental Management Bureau (EWB). The average volume of waste generated in the Calabarzon region, where Cavite is located, is approximately 5,694 tonnes per day.

The Imus River flows through the waste-generating towns of Bacoor, Dasmariñas and Imus, before emptying into Manila Bay.

The biggest market for plastics is packaging, Science Advances noted in a July 2017 journal, and this market growth has only increased since the world moved from reusable to single-use containers.


In the Philippines, the informal waste sector consists of waste pickers at landfills and communal waste collection points. Among these are women, children and the elderly who depend on informal waste collection due to poverty and lack of education.

“The most popular types of plastics [by waste pickers] are PET bottles and hard plastics called sibak. This is what plastic one-piece chairs, jerry cans and many toys are made of, ”said Mr. Yan. “The plastics they don’t collect are disposable sando and garbage bags, as well as plastic and aluminum packaging for sachets. This is one of the main reasons why these types of single-use plastics pose huge environmental challenges.

One such waste picker is Sherwin Salazar, who has been hunting scrap metal for 25 years in Cavite.

“I was still in school when I started digging through old land, landfills and river banks in an endless search for bakal, bote, plastik to dyaryo (scrap metal, bottles, plastic and newspapers). I used a big old bag that weighed so much, ”he said in a press release from PEMSEA. From earning 100 P a day at the age of 12, he now earns 1000 to 1500 P, in part thanks to a motorized tricycle that allows him to travel to nearby towns like Tagaytay.

Mr. Yan said that – like all business ventures – it takes time, trustworthy contacts and capital to reach the P1,000 to P1500 per day level.

“Expanding your territory and creating networks is an important consideration for waste pickers to ‘claim’ over an area large enough to regularly find good finds. Going up the chain can also mean hiring junior waste pickers and investing in better collection equipment, like a kariton [a pushcart] or a pedicab [a tricycle with a two-seat passenger compartment],” he said Business world.

Mr Salazar added that the life of a garbage collector is dirty, but “if you take life’s challenges head on and ask for a little help from above, then it is truly rewarding.”

The results of the ASEANO project, which ends this year, will be synthesized in an LGU (local government unit) training manual, a toolbox and a good practice manual. The goal is for the materials to be a benchmark for the Philippines and the rest of the ASEAN region.

In May 2009, the National Commission for Solid Waste Management prepared a national framework plan for the informal solid waste management sector. Although this national plan recognizes the contribution of the informal waste sector to the collection and disposal of waste, a 2008-2018 ISF report noted that the LGUs had not yet developed and implemented their respective plans. for this sector. – Patricia mirasol

Bryce K. Locke