by Luke Edward Gallares | February 6, 2023
I believe it when Silliman University (SU) declared the Philippines to be in a state of “climate emergency.” The drive now is to become more environmentally conscious by using tote bags, bringing fancy aqua flasks, and purchasing expensive stainless steel straws to save the environment. At least students have been making decisions in light of the situation.
I don’t think we—the students—are part of the problem. Sure, we may have that occasional environmentally apathetic Sillimanian walking in our venerable campus and littering everywhere. But for the most part, I believe that Sillimanians have a clean, green, and environmentally-conscious mindset.
The real problem is when you escape the city and go into the rural areas of Valencia, Dauin, and Sibulan, to name a few, with streets that do not have a weekly garbage-truck collection system. Smaller community-based islands are even worse, like Apo Island, Sumilon Island, and other provinces such as Bohol (Pamilacan, Balicasag, and more), where there are dismal attempts at proper garbage disposal and collection. The people in these far flung communities tend to burn their trash or litter everywhere simply because proper garbage disposal is inconvenient. After all, mitigating climate change is the least of their worries when the struggle of making enough money and putting food on the table is more pressing and urgent.
The solution is not just as simple as expanding the garbage collection system. Unusable, disposable plastics are not only harmful to the environment—breaking them down, upcycling them, and reusing them don’t help since upcycling could still cause fair amounts of microplastics to break down and trickle into the underground water systems.
A good solution might be pyrolysis which is a type of disposal where plastic is burnt or heated within a vacuum, breaking down the components into petroleum, carbon, and more. However, there is little to no research being done on pyrolysis.
What about discarded electronics? I know Silliman University has a stockpile of broken or destroyed computers hidden somewhere within the College of Business and Administration because a teacher discussed it in class. He mentioned that these broken electronics were stockpiled because there is no proper disposal point for these within the city, and so our school is forced to stockpile in the meantime.
While I’m proud of us students and the SU staff for becoming champions of environmentalism, let’s call on our government, mayors, congressmen, and leaders to make it easier for the masses to throw their garbage properly. Let’s include proper waste disposal in every new administration’s three-year plans. Let’s call on more investments in technologies for waste disposals other than landfills. Let’s call for a more holistic approach to garbage collection and disposal.
Because at the end of the day, we’re just treating the symptoms, it’s time we focus on the cure.