PALOMPON, LEYTE – No empty plastic bottles of soft drink escapes the alert eyes of 15-year-old Lean as he roams around the village.

During his free time when his father tasks him to man their mini sari-sari store, Lean would always ask buyers of soft drink to either return the container when it is already empty or he would pick it at their home later in the day.

He would then stuff the empty plastic bottles with plastic materials that he sees around and place them under his cot where three other fully stuffed plastic bottles stand. He proudly shows them to his close friends who come to visit as they compete to accomplish more.

“These are mere garbage to many people but for us, these are equivalent to school supplies that we will receive in the future,” he says.

When Brigada Eskwela comes before the opening of a school year, children who have collected the plastic bottles bring them to school where they are exchanged for school supplies like backpack, pens, notebooks and tumblers.

Palompon Mayor Ramon Ońate beams with pride as he tells his audience how the school children are ecstatic and support the local government-initiated Basura Mo, Edukasyon Ko program.

“You will see how happy they are when they receive these little things like notebooks or pens,” he said. “They know that they are somehow helping their parents as they get these things for free.”

The collected plastics are then brought to the Municipal Eco-Park where the local government runs several equipment for the solid waste management such as pulverizer, melter, shredder and bioreactor.

On Friday, February 17, the local government unit had a launching of its newest equipment, the Thermal Decomposition Machine, an environment-friendly device that can process wastes from residences, industry, farm, commercial agriculture and the market.

The machine can also eliminate medical wastes such as used face masks, test kits, gloves, wastes from patients, infectious wastes, pathological wastes, sharps, pharmaceutical and drug wastes.

“Palompon has no dumpsite. What we have is ecological solid waste management,” says Raoul Bacalla, the municipal consultant on progressive tourism and sustainable management of the environment.

Bacalla said the whole solid waste management program started in 2011 when Palompon developed an eco-tourism program that considered the needs of the environment, the local community, local government and tourists.

“It all started when we decided to make tourism our economic driver,” Bacalla said. “You cannot simply make use of tourism as your economic driver if you have this faulty solid waste management.”

Bacalla said the plastics that were gathered by the school children are brought to a shredder while broken bottles go to a pulverizer that converts them into silica. These are then mixed together and put into a melter to create eco-bricks.

Using a bioreactor, the biodegradable wastes are converted into soil conditioner to help farmers nourish their farmland while non-biodegradable or residual wastes are converted into fuels.

The eco-bricks are then used as alternatives to hollow blocks in the construction of sites for signages as well as community outposts.

“We have all these equipment here. If you only manage your solid waste, it no longer becomes a problem but an opportunity,” he added.

Palompon is a second-class municipality 120 kilometers southwest of Tacloban City and has a population of 58,313 based on the 2020 Census.

Bacalla said the municipal government was able to acquire these solid waste management equipment through a lease-to-own agreement with fabricators from Surigao and Mactan. “These are all locally made.”

Teaching them young

Bacalla said involving the children in the solid waste management program of the municipality is an important part of their learning process. He said all programs of the LGU that are related to tourism and environmental protection are all embedded in education.

The municipal government signed an agreement with the Department of Education giving the LGU the responsibility of teaching elementary and high school students on coastal resource management, mangrove management, solid waste management and local history appreciation.

Bacalla said the LGU has already drafted 21 modules on disaster risk reduction and management that are taught to high school and senior high students.

On Saturdays and Sundays, the LGU also organizes trips for students to the town’s marine sanctuary where they get to learn all about mangroves and coastal protection.

“The kids all look forward to it. You will be amazed how the children can now identify the different species of mangrove,” Bacalla said.

“In terms of mangrove management and mangrove appreciation, the LGUs should take charge in teaching this. In terms of local history appreciation, dapat LGU ang nagtuturo,” he added. Palompon is a well-known tourism destination where the Kalanggaman Island is among the most visited. Earlier this month, Kalanggaman island hosted 238 American, Australian and European visitors and crew on board Silversea’s Silver Shadow Luxury Cruise Ship last February 10, 2023. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail Feb. 13-19, 2023 issue)