Literally! No really. As of this writing there are reportedly 50 container vans containing toxic waste imported from Canada sitting on a yard at the Manila International Container Terminal. Somebody in Canada must have finally worked it out in their head. Manila is the place to dump stuff.Metro Manilans have been doing it for decades. They clogged up their esteros and sewers and some of Manila’s prime land is piled storeys high in perma-garbage. Thousands of Filipinos live off and die underneath mounds of rubbbish. One “investigative” journalist even encouraged Pope Francis who will be visiting the Philippines soon to go to acclaimed Manila dump site Smokey Mountain where, she says, he will find “the real Philippines”.
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We really don’t need travel bloggers to tell us the obvious. You just need to apply a child-like inquisitive mind to the task of seeking The Truth a-la the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
How’s this for irony though: Norway leads the way in turning waste into energy. The ultra-clean and affluent northern European country is “importing as much rubbish as it can get its hands on, in an effort to generate more energy by burning waste in vast incinerators.” Indeed;
Waste to energy has become a preferred method of rubbish disposal in the EU, and there are now 420 plants in Europe equipped to provide heat and electricity to more than 20 million people. Germany ranks top in terms of importing rubbish, ahead of Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. But it’s Norway that boasts the largest share of waste to energy in district heat production, according to Danish government-funded State of Green.
It is interesting to note that Norway is Europe’s largest oil producer and the third largest exporter of natural gas in the world. So it is remarkable the way a country blessed with such bountiful natural resources still strives to find ways to generate its energy using alternative fuels.
In contrast, the only people benefiting from Manila’s bountiful supply of garbage are the hundreds of thousands of squatters that infest it. The ingredients of pagpag, a local Filipino delicacy favoured by Manila’s urban poor, are harvested fresh from the garbage bins of the many fast food outlets that have proliferated in the city. Many Filipinos also make a living picking through the refuse for stuff that could be recycled, refurbished, and re-sold — a sort of low-tech labour-intensive recycling industry. So when in Manila, make sure you give your bottled water a good second look first before you drink out of it.
Worse, the country’s tonnes of garbage resource contribute negatively to productivity accounting for much of the problems that plague the sewer and waterway systems of the world’s most most densely-populated megalopolis. Billions of dollars are lost every year to the vast urban paralysis caused by the flood waters that engulf much of Metro Manila whenever it rains. And untold diseases are spread thanks to the leaching of untreated sewage and other waste chemicals into these waters further taxing the already rickety public health system of the country.
Like much of the rest of the Philippines’ natural resources, the wealth sitting underneath Filipinos’ noses is routinely taken for granted as the society simply lacks an indigenous capability to develop and apply the technologies and expertise needed to exploit them. Just like how most of the Philippines’ minerals and agricultural produce is exported raw rather than processed into higher-added-value branded products, Filipinos themselves are exported to countries that are strapped for people to do work deemed beneath their respective locals.
Rubbish is another one of these potentially valuable resources that is plentiful in the Philippines. Indeed, Manila’s streets can be described as being paved with gold when one considers how much of this potential resource is lying around in plain sight. For now, Filipinos are still slowly coming to terms with the reality that their country’s financial and cultural capital has become an absolute dump. Hopefully someday, this collective grief can be turned into a strong resolve to turn trash to cash.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.