CEBU CITY, Philippines — When you hear that persistent clanging of a small bell outside your house, you would know that the garbage truck has just arrived. When you put out your trash, you often see the driver resting in his seat and a couple of loaders who have to segregate your trash for you but are ill-equipped to do so. And yet some families turn a blind eye to the effects of their poor solid waste management at home.
This is a common scene in some parts of Cebu, including Barangay Mabolo in Cebu City. For an unpublished undergraduate thesis as a requirement for their graduation at St. Theresa’s College-Cebu, three students explore a sad, if not ugly, side of solid waste management in Barangay Mabolo. Before their thesis submission in November 2015, Mary Mae Rias, Romayne Danielle Rivera and Kristina Jewel Sotto observed and interviewed nine garbage collectors, all members of the barangay’s Clean and Green Sanitation Committee, whose work is mainly garbage and waste collection. Following a qualitative research design, they discovered for themselves the working conditions and health risks of these project-based garbage collectors who are also called loaders.
Here are some lessons I have acquired reading through their great work and advising them in the process. These lessons are also action plans you can adopt for your own barangay’s hardworking garbage collectors.
The respondents of the study only have boots, gloves and sweatshirt for their uniform. Remember that they are exposed to different types of garbage, both chemical and biological.
Some examples of chemical agents are pesticides, garden products, car batteries, bleach, paint, varnishes, and cleaning products.
Some examples of biological agents are human waste or feces present in nappies, incontinence pads and stoma bags, green waste food waste, animal infestations (like rodents), dead animal carcasses, animal waste produced from domestic pet litter trays, and even used needles or syringes, drugs and condoms.
As if these agents are not bad enough, one of the most toxic and hazardous materials garbage collectors can come in contact with is mercury found in thermometers and even in car batteries.
Their current equipment is not enough to ward off these agents. The garbage collectors in Barangay Mabolo are actually at risk of poisoning, viruses, bacteria, fungi, tetanus, bioaerosols, respiratory sensitization, E.coli, campylobacter, salmonella, gastroenteristishepatitis, parasites, leptospirosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
They need more than what they have: masks, boots, over-all clothing, gloves, and goggles. They also need raincoats, jogging pants and boots with steel plate. They also require regular vaccinations, alcohol, medicinesand vitamins. You can check what your barangay’s garbage collectors need and then donate such equipment and paraphernalia to them. And make sure they’re of good quality. The garbage collectors will be using them for months every day.
EXTEND THE SPIRIT OF GIVING TO THEIR FAMILIES
All respondents of the study have families. Only one of them graduated high school, the rest either did not finish high school or elementary. Hence, in this country, their employment options are limited. They are breadwinners so they decided to stick to the job of waste collecting to earn money, even if that job is considered project-based and voluntary and the honorarium is hardly enough to raise a large family in a growing city.
They receive Php 6,500 as honorarium monthly. There is no holiday bonuses or overtime pay for them. There is also no security of tenure so their absences due to an illness can easily be cause for firing them or dropping them out of the list of garbage collectors under the Clean and Green Sanitation Committee. When needed, they can ask for a loan from the barangay hall but they have to pay for it with whatever extra they receive from their honorarium. These loaders only earn extra money when they can find and sell scraps of metal in the garbage and when some residents give them money as tips or Christmas gifts.
This is your chance to extend your spirit of giving to their families. You can donate food, hygiene kits and/or school supplies to them. Your food basket can include canned meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, rice, eggs, and biscuits. You can pack your hygiene kits with shampoo, antibacterial soap, hair brush and comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, facial tissue, deodorant, disposable razor, hand sanitizer, floss, and band-aids, among others. For your school supplies, you can put in a school bag colored pencils, pencil sharpener, pencil case, erasers, glue, notebooks, watercolor paints, ruler, and paper.
ORGANIZE A MEDICAL MISSION FOR YOUR BARANGAY WORKERS
Drawing from the facts above, the garbage collectors need medical help. The common ailments they experienced are cough, colds, sinusitis, fever, common flu, waist pain, back pain, urinary tract infection (UTI), stomach ache, and sprain. Cough and colds are common due to their exposure to the erratic weather, eventually leading to fever. The waist and back pains and sprain are from carrying and transferring the load. One garbage collector developed UTI because he kept holding back his urine during work hours while another one acquired stomach ache for not observing proper mealtimes. Another one is at risk of virus or infection when barbecue sticks struck through his thin boots and liquid from the wastes seeped through his gloves.
They need medical check-up. If these illnesses are left unchecked, they could develop respiratory diseases that could lead them to an early death. These loaders admitted that the only time they go to a clinic or hospital is when the barangay requires them to submit a medical certificate that verifies that they are in good health to continue their jobs. They spend a portion of their already small honorarium for that. According to them, they could not afford to take a leave of absence when they get sick because they fear losing their jobs.
This is where you can come in. If you are not a doctor, you can tap non-profit organizations and government agencies to come together and organize an annual medical mission not just for the garbage collectors but for all the barangay workers in your place.
REACH OUT TO THE CONCERNED GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
The study found that there have been efforts, while lacking in coordination, from the government sector directed toward taking care of barangay workers, including garbage collectors. For one, the Technical, Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has launched a training on the regulations of Garbage Collection and Sanitary Landfill Operations. Then city councilors Eugenio Gabuya and Lea Japson passed a resolution to increase the barangay workers’ honorarium to Php 10,000 a month. They are trying to make this resolution into an ordinance, a mandate that all Cebu City barangays will follow. The City Health Office provides for free the first shot of vaccines against Pneumococcal, flu, tetanus, and rabies.
What you can do is to meet with the barangay leaders to discuss and carry out a long-term program for the garbage collectors. The study has emphasized the important role of the barangay in giving free medical check-ups and proper vaccines, tools and equipment even when City Ordinance 1361 states that the necessary equipment, implements and tools should be provided by the City Government.
You can also is to write letters to the city council, following them up on their efforts to protect the welfare of barangay workers, including garbage collectors. You can also write to government agencies like TESDA asking for their contributions to the improvement of the skills and quality of life of barangay workers. You can even express your thoughts and submit them in a letter to the editor of a newspaper. You can also create a cause and consistently advocate on social media.
STRICTLY OBSERVE PROPER WASTE MANAGEMENT AT HOME
This is understandable. When you do this, you are not only contributing to environment protection, you are also protecting the people who takes care of your trash for you. Here are some possible ways you can manage your home wastes:
- Use cloth bags for grocery shopping and when you shop for clothes, tools and other items.
- Make dinner instead of ordering take-out food or heating up microwavable dinners that require a lot of packaging.
- Order large containers of water instead of buying several small bottles of water.
- Go paperless, especially with bills and newspapers.
- Donate items no longer needed to schools, shelters and charities.
- Reuse containers.
- Dispose batteries, paint, electronics and light bulbs properly, according to your city’s laws.
- Create and maintain a compost site.
Kudos to the student-researchers for reminding us of the importance of garbage collectors in the solid waste management system. These people who are breadwinners and project-based volunteers are taking care of us by taking care of our wastes. It’s high time we return the favor.
Rias, Mary Mae, et. al. “The Working Conditions and the Health Risks of Garbage Collectors in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City.” Undergraduate Thesis, St. Theresa’s College, 2016.