BESIDES the iconic puto—apparently with a lively festival dedicated to celebrating the city’s popular delicious version of this native rice cake every 15th day of May—Biñan created much buzz with the so-called “Taal brick.”
This breakthrough Earth-friendly concrete product earned attention not only here but also abroad when it gained extensive local and foreign media mileage right after the eruption of the smallest volcano in the world last January 2020. The last time it exploded was in 1977.
Biñan was among the affected neighboring areas of Taal in Batangas when its world-renowned volcano erupted three years ago. A plume of steam and tephra blanketed this city and the surrounding areas with a thick layer of ash, mud, and falling debris spewed by the explosion of its main crater from magmatic and hydrovolcanic activity.
Seeing a silver lining from the situation back then, the visionary mayor of Biñan, Atty. Walfredo R. Dimaguila Jr., was innovative and resourceful enough to turn the tragedy into an opportunity. In fact, he asked the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), led by Rodelio V. Lee, to try mixing the ashfall with other raw materials for the eco-brick produced at the Biñan City Centralized Material Recovery, Waste Processing and Transfer Station Facility or the Ecopark.
“We did it and had it tested by an independent testing company and by the Department of Science and Technology. And yes, it’s stronger compared to a commercial brick,” he told in mixed English and Tagalog during an interview with the BusinessMirror. “That was the time when Biñan became more popular.”
THE fame that Taal brick brought to Biñan is a product of the hard labor, bold efforts, and, of course, the creativity of the succeeding administrations. They brought the city back to life with clean surroundings and a healthy environment.
Down memory lane, Biñan also had its share of the solid waste problem faced by many local government units (LGU) in the country at the turn of the century. Managing it well became a pressing concern as rapid urbanization and industrialization amid population explosion resulted in a garbage crisis.
This could be attributed to the lack of environmental laws, according to Lee. Per relevant provisions of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Government Code, the LGUs are mainly responsible for handling solid waste in their areas of jurisdiction. But the absence of a national framework on waste management led to deficient waste disposal practices in the localities.
“So there were no guidelines. That’s why indiscriminate dumping or throwing of waste was very rampant,” he said.
Proof of which were dirty roads and other public places and clogged drainage canals and waterways filled with a massive volume of waste dumped. Not to mention, of course, the toxicity of its contaminants jeopardized the peoples’ health and polluted the air, land, and water.
To address these problems, the national government enforced the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (Republic Act or RA 9003), Clean Water Act (RA 9275) and Clean Air Act (RA 8749) to shield both the environment and public health.
The rise of Ecopark
IN compliance with these “green” policies and support for the protection of the environment and the Manila Bay Clean Up, Rehabilitation, and Preservation Programs, Biñan implemented several eco measures in its own way.
“Little by little, we crafted our 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan. So we had guidelines to follow and now being implemented,” Lee emphasized.
Pursuant to RA 9003 which provides for the establishment of an LGU Material Recovery Facility (MRF), such an amenity came into being in 2005. A few months after it became operational, however, it broke down and was left non-functional. Good thing its rehabilitation came during the time of Congresswoman Marlyn “Len” Alonte-Naguiat. It was realized until Mayor Dimaguila Jr. ordered in 2017 its revival to what it is today—the Ecopark.
Seated on a 5,000-square meter (sq m) parcel of land owned by the city government in Brgy. Timbao, this P18 million facility serves the communities in Biñan. With its institutionalization, the City Hall equipped it with modern equipment and machinery such as conveyor belts for sorting, a pressurized sanitizer sprayer for treating garbage, a payloader, heavy-duty shredding machines, a mechanized concrete product maker and plastic densifier used for recycling/converting refuse, specifically plastic waste, into useful products or as raw materials for the production of concrete products.
The collection and disposal of solid waste in Biñan is handled by the barangays, LGU, and a private contractor. Apart from the city’s centralized Ecopark and composting facility as well as trash collecting vehicles, all communities have their own MRFs and garbage trucks.
How does the Ecopark work? Basically, the plastic wastes that are brought to the Ecopark by the city and community garbage collectors undergo final sorting. They are then shredded and used as raw materials for the production of eco-bricks like Taal brick, hollow blocks, and pre-cast fences, among others.
The production of concrete products here takes a maximum of three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). On a daily basis, it runs at eight to 10 hours, depending on the demand for the product.
Capacity-wise, the Ecopark can accommodate 75 tons of solid waste every day. In terms of production, it can make uo to 7,000 eco bricks or 2,000 hollow blocks per day (10 hours) of operation. From July 2017 to June 2021, the facility already produced more or less 1,231,750 eco-bricks and 240,000 hollow blocks.
What makes the eco brick pro-environment is its plastic component at 30 percent by volume or 0.0012 percent by weight which is equivalent to 0.03 kilogram. Thus, 210 kilograms of plastic waste are diverted for a day’s operation. Its spinoff, the revolutionary Taal brick, is composed of a mixture of the volcano’s ashfall (40 percent), shredded plastics (30 percent), white sand (20 percent), and cement and water (10 percent).
“It’s really innovative,” the CENRO official noted, adding that it’s more economical or almost half the price of a commercial brick and brings savings to them. “We don’t buy more sand with our utilization of the ashfall, residuals, or shredded single-use plastics as added raw materials.”
Apart from being an MRF, the Ecopark also doubles as a transfer station where the residual wastes brought by the city and barangay trash gatherers are subjected to last sorting and collection by the private garbage contractor for disposal into a sanitary landfill. It was designed in a way that the waste carried by the LGU garbage trucks is moved directly into those of the private garbage contractor so as to avoid the physical contact of the trash with the MRF’s pavement/flooring. This is operational for 16 hours a day.
“Our Ecopark is budgeted from P4 million to P5 million per annum, including the brick-making component and operation of the MRF,” he shared.
To complement this, another transfer station was established in Bgy. Dela Paz. The LGU, likewise, built a City Composting Facility located in Brgy. Langkiwa in 2018, complete with two building structures (one funded by Environmental Management Bureau or EMB) and equipped with seven bioreactors (one donated by Sen. Cynthia Villar and two from the EMB), four shredding machines (two from EMB) and other composting equipment.
A portion of the biodegradable waste generated in the City Public Market and Barangay Langkiwa Market such as vegetable and fruit trimmings are processed into compost/soil conditioner in the latter facility and then tested by the DOST. On average, this P2 million site can produce three tons of compost per month.
THESE biological facilities not only help protect the environment but also provide a green pasture for the people.
The Ecopark, for instance, is manned by 15 employees composed of sorters, machine and heavy equipment operators, and helpers supervised by the CENRO. Eighty percent or 12 of them were former scavengers.
“In a way, it uplifts their status in life. From picking up garbage on the streets, they now have stable job. And they are one of the priority beneficiaries of the city government’s rising housing project—Villa Aguila—in Bgy. San Antonio,” Lee said.
The transfer station and the composting facility in Barangays Dela Paz and Langkiwa are operated by eight employees of the City Community Affairs Office and five workers under the CENRO, respectively.
Well-managed city wastes
THEIR hard labor and dedication to work and mother nature are complemented well by the city government’s proper implementation of the laws and constant environmental investments. These, in turn, have turned the table in so far as waste management is concerned.
“At present, the garbage situation here in Biñan is okay,” he pointed out. “All the systems are in place. There’s a budget allocation yearly and, then, the processes of innovations and initiatives are up and running unlike before. So there’s no garbage crisis anymore.”
Based on the results of the city’s Waste Analysis and Characterization Study, each Biñanense has 0.364 milligrams per capita waste generation daily. Given the latest official population count of 407,437, per the official census of the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2020, Biñan’s waste generation is at 148,307 kilograms or roughly 150 tons per day.
But with the waste diversion initiatives, Lee estimated that roughly 60 percent or 90 tons of their waste are diverted into useful things.
“Those are being sold in junk shops, reused and made into eco-bricks at the Ecopark, and the compost produced in our composting facility, etc.,” he said while citing the remaining 40 percent or 60 tons are disposed of by the city’s private hauler to its own landfill in Calamba. “So in that sense, the city has savings in waste disposal expenditures.”
Social ROI, future plans
BECAUSE the Ecopark was put up mainly to help resolve the piling garbage and environmental concerns, the top CENRO executive underscored its many social returns on investment (ROI).
Presently, almost all public school grounds in the city were paved by the eco-bricks, including the byproduct of the ashfall, produced in the facility and soon all sidewalks will follow. Together with the hollow blocks, they are similarly used by the barangays and homeowners associations in their projects.
On the other hand, it also inspired people, business establishments, and industries to do their share by bringing their recyclable wastes to the facility. What’s more, the proceeds of the Taal bricks bought by end-consumers and contractors were donated to the four towns badly hit by the eruption, namely, Agoncillio, Laurel, San Nicolas and Taal.
“Glad to see that there’s community participation in it. That’s the social ROI. It’s priceless,” Lee said while revealing the city government’s future plan to sell the eco-concrete products commercially once the adjacent 5,000 sq m property is acquired this year for the expansion of the facility.
“The contractors of city government’s projects have agreed to patronize our products. So we will sell to them the excess supply to the LGU’s requirements. Of course, that will be another income for the city, which can be used for Ecopark’s operational expenses. In that way, it will become self-sustaining,” he added.
These facilities are just some of the environmental initiatives of the City Government of Biñan. Others include the hiring of job order employees of the Task Force Linis Ilog and Linis Bayan, who clean the river, creeks, drainage canals, and streets daily; establishment of barangay MRFs/MRS and eco-gardens, as well as the City Organic Farm; installation of river trash traps and STPs in the City Public Market and City Hall Compound; energizing the city with 30 percent solar power, operation of an air quality monitoring equipment (Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy) installed by the EMB; implementation of livelihood program on water hyacinth and residual handicraft making under the Gender and Development Office; operation of mechanized street sweepers; relocation of informal settler families along riverbanks, the coastline of Laguna Lake and danger areas; massive information and education campaign; as well as constant monitoring activities and enforcement of local environmental laws, such as the Anti-Littering Law, Segregation at Source, etc.
Such efforts earned for the City of Biñan its 2017, 2018 and 2019 Seals of Good Local Governance; the 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 Platinum Award on Manila Bay Rehabilitation Environmental Compliance Audit of the Department of Interior and Local Government; the 2019 Kampeon ng Lawa Award given by the Laguna Lake Development Authority during the World Water Day Awards; the 2019 Best LGU Solid Waste Management Implementer in the Province of Laguna with Special Recognitions on Innovation/Initiatives on Recycling, Waste Diversion, and Residual Waste Management; and a recognition by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-EMB of the city for having an outstanding practice on Solid Waste Management Technology through its “Eco-bricks Making” project given last June 2021.
All these, plus the various green endeavors in the pipeline, indeed, are a testament that the “City of Life” that is Biñan is alive and kicking.