Handling trash

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

ONE of the major problems of Bacolod City and perhaps many other cities in the country is garbage collection, handling, and disposal. Looking back, there had been many campaigns, including threats of sanctions and punishments, but so far they have all failed. The sight of garbage littering Bacolod each day, mounds of garbage gathering flies, cockroaches and rodents and the failure of IPM to collect and clean the city streets in accord with its multi-million pesos contract and most importantly the inability of the city government to enforce the law, has become the new normal in the capital city of Occidental Negros.

The laws on garbage are many, from “no collection without segregation” to the construction of a sanitary landfill, are dead letters of the law. We see daily how the law is violated with impunity by the city government, the national agencies mandated to enforce environmental laws and the citizens and individuals and business enterprises. Of course, citizens and institutions try to do the best they could but the final responsibility lies with the city, with the newly installed government of Mayor Evelio Leonardia who as usual, tried to gloss over serious problems by harping over it with the patina of his accomplishments rather than addressing the core.

We have almost daily long trips in New Jersey, New York and now here in Washington, D.C., and Maryland because of the distances between the institutions where I am researching and meeting relatives and friends and dining in restaurants. These trips by car, bus, and train bring us into the suburbs and highways as well. It is not, therefore, few places that I find almost clear of garbage and the streets clean and yet I have not seen a single street cleaner.

On my second morning in New Jersey, I looked out of the balcony to the sound of a “tractor” and saw a mechanized street cleaner. I watched it for several minutes clean up the street, swallowing the litters in the streets and moving at approximately 20 kilometers per hour, like a huge floor vacuum cleaner and mop that it was.

I asked my niece in another town why their streets were very clean. She said their municipal government has a mechanized street cleaner that not only scrubs the street, sucks the trash but even washes the road. I did not see this washing the street in New Jersey City, only the scrubber.

I first saw the mechanized street cleaner in Singapore in 1982 but I was not then concerned with garbage because Bacolod at the time was clean. The city’s Department of Public Services was doing garbage collection. Under Leonardia, this function was given to a private contractor. Make your guess why. I have written about this contract and why it smells. Shortly Leonardia will sign another garbage collection contract. There’s another election three years from now and there are new councilors who have to recoup their expenses and prepare for the next.

The mechanized street cleaner is fast and efficient that by the time people go to work the streets are clean. In our street, the cleaner comes around seven in the morning. In Singapore and in Time Square in New York I saw it just after midnight. At its speed’ it can cover an entire town within a few hours. I believe that other cities have this mechanized cleaner because they are clean at daybreak. In Bacolod, the trash is everywhere, every time and a few manual cleaners.

With a budget of P15 million a month for IPM Corporation alone and hundreds of street cleaners that sometimes we see, sometimes we don’t, surely Bacolod can afford a mechanized street cleaner and even if it has a street washer component. But why is Bacolod not buying one and for that matter, other towns and cities? This cleaner is just a little bigger than the tractor and operated by only one driver. It has, however, a companion, a small vehicle with a uniformed man inside. I don’t know what his function is but I would not be surprised if he is noting violations along the way and writing citations for houses and buildings that have their garbage on the curbs outside of collection schedule. Citizens are afraid of this citation that is mailed to them because the fines are heavy.

Let’s resume tomorrow.