Handling trash-3

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

The key to public cleanliness is the consciousness of its citizens that sanitation is vital to their well-being. We know this simple truth and in fact most Filipinos are obsessed with their personal hygiene. We are a people among the few countries in the world that take a bath every day, even if it is a cold rainy day. When Filipinos are in cold countries, they continue with their personal cleanliness with a daily bath.

In terms of hygienic consciousness, therefore we are clear on this matter, dictated perhaps by the tropical climate of our country. We do sweat a lot and woe to those who stand by another who has not taken a bath. How many love affairs were lost by the whiff of an underarm odor?

But in terms of public sanitation, many are primitives who throw garbage wherever it is convenient even if a garbage bin or can was just a step away. The reason it seems is that nobody is looking or if someone is looking nobody gets arrested, not even given a frown or a displeasing look.

And so it is that public officials mandated by their office to ensure public sanitation is not as keen in clean surroundings as their personal cleanliness. We have laws on the proper disposal of trash but the sight of garbage mounds along the streets of Bacolod speaks loudly enough of these officials.

During the research work here in the United States, we have traveled daily and hardly did we see garbage strewn along the way. We drove from New Jersey to Washington, D. C. and then from there to Norfolk, Virginia, and miles of streets and highways in these states but I have seen only one pile that I thought was garbage under a railroad bridge.

These cities are not perfect in trash collection, of course, but I write what I saw, or more precisely what I did not see. In the residential area where we are staying with the family of Douglas and Cynthia Young, the streets are clean and washed, even the lawns are mowed and without any litter.

During the flood in D. C. last week, I saw only a few pieces of trash floating in the street in front of the National Archives but none on the street to College Park in Maryland. When we stopped for dinner in Williamsburg in Virginia, there was not a piece of paper afloat in the street or the rivers. This means that even in nooks and corners of these cities garbage is collected well.

There is one reason for this. In the areas where there are no houses, there are mechanical street cleaners and grass cutters. The area near the place where we stayed is planted with soybeans, but the roads along the farms are clean as in the inner city.

I already mentioned in earlier columns the segregation of waste starting from the homes. In restaurants, people do not leave their leftovers on the table but bring them to the designated trash bins.

The use of plastic bags and containers are common but they are disposed of properly at home. There are moves, however, to reduce the use of plastics. Some stores now encourage people to bring their own bags otherwise they have to pay. I paid ten cents or fifty centavos for a plastic bag for five oranges and five pieces of bananas. In many stores, thick brown paper bags are in use.

I asked Doug where the collected garbage in Washington, D. C. are disposed of and he said there is a former landfill that was covered and now the source of methane that is used to fuel an electric plant. I was invited some years ago in a New Jersey electric plant that burns all sorts of garbage to produce electric power. Beside the power plant is a mound with trees, concrete benches, and several pipes. I asked what it was and was told it was once a garbage dump now producing methane. It was a surprise since the power plant and that old garbage dump are beside a commercial center.

Three things come out of this brief observation: (1) people can clean their surroundings if laws were enforced; (2) observing environmental cleanliness can develop into a habit; and, (3) garbage is a source of cheap electricity.