Climb This Mountain - Smokey Mountain
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Climb This Mountain - Smokey Mountain

To a foreigner who wants to go mountain-climbing, Smokey Mountain is another peak to conquer with those sturdy ropes and hooks. But yes, it is another height to surmount, needing more than just an adventurous spirit but a great sense of commitment and genuine concern for the environment. Each of us contributes so many kilograms of waste to make that mountain.


To a foreigner who wants to go mountain-climbing, Smokey Mountain is another peak to conquer with those sturdy ropes and hooks. But yes, it is another height to surmount, needing more than just an adventurous spirit but a great sense of commitment and genuine concern for the environment. Each of us contributes so many kilograms of waste to make that mountain.

Have you ever thought of how much waste you dispose of everyday? Multiply this by Metro Manila’s current population. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a miniature Mount Everest right in the middles of Manila.

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Smokey Mountain is a large rubbish dump site in Manila, Philippines. Consisting of over two million tons of waste, it has operated for more than 40 years and is known for decomposing at such high temperatures that it will catch fire, a fact from which the location derives its name. Indeed, fires at Smokey Mountain have caused many deaths


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Yet the Smokey Mountain, a waste city as it is, has a population of 30,000 squatters living in the cardboard shanties perched in stilts with the huge mountain of garbage for its foundation. Babies are nursed and families live there with the aroma of decomposing waste and methane from the compost to breathe.

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A conservative estimate of one kilogram per day is produced by each person in less developed countries. For more developed ones, each person produces about three kilograms of waste per day or approximately one ton per person per year.

A city like Cairo, which is designed for one million has a population of 12 million, can only take care half of its sewage. This sewer leaks and pollutes the water system, resulting in 131 children every thousand dying before they even reach the age of five. It is a common sight in Cairo to see garbage left for the sun to decompose on rooftops of decrepit homes.

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In many third world countries, raw sewage flows openly in gutters and street canals, and files of garbage are salvage by many bums living in the streets. In Manila, the garbage problems in some areas caused the flooding in nearby places. Remember the 1991’s massive cholera epidemic in Peru whose venom has spilled to Mexico and as far as north as the gulf of Texas?

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The world seems to be as vast but its population is rapidly growing. The “disposal society” generates not just recyclable garbage like newspapers, but many non- biodegradable objects like cadmium batteries, heaps of plastics in various forms, poisonous drugs, old films, bottles, tin cans, styrofoam – much of it are toxic and lethal. These are just waste produce from domestic homes. Industrial waste is a whole new aspect to reckon with.

The 1930s Chemical Revolution ushered in hazardous waste – solid, liquid, and gaseous – drained off into nearby rivers, much like the case of the Marcopper Mines in Benguet, Baguio and Marinduque. Of course, you have the air which vents off toxic gases. This is not yet including carbon dioxide, a waste which we release in the atmosphere. So if were to round up the waste we generate, we will be producing about twice our height in waste everyday.

On the worldwide scale, according to the United Nations Environmental Program, “more than seven million chemicals have now been discovered by human kind; and several thousand new ones are added each year. Of the 80,000 now is common use in significant quantities, most is produced in a manner that also creates chemical waste, much of it hazardous.”

Perhaps some of these chemical wastes are quite easy to deal with, but there are others that are harmful to a lot of people even in minute quantities. We may know of the dangers posed by lead, mercury, and medical wastes but most disturbing is that the potential toxicity level of the chemical wastes compounds are not even tested. But they are, flooding in landfills venting off dirty air.

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Pasig River - BEFORE

Well aside from the Red Tide scare which is a product of Laguna de Bay’s polluted waters, look at Pasig River. The Piso Para Sa Pasig Program is an attempt by our government to give Pasig River a facelift. Unfortunately, like all facelifts, it is a superficial cover-up and will eventually sag, sometimes it’s a go, sometimes it shun. A charade! Many factories and squatters whose untreated sewer goes directly into the Pasig River add to the increasingly darker hue of Pasig River. What has been done about it? A Socratic question!

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Despite the disastrous events and epidemics people have time and again suffered, the practice of questionable waste disposal still continues. This makes us think that the technology for disposing waste has lagged way behind the technology of producing it.

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Conspicuous patterns of consumption imported from the western culture and their consumer products have contributed to the build-up of landfills. Much junk in terms of food and other commodities have found a thriving market here in our country where colonial mentality is strongly ingrained.

What to do with waste which is very much a part of metabolic process of living organism? Proper sorting out of garbage into biodegradable sections must be done, not just on the community but on a national scale.

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Recycle what can be recycled. Recycling is the way of nature which always supports all life forms within the ecosystem. Reduce the amount of garbage we produce. Limit the use of plastic. Plastics must be reused. Styrofoam materials must be replaced by a more earth-friendly one. The use of the native bayong in the marketing is very practical and does away the use of plastic bags.

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Perhaps it will be quite drastic but we don’t really need these disposable utensils and plates in restaurants. All of us have plates and spoons and glasses. It would not only be economical but it will be totally hygienic practice. Remember how certain viruses and germs are passed through eating utensils?

Garbage within or garbage without, we cannot escape from any monstrous of the acts we do; they will continue to haunt and effect us. We cannot do something and turn around, as if nothing really happened, or as if it didn’t matter. Dumping waste into our environment does matter. Just like karma, the action boomerang back to us.

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Then we must reflect at the “disposable mentality” we have. Our actions mirror how we think. The disposable throw-away attitude can also be seen in a way we treat other people. It is indeed very pathetic and saddening to see people use their fellowmen as things, valuable objects for as long as they are useful – useful to our sense enjoyment. As there are disposable spoons, plates, and diapers, so there are disposable marriages (divorce) and disposable children (abortion and abandonment). A person is not a thing. He is an infinite spark of life, a child of the Supreme. No matter how his body looks like, it really doesn’t matter.

(Just a few days ago, a newborn baby was found on the waste basket in a lavatory of a plane.)

Actually, the waste disposal problem that the world is confronted with is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is a whole world view. Wisdom cultivate within, knowing our spiritual essence will manifest in our actions. Treating people like objects is a symptom of self-centered. We cannot be happy being self-centered. Our pleasure is in connection with God’s pleasure.

Perhaps, the most unfortunate waste will be the waste of our lives. Let it not be.

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Comments (5)

one very sad reality of life

Well done for highlighting this sad plight Ron.

Very well written and presented. Awareness on this sad reality is really important and we all must do our share. Stumbled.

A great eye opener, Ron.

Dear all, thanks for the read and comments.