A Day in the Materials Recovery Facility

One of the things I love most is experiential learning. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I took this job. I wouldn’t just be reading about El Nido’s environment – I’d actually be out there taking it all in. If you’ve stayed in any of our resorts or are just an avid Environment fan (stalking our every move!), you might already be familiar with our Green Nights program where the Environmental Officer (EO) of each resort discusses different topics such as the birds, fish, and unusual plants of El Nido. One of the more “technical” topics is “Keeping It G.R.E.E.N.”, which discusses our company’s environmental efforts. You find out where our trash goes, where we get our food and water, how our guides know what they know, and other interesting details on how we Guard, Respect, Educate El Nido. The information in the presentation came from trusted sources but one day, the Director for Environment (our boss!), Ms. Mariglo Laririt came up with a brilliant training program: a four-day immersion in town. Our trusty colleagues-slash-guardians Rey Reyes and Mesach Rosete adopted us last September 2012 as we went and worked in the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), the different greenhouses and our farm, in the local market, and in Sibaltan with the weavers of our famous Buri Bags. We split into 2 groups. Kring and Mavic had their immersion first and then Macy and I followed the week after. Although we went and did the same things, we still had different experiences and learnings. No two events are exactly the same indeed. Here is a glimpse of what happened.

Day 1: Materials Recovery Facility
The day started at 4:00 in the morning. We got up at 3:30 for the final prepping of the things we needed, dropped them off at the pier, then went back to haul the trash. After all the trash in the resort was collected, we placed them in the push cart and took them to the pier where we waited for the outrigger boat that would bring it (and us!) to the MRF. Once loading was finished, we took a one-hour trip to the facility.

We got there at around 6 in the morning but since it was still dark out, we took a short nap by the aplaya (beach). By 7, we started hauling sacks of rice hulls for carbonization. The carbonized rice hulls are needed to retain the proper moisture of the compost and to prevent bad odor. After starting a fire and covering it up with uncooked rice hulls, we gave it a light shoveling just to mix it. The rice hulls needed at least 6 hours to cook so we just came back now and then to toss them around for even cooking.

Mixing up the rice hulls for even carbonization
Mixing up the rice hulls for even carbonization

Next we went to get the trash cans and bags from the outrigger boat. The biodegradable trash was separated from the nonbiodegradable trash. We further segregated the nonbiodegradable waste into plastics, metal, glass, cloth, and paper. The recyclable trash (plastic and glass bottles) were set aside for our partner, Linda Adriano, to sell. Ate Linda gets extra income from selling our recyclable trash. In return, she brings our residual waste to the El Nido municipal landfill. As we compost or bury all of our biodegradable waste and sell our recyclables, only a small fraction of the trash we produce ends up in the landfill.

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Bringing in the previous day’s trash

We then went to take care of our biodegradable wastes. We segregated the compostables from the noncompostables. The compostables include rice, raw fruits, and raw vegetables. Oily foods such as meat and fish spoil the compost so it is best to bury them in pits and allow for natural decomposition. Fruit and vegetable skins or husk are shredded first before being buried to speed up decomposition.

The compostable wastes were manually squeezed to get rid of all the moisture buildup then thrown into the compost pits. There are four main compost components: one pail each of fresh food waste, carbonized rice hull, and old compost that needs further decomposition and 1/2 pail of dried, shredded leaves. The dry leaves act as a drying agent.

Kuya Tolits squeezes the water out of the food waste
Kuya Tolits squeezes the water out of the food waste
Mixing the new batch of compost
Mixing the new batch of compost

Each resort in El Nido (Miniloc, Lagen, and Pangulasian) has 10 compost pits, amounting to 30 pits. The compost sits for 10 days and is mixed once a day to allow it to breathe. The compost product we get is used as fertilizer for our greenhouses, our farm in Lio, and of course, the resorts’ gardens.

There are three staff members in MRF (apart from the banca boys) taking care of all these tasks. They work all day, especially if there are a lot of guests in the resorts. I was aware of the existence of the facility from the moment I signed on. However, it was only during the immersion trip that I realized how much effort these guys put into making sure we are properly managing our wastes. I am really impressed by how effiicient they are. They normally finish segregation and composting by lunch time. Talk about superhuman strength!

Meet the MRF heroes!
Meet the MRF heroes!

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Read all articles by Jamie Dichaves.

Next article: Ten Knots Philippines’ organic farm and greenhouses!

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