The UST Sewage System treats and recycles water for watering plants, cleaning, and flushing toilets. Photo by Paul Allyson R. Quiambao
HOW MUCH has UST done so far to protect the environment? It may have initiated several measures to ensure a “greener” earth but the formidable task of breaking away from the normal, uncaring routine which environmental concern entails continues to discourage the Thomasian community from fully committing to the cause of saving the ailing planet.

Trash talk

The University takes pride on its waste management program. Waste segregation is promoted in the University, where there are separate trash bins for biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials.

Janitors regularly collect wastes from trash bins and transfer them to a station at the back of St. Martin de Porres building beside the UST Hospital – Clinical Division. This outpost, called the materials recovery facility, is where non-biodegradable wastes are packed and then sold for recycling.

But students are supposed to do their share.

Thomasians in fact still depend on janitors to clean and segregate wastes, according to a report by Earth-UST, the University-based organization pushing for environmental protection, titled “Environmental Management in the University of Santo Tomas.” Fr. Roberto Pinto O.P., director of the Facilities Management Office, pointed out that students do not care to segregate wastes even if there are designated trash bins inside the campus, he said.

“We are hoping that the students are the first level where waste segregation could (take) root. But it seems that the janitors themselves still segregate the wastes,” Pinto told the Varsitarian.

Pinto added that since “most of the time, students are inside their buildings, it is important that they develop their awareness (to segregate) at that level so that when they get out of their buildings, they know where to dispose of their trash.”

The Earth-UST report said the problem persists partly because trash bins around the University lack uniformity, creating confusion.

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As long as garbage is not properly segregated, it means janitors have to separate the wastes in each trash bin before they can be sent to the materials recovery facility.

Unknown to many, failure to segregate wastes effectively is a violation of Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, which mandates the segregation of solid waste at the source ? households, institutions, and industrial, commercial, and agricultural establishments.

Styro-free UST

There are a few taken efforts in the name of protecting the environment.

In an attempt to reduce styrofoam consumption in the University, the Office for Community Development (OCD) have agreed with student organizations and faculty members to form “A Movement Towards a Styro-free University.” This was the result of a recent OCD study, which revealed that 107 garbage bags containing an average of 100 Styrofoam packs per bag are collected from nine areas around the University in just a span of just five days.

Participants of the movement make a “personal or organizational commitment” to deliberately reduce styrofoam usage when buying food and bringing them into the University during meetings and activities, according to Jose Cruz III, OCD director.

“During the planning stages of this movement, we encountered a road block when we talked about our lack of control over the sources of styrofoam. However, here in OCD, we decided to consider the things that we can control — our activities. We could begin by making a conscious effort to make our personal consumption styro-free,” he said.

Cruz said student organizations would be invited to join the movement next academic year. A “styro-free seal,” to be displayed in their offices, will serve as motivation for student organizations to adhere to their commitment.

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Surprise inspections will be performed to ensure reduced use of styrofoam. If an organization does not maintain its status of being styro-free, the seal will be removed.

Cruz hopes that through this movement, food establishments will be motivated to find alternatives for styrofoam.

“If we get all student organizations, and eventually the administrative offices of the University, to commit to a styro-free lifestyle, then we could have a better leverage when we talk to food establishments since we can already pose a threat to business due to our number,” he said.

Cruz said the movement would be expanded to reduce the use of straws and plastic utensils.

“We are also (considering) the idea of requesting establishments to give discounts to students who will bring their own reusable utensils, eventually. But again, this is a personal commitment as it is up to the students to bring their own spoons and forks,” he said.

‘New’ water

But if there is anything that is truly innovative and pioneering in UST’s environment protection campaign, it is the water treatment system that has been in the campus since 2000.

Stationed at the back of the St. Martin de Pores Building just across the Research Center for Health Sciences is an almost six-story basement where water consumed is again utilized.

The Sewer Treatment Plant houses an underground facility that recycles water. It is the only wastewater treatment facility housed in a university in Mega Manila.

Pinto explained that water used to flush toilets and drained into the sinks are stored in campus sewage systems. From the sewers, wastewater passes through two sedimentation processes: primary and secondary.

In the first phase, the water passes through underground pipes leading to the facility where effluents like soap suds, oil, grease, and even feces, are filtered out. Gray, pungent water then enters a stage where microscopic solid wastes are literally separated. In the aeration tank, wastewater swirls and creates a frothy bubble on the surface as proof that oxygen is being pumped in to kill micro-organisms.

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These procedures are collectively known as sewage water treatment.

In a nutshell, it requires the clotting of solid wastes from the gray water so that these materials can easily settle down and be extracted from the water. The product becomes clear and is now called “new water.”

New water is stored inside huge aluminum containers outside the plant.

However, no matter how clear the water gets, it is not safe for drinking, Pinto said.

“We do not have reverse osmosis that is why the water is only good for limited purposes,” Pinto added. “For the water to be potable, you need reverse osmosis.”

Reverse osmosis, another water treatment process, involves step-by-step microfiltration where membranes or holes through which water pass get smaller and smaller until there are no more traces of sediments.

Since UST does not apply this technique, new water is only used for watering plants in the campus grounds. Or, it may go back to the water system and return to the toilets where it came from.

The Sewer Treatment Plant was established as UST’s response to the Laguna Lake Development Authority’s (LLDA) call to control the volume of water released into Laguna Lake.

“LLDA has constantly (been) reminding us of the volume of the wastewater we release. That is true because UST is a big university,” Pinto said.

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