Photo: Global Environment Facility/Flickr
Waste pickers are the principal actors in reclaiming waste for the recycling industry. Across the world, large numbers of people from low-income and disadvantaged communities make a living collecting and sorting waste, and then selling reclaimed waste through intermediaries to the recycling industry. Where others see trash or garbage, the waste pickers see paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. They are skilled at sorting and bundling different types of waste by color, weight, and end use to sell to the recycling industry. Yet waste pickers are rarely recognized for the important role they play in creating value from the waste generated by others and in contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Fortunately, around the world, waste pickers have been organizing and cities have begun to promote the virtuous circle that comes with integrating waste pickers, the world’s recyclers, into solid waste management.
Brazil was the first country to integrate waste pickers, through their cooperatives, into municipal solid waste management systems and the first to adopt a National Waste Policy, recognizing the contributions of waste pickers and providing a legal framework to enable cooperatives of waste pickers to contract as service providers. The national movement of waste pickers in Brazil was awarded a contract to clean the stadiums during the World Cup.
You cannot imagine my surprise while reading a BusinessWeek article last July about an innovative way to transform India’s litter into partial substitute for bitumen in asphalt to build roads!
Well, this transformative method arguably holds larger potential than the “garbage to music” recycling approach I recently wrote about in my first post about creative ways to manage waste. “Garbage to roads” was pioneered by an Indian chemist called Vasudevan, and it could help not only in getting rid of tons of plastic litter- thick acrylics and bottles, grocery bags and wrappers-- but in building roads at the same time. It’s a win-win solution for all.
The waste sector spans from collection, sorting, separation, recycling, handling of residuals and safe, final disposal. The elements of an efficient and effective waste management system are multifaceted and its operations are complex. While many perceive the entire process as a ‘dirty’ business, it requires a high level of professionalism and sophistication to run a well-organized waste management scheme. It is not a surprise that a strong informal sector has evolved to cater to the unmet waste disposal needs of communities, industries and other waste generators.
It is estimated that over a hundred thousand people in the Philippines work in the informal waste sector. Many of these belong to vulnerable, marginalized groups - waste pickers in open dumpsites and other dumping grounds and wandering trash collectors, haulers and buyers on-foot or using wooden carts and bicycles.
I started working in solid waste management only a few months before I heard the story of the children’s orchestra in Paraguay, called the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura.
These talented and driven children, all from poor families, had the creativity to construct musical instruments from recycled materials and use them to play classical music (check out the video “Landfill Harmonic”). The passion of these musicians, inspired by their unique social, educational and artistic influences – as well as constraints – and their ability to create art from limited resources strengthened my commitment to the work we do in solid waste management.
Let’s talk recycling: Not plastic and paper, but power…
These days, by far, the majority of electricity used in high-income countries comes from thermal power plants; these operate by heating water into steam that then spins a turbine. Thermal power plants, however, typically only use 33% to 48% of the total heat they produce. The rest just gets released into water or air. It’s a shame; if only there was a way to recycle all that ‘low-grade’ heat.
Today, 37% of the energy demand in OECD countries is for heating of buildings; only about 21% of energy demand is for electricity. We use much more energy for heating and cooling than we do for electricity. The low-grade heat that gets wasted by most power plants is still hot enough to be used for heating (and cooling) and water heating in buildings.
Why do we use so little of the heat we produce? That’s like buying a tub of fried chicken just to eat the skins!
In the Philippines and Guatemala, local groups have taken the mantra “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle” to a whole new level. MyShelter Foundation and Hug It Forward use discarded plastic bottles as ‘eco-bricks’ to work with local communities to build “Bottle Schools” – providing an innovative response to the problems of plastic waste and the chronic lack of educational infrastructure.
By Megan Van Buskirk, WAGGGS Youth Delegate from Canada
The Egyptian mass transport fleet is aging – the average age of a taxi in Egypt is 32 years old, more than 64,000 microbuses are greater than 20 years old, and nearly 70% of all registered vehicles in the country are greater than 15 years old. The aging fleet is prone to frequent break-downs and, because older vehicles are typically unequipped with modern catalytic converters, low quality emissions.
A visit to the vast Pacific Ocean can make anyone feel insignificant. Yet despite its immense size, we've learned over the years that the old saying, "the solution to pollution is dilution," doesn't quite hold water (sorry for the pun) when it comes to trash, such as plastic bags. Garbage dumped in the ocean doesn’t just go away, it washes up on beaches or amalgamates in so-called "trash vortexes" in the Pacific.
An organization in Nairobi, Kenya, called UniquEco has been working to make good use out of a surprising type of debris that is apparently quite a nuisance there – flip flop-style sandals. Thousands of flip-flops that wash up on the East African shoreline every month apparently originate in Asia (link translated to English by Google – see the original page in Spanish here).
The organization, which also calls itself the "Flip-Flop Recycling Company", is taking the discarded footwear and having local artists turn handmade pieces of art and other products. They then resell some of the products to tourists and residents in Nairobi, while exporting the majority of the goods to distributors around the world, according to their website. Their online store has some pretty neat-looking items, including bags, wallets and even a chess set.
It's a pretty inventive and neat way to turn floating garbage into a useful form of revenue.