Recycling: The Good, Bad, and The Smelly
As we go further into the future, population growth, pollution, and trash is starting to become a big problem. Some nations are pressured into recycling while others are not. Why is this? From the American perspective, people do like the idea of recycling, but since it is viewed as a chore more than a necessity, sometimes it goes unpracticed. In countries where living quarters are closer and real estate is limited, the disparity between rich and poor is large. Recycling and properly disposing of waste becomes a tremendous necessity. A quick look at these documents can give you an understanding of how recycling affects people in different ways. Residents who live in large first world countries where space is not an issue, recycling can also have its benefits as a way to innovate, earn a living, and prepare for the future.
How does India play into the conversation? A country that displays its beauty through language, culture, cinema, music, fashion, and history, while also struggling to maintain a standard of living that can effectively house, feed, and support its citizens with basic public facilities and amenities. According to National Geographic, many people in India would rather save themselves time and the hassle of exposing themselves to the odor and unhygienic conditions of public restrooms (Royte 2017). Trash and waste is a huge problem in India. Not just recyclables, but human feces and how it is being disposed of. Human feces contain millions of diseases and contribute to the production of parasites and cysts that take their toll on the population through nutrient deprivation or from fatalities from intestinal related diseases. There is not a lot of leeway in procrastinating for a solution here.
I had the chance to speak to Vernell Anthony Davis. He explained what he felt, experienced, and learned from his time in India. Davis traveled to India twice to experience the country, attend a wedding, and visit some of his friends' extended family. His initial assumptions were mostly true, but there were things he saw that he was not ready for. He understood that it was rich and beautiful country. He wanted to experience it, but at the same time he knew it was poverty stricken with people who are struggling with their health, finances, and day to day life. He described the environment as busy, congested, and unregulated. He mentions being "...surrounded by traffic, fighting for your space, cops not doing much..." and how people are defecating and relieving themselves in the street. While there were trash cans, no one seems to be using them. There were piles of trash everywhere he went, especially in New Delhi. Davis goes on to explain how people are living so close together in huts, villages, and big houses. All the while, everyone is on different socioeconomic levels are intertwined within these communities. India is pressed for space and better government regulation. It is overpopulated and government support is stretched too thin to support everyone equally. Among the distasteful aromas and drawbacks from improper waste disposal, some are finding new ways to use recyclables to support communities in this part of the world.
Bangladesh is on India's border and currently is on a rate of trash and waste disposal that will destroy its country. According to F.A. Samiul Islam if Bangladesh goes unchecked and does not make huge changes to how it deals with recycling, it is projected to produce 5.52 million tons of urban waste annually with 15,110 tons per day (Islam 2016). These numbers are very scary. A step in the right direction is using scientific innovation as a grassroots program. Currently Bangladesh has an air conditioning problem. It is a very hot country with temperatures rising as high as 45 degrees Celsius or 113 degrees Fahrenheit and as many as 28,000 people live without electricity. Is there any hope for indoor cooling to the masses? Yes there is. Innovation in through education and understanding basic concepts in science and technology has allowed us to think of simple ways to solve current problems. An advertising and marketing company by the name of Grey Dhaka collaborated with Grameen Intel Social Business and volunteers to create low cost and easy to assemble air conditioners without the use of electricity. Yes you heard that correctly, the Grameen Intel Social Business is a joint partnership between Intel Corporation and Grameen Trust, which is synonymous with the ideals of Professor Muhammad Yunus. These great companies created the Eco-Cooler.
Even children can understand how with the invention of the Eco-Cooler from Grey Dhaka. Bear with me, I promise I won't smash your hand in your face as a joke while you are trying this. If you hold up your palm a few inches away from your face and exhale, you will only feel hot air. However, when you purse your lips as if you were blowing on a spoon of hot soup, you will feel cold air instead. How is this possible? When air is funneled into a smaller area it will compress the hot air so it will become cooler. This simple concept was used in the creation of the Eco-Cooler. What makes it even better is that you can make this yourself with materials that you probably already consume and discard. Check out the video to see more.
Next let's look at the United States. Here the pressure to recycle can be felt by some parents, teachers, businesses, or environmentally-conscious people, but why is it that some are lazy to do so? We see the cigarette butts on the floor, takeout food boxes discarded near the trash can, or plastic bags floating down the street like futuristic versions of tumbleweeds from the Wild West. After moving to South Korea things are far different when it comes to recycling. In the United States there is a tax that is implemented to pay for the waste management sector. This includes the employees, the trucks, the designated bins that are appropriated to each household etc. Sometimes there are separate bins for regular trash and the glass, plastic, aluminum, or cardboard. I had a conversation with my dad about what kinds of bins are available in our housing complex. He told me how specific each bin and color dictated how to dispose of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, and tin. The bins clearly label that food, polystyrene, wax-coated products, colored plastic containers, paint, oil, spray or aerosol cans, electronics, appliances, light bulbs, metals, or flammable liquids can be mixed into these containers. My next question was how often do people actually dispose of their recyclables and trash correctly? My dad seems skeptical because most would agree that it's easier to just throw them away in a trash bag, where it can be sorted at the recycling center. This is a huge luxury. We as Americans are paying into the steady increase of landfills. To many it does not pose a threat, simply because it does not directly affect them.
Our trash system in the US is like clockwork. It comes on a designated day. We don't have to sort through too many things. What many people don't realize is that according to fastcompany.com, the average American wastes 4lbs or 2.2kgs of trash per day; California being one the highest producers of trash. This is almost double from the world's average from what is mentioned by weforum.org in an article by Paul Muggeridge. One may only see the difference in these numbers when they go outside of the U.S. and not just in hotels, but by paying attention to how locals or even the restaurants live and recycle respectively as Davis did.
4. South Korea
As for South Korea, I would say that they are role models when it comes to recycling and some ways they aren't. Let's start with the good stuff. Instead of charging a national garbage tax, South Korea has imposed a tax on waste accumulation. Meaning, the more waste a household or business contributes to, the more they will have to pay. How have they regulated this? Different garbage bags are sold at different prices depending on size, use, and region. Depending on the use of food waste, plastic, aluminum, glass, or size of the trash, the more one has to pay. Makes sense right? For conservatives who argue about not wanting to pay to pick up other people's slack, this seems like a great idea. There are some drawbacks; one of them being the smell and the appearance. Since the Korean government did away with large garbage containers, trash piles up near the government issued bins on the sides of the roads. The government thought that introducing this would allow people to be more meticulous in recycling and waste disposal. While this is true, food and compostable trash stink up the roads and sometimes even in apartment buildings. People will leave their food waste bags in the hallway to avoid stinking up their own apartment, but as a result the entire floor smells. Most take it downstairs to the large pile of already accumulating trash by the garbage bins, but some don't. With a population of a little more than 50 million people living in a country that could fit inside the state of California four times over, space is a huge issue. Therefore recycling is a must and is punished if not followed properly.
5. Is It Lucrative?
If the sheer idea that you can make the planet a better place for the future doesn't sell you right out, I would like to present you with the story of Conrad Cutler. You may have heard of this young entrepreneur earlier this year. He graduated from Syracuse University and majored in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. While in University he was managing his own Laundromat. After graduating, he used this degree to start businesses in Laundromats and recycling plants. How much money has he made so far? Solely regarding his recycling company Galvanize Group, Cutler has generated over $10 million a year from collecting cans. His overhead includes paying for 100 contractors to scour the city to collect cans from trash cans or work in the warehouse where they sort and process the materials. While collecting the recyclables in public aren't always done in legal ways, not many people are going to call the police just because contractors are picking them from the dumpsters of private businesses or by having close relationships with building managers and taking them before the recyclables are sent off the recycling to the designated bins on the street. Recycling is still being done for the better, so regulation of this practice won't really happen. As a result, Mr. Cutler at the young age of 26 years old drives a Porsche and is the CEO of his own company. While this is a nice story, many immigrants, unskilled, or elderly people are forced to resort to collecting recyclables on their own without being part of a company to pay their salaries.
For some, subsisting on this alone is not enough. It's good that people like Cutler are providing contract work for people willing to do this, usually at better wages than they can achieve on their own. People like Cutler are not so much the issue. The concern rests with the fact that some are OK with being lazy or not sorting recyclables into their respective areas because they believe it provides work to certain downtrodden people who could be immigrants, unskilled laborers, or elderly pick up after people as a form of an income. This type of thinking will only serve to propagate the idea that recycling is not a priority. Although some countries are fortunate with the space or funds to have public amenities and programs to deal with the recycling demand and issues, it is still the moral duty of developed nations to set the standard of how recycling should be practiced around the world.
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