Waste not, want not?


I have just spent 11 hours wading through other people’s trash. Yep! I am feeling a little jaded, I stink to high heaven, and am in dire need of a very tall glass of wine. I am also wondering why, why, why!??
I volunteered my services at our community fair. As the manager of the recycling depot based at our local farm village, I thought I should (for the third year running) ensure that our little annual fair does its best to reduce the volumes of waste sent to landfill. Every year, we try and get the system to work more efficiently.
I am not sure how many people passed through the gates today, but I would guess close on about 15 000? That is 15 000 bodies all producing cans, glass, food, plastic waste and other unmentionables.

And my word …did they produce it!

I have mixed feelings about how the day went. We managed to separate out about 20 large bags of drinks cans, 8 large bags of plastic bottles and general plastic, a large volume of cardboard and many kg’s of glass.

This, however, meant wading through pile after pile of mixed waste all day. As in, picking cans, plastic or glass bottles out from a veritable quagmire of potato peels, melted ice cream, soggy tissues, paper plates, disposable coffee cups and dirty nappies.
It was hideous.

I got stuck in. All day. I did so because I wanted to and because I needed to keep tabs on things at our little temporary depot. I could have left it for my team of Malawians to do it all, but there were times when I could see that things would have gone pear-shaped had I not been there to monitor the ‘processing’.

So I got my hands dirty…and in doing so, I got up close and personal with the really, truly, shitty side of humanity. I got a good sense of just how foul we are…and how much work needs to be done.

If I do this again, I will approach things so very differently.

In the past I have gone the route of separate bins with big fat labels for people to separate intelligently. Alas, this has never worked. This year, I chose to go for “General Waste” bins, glass bins and drums labelled “Cans”. All great on paper, but people still insist on dumping their half eaten hot dog in the drum labelled “Cans”….or shove a dripping nappy into the “Glass” bin. Hence the need to still wade through said mush.
I had many people comment on how I could do things better. Some rushed up to tell me how my team were doing it all wrong. All very helpful.
The solution? To have four waste management stations for the entire event. At each station, we have a human being and bins marked for each waste type. The human being assists/directs/polices all the dysfunctional folk who appear unable to separate their waste on their own. This is clearly THE ONLY WAY IT WILL WORK.

But in saying this, I feel a rising sense of despair. I worry that this is all wrapped up (pardon the pun) in where we are heading as a planet. If we cannot manage the most basic of basics….where we put our waste… and we fail to see the connection between tossing it all away and climate change/habitat loss/our kid’s bloody future!!!….then what hope is there for us all?
It is a really basic place to start.

I fear that I am suffering from ‘green fatigue’.

Time to whip up new energy within to go out and try and show people the connections. Such simple connections.

I hope to wake up tomorrow with this new energy and a whole bucket-load of hope for us all as a species!

One thought on “Waste not, want not?

  1. Congratulations on a great effort – 11 hours in all that rubbish is hell! If we could get everyone in South Africa to spend just one hour doing what you did, we would see a big change in attitude.
    Please send this blog to the letters page of one or more newspapers. You should also add what can be done to start turning things around, such as compulsory recycling in all schools coupled with an education campaign, and lobbying of all municipalities to initiate and support recylling programmes at source.
    Keep up the good work!!

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