Show them how

During my last trip to Africa, being a “minimum waster”, I couldn’t not see all the trash that is almost ubiquitous.
IMG_6971You’ve heard, you’ve seen it. Beaches and streets in the third world countries full of trash, mostly plastic waste like PET bottles, biscuit wrappers and plastic bags. Bali, Philippines…the media is full of it, as the word about plastic has gotten out. Alongside with this you have the voices that, whenever you do any effort in the western world, like ban plastic straws etc., always point at those countries and say that given the amounts of trash there, our efforts are just minor and useless. Well, let me tell you something.
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As an Africa lover, I travel to the black continent basically every year. This time we did Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. In terms of waste, these countries are no different to the aforementioned Asian countries, if not worse. The amounts of trash lying in the streets and floating on the water are terrifying. The problem is, according to me, two-fold:
1. they have no waste management
2. they wrap EVERYTHING in plastic
Ad 1. Although quite rich countries thanks to the oil and mineral mining, these countries still qualify as third world, dealing with infrastructure problems, electricity outages and poverty. Only once they settle these, they can focus on, in this case, secondary issues such as the environment or waste management. For now the waste management infrastructure is non-existing, or very poor. In practice it means, that there are very, very few trash bins, so whenever you need to throw something away, you spend minutes, if not hours looking for a place to dispose of. So what do you do then? You simply drop it on the ground. The result?
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Sad but true.
Ad 2. Plastic is cheap, durable, light, such a great material! We have enjoyed it, too, and it’s only now that we are starting to realize that it can easily become our enemy. But the africans are still in the first phase. And so they wrap everything in it. More specifically in cheap, plastic bags. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Doesn’t matter if you buy just chewing gums or bananas-they put everything in a plastic bag, sometimes each item in a separate plastic bag(!). Guess it enhances the customer experience in the otherwise lamentable shops or I don’t know.

But, remember that we have all been there. I remember it was not so long ago when my country was all enthusiastic about plastic bags and some people even kept them and wore as an accessory (this is also sad but true). We were so fancied by this rather new material, and its convenience. On the same note, we have also been a poor country once, building its infrastructure and making sure that the people don’t starve. And when we achieved that, we started focusing on the environment and what to do with our waste.

So what I would like to say is this. The third world countries will take care of the waste that they produce, they just need more time. In terms of development, they are simply not there yet. Meanwhile, instead of being cynical and say that our minor efforts are useless, let’s pursue these efforts and show these countries good examples.
In Lagos, I met this girl that studies in Sweden and came home for holiday. After I told her what I do, she told me that she was so sad there was nothing like recycling bins in Nigeria. That she got used to it in Sweden and it makes sense for her.
So that’s what I mean. Lead. Show good practice. Inspire.
T.

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