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  • Kwale Plastics

Let’s Go Shopping

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Paul Savage

There’s a quote about the trash we create which obviously but rather pointedly says, “There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.”[1]

Well there’s a lot in life that is obvious that we often end up doing without fully considering the consequences: using our mobile phones while driving, not wearing crash helmets on bicycles, going to unlit ATMs at night, withdrawing large amounts of cash in public view, self-medicating without a doctor’s advice, leaving that medicine within the reach of children, leaving the door unlocked at night, forgetting to switch off at the wall when we go to bed. That lackadaisical action – almost willful ignorance - often costs us.

In terms of trash our willful idleness and ignorance costs us dearly – but sadly not only us but it impacts everyone and everything - it impacts the planet we live on and all who share it with us – it affects the soils, the air, the rivers and lakes, the beaches, seas and oceans, the animals and insects and fish and other creatures, the plants and the forests and even the ice – and of course it affects other people - from those we have never met to our neighbours friends and family. It costs all of us our climate, our environment, our health and maybe one day our very future and survival. Of course we know better but we prefer to ignore what we know and choose the easy life.

That easy life is a product of the consumer life we lead – and, to be honest, a life we are kind of pushed towards and fall into by retailers and advertisers – although we are often all too complicit in that fall. We want ‘stuff’ now and we want it ready to use. When we have consumed, we are often all too ready to discard and move on to the next thing we want. We cook less and buy ‘fast food’ instead, (which is also usually ‘fat food’), and comes in big boxes and plastic tumblers – with straws and lids – especially on say Tuesdays when it is 2 for 1 – twice the food, twice the fat and twice the packaging – leading to twice the away somewhere!!

We rush around the supermarket filling up our trollies with stuff wrapped in plastic and all kinds of non-biodegradable stuff. We want the latest big tv or fridge or washing machine – which comes in a big box with white polystyrene and in a plastic bag with two fat books of instructions we don’t read. Consumerism often comes with lots of packaging. And that is the challenge we face. Even with the banning of plastic bags in Kenya the streets are still full of other plastic packaging and rubbish. We are still a throw away culture – but of course it has to go somewhere.

Just occasionally, like now, why don’t we think a little more about what we buy, how it is packaged, what we throw away and the somewhere it must go when we do and of those who clean up after us?

Of late it has been the Trash4Cash team members who have been ‘somewhere’ in Ukunda. During the 12 weeks program, we cleaned the roadside area between Darling and Kona ya Musa 4 times. The first time there was so much trash. On our first day we collected 1200 kgs of trash. People who saw us wondered what we were doing. And when they realized we were cleaning up the trash they were pleased. Many times people passed us while we picked and said, ‘You are doing a great work. Keep it up.’ Or ‘Thank you’. Some even asked for jobs. As we came back each Tuesday and Thursday one or two people came along to join us as volunteers and thank you to those few. Most people though just let us get on with it.

But it has been noticeable that each time we have gone back again to a section of the road we have still found trash. It might be less than day 1 but we are still collecting 500-600 kgs per day. In all so far we have collected over 10,000 kgs of trash along that 3 - 4 kilometer stretch of somewhere…

Above the drainage channel roadside in Ukunda before and after it has been picked by T4C staff. Above that Trash4Cash team members clearing the drains near the big Masjid in Ukunda – for the 4th time.

So how does this happen? What do we buy when we go shopping? Probably a lot of the everyday food and other everyday products we find in our supermarkets. Here are a few you might recognize.

Above – the type of packet and packaging we pick or find in our bins.

Everyday things that end up thrown away somewhere. It all has to be dealt with.

The reality is we have to deal with the fallout from our consumerism. Nearly everything we buy comes wrapped in something and has to go somewhere. After we consume it we throw it away – all the plastic and polystyrene and cardboard and paper and even metal and other materials. Even the big stuff we buy is thrown away somewhere – and has to be dealt with - fridges, TVs, tires, cars, batteries, old phones, old computers, foam filled sofas and mattresses. You name it, it goes somewhere. We know this. It’s not rocket science.

If you throw it away it has to be dealt with by somebody else somewhere. In Ukunda or Diani or Msambweni it is dealt with by dumping it in the landfill at Mwabungo. This is just what it says it is - a hole filled with the stuff we have thrown away. Except now it is a hill!! Mwabungo is one of the ‘somewheres’. But it still gives off CO2 and still produces methane and other toxins. It still leaches slowly into the soils, our water table and eventually into the ocean off Diani Beach – underground. But out of sight out of mind eh?

Or another option is that the trash is taken to a depot and sorted so some of it can be repurposed and recycled. This is what we do at Kwale Plastic Plus Collectors – we are the ones at another somewhere, sorting out what is thrown away and trying to find a way to repurpose it. As we continue to build the right infrastructure to make proper recycling sustainable, we still have to work towards keeping our streets and our beaches clean and keep collecting, sorting, storing until we can close the loop completely within our own county. But that in itself is not a solution. So much of what is collected cannot be recycled and so much of what we consume is perhaps not necessary to produce and purchase in the first place…

You know all those mozzies you kill? And all that beer and booze you drink?

So maybe we should think a little more about how we shop and contribute to a cleaner environment. How do we reduce our trash footprint? How aware are we of the packaging options we have when we shop? Do we choose to limit our packaging? What can we buy with less or no packaging? What about maybe vegetables and other things? Can we reduce our trash footprint? Can we think a bit more carefully about what we do and its impact?

But apart from our own efforts what else can we do? We need more options that’s for sure. We need packagers to consider what materials they use. We need authorities to consider how we can dispose of things better. We need trash – or waste – managed effectively.

So what can we do to lobby for those things? What can we do to complain and to ask for and demand better options? This is the way we have to go. It is one thing to do my little bit at home and that is not to be dismissed – all change starts small and local and personal. But we can also try and make a difference by demanding those who encourage our consumerism to consider what they offer us and how? We can demand our stuff is not just left to rot but ways are found to reuse and recycle more of that stuff.

This is a long journey - but as the Chinese aphorism says – ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step’. Let’s start making those steps in our own place, in our own somewhere.

[1] Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health—and a Vision for Change.

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