Playing with fire
By Paul Savage
As we continue to battle on with our Trash4Cash program, our teams moved out from Ukunda and went to Diani to clean up areas there that desperately needed attention. It was a revealing time, to say the least. Trash is everywhere in our society. We all produce rubbish whether rich or poor (and the richer we are, the more waste we produce!). We all have a challenge with our garbage. And for those of us who are privileged enough to have access to information at our fingertips, we know about the impact of plastic and other contaminants and the increasing dangers these pose to the environment and our own people, our own families, our own children; and because we know, we have a responsibility to do something about it.
We all know that plastic is an issue. We all know that it never fully biodegrades but instead ends up as microplastics that have embedded themselves into the food we eat and even the air we breathe. We all know we should avoid single-use plastics if we can – especially simple things like plastic water bottles which can build up so quickly in a warm area like Diani when we need to keep hydrated. We all know this and yet I wonder how many of us actually try and reduce our consumption as much as possible. And we also know it is not just plastic - there are countless other contaminants in our modern products, many toxins, many pollutants, that affect biodiversity, the climate and our health.
The other day, we were in an area where rubbish had been dumped and a lot of that waste was single-use plastic water bottles and other pollutants. We filled bags and bags of just single-use plastic water bottles. The area we collected this from was not on the main road, but away in the bush. Sadly, we have those who instead of disposing of waste at the dumpsite or taking it to be recycled choose to just throw it away in the bush - seemingly out of sight of everyone – except out of sight is not out of harm. This is being done either by individual households bringing their waste and fly-tipping it into the bush or waste disposal “companies” who can’t be bothered to take it to Mabungo (the dumpsite) and take the easier option. Whichever it is, surely we can do better. Surely this is not who we want to be? Surely we need some kind of self-respect and some level of accountability? How do we get to that?
And it’s not only out in the “secret” bush that we find trash dumped. We have also found trash just dumped on the roadside - probably overnight – and just left for others to deal with. When it is left out in the open the problems can be worse for us than when hidden. The picture below is of a small dumping place used by a small community in Diani. They dump here as they have few choices as to where to take their trash. This is typical of many areas in Kwale/Diani. What choice do people have to dispose of their waste appropriately? How are they supposed to dispose of it properly when many are poor and cannot afford to pay for it to be taken away? What solutions can we find for such challenges? We need to come together to look at such issues and develop better solutions.
But in the meantime, we do need to ask people to consider making the best of the challenge they face with regards to trash. It is unacceptable to settle for the easy way out, to just dump without thought. If this happens once, a place becomes a common dumping ground then it slowly builds up. More people use it. It becomes all our problem but nobody’s responsibility. Then what?
Well, this is then what: it gets burned. This is the solution many people think deals with the waste they have. It burns, reduces and thus mostly goes away. It can then build up again and then we repeat and on it goes. Dump, burn, dump, burn. But sadly, that’s not the end.
As it burns there are consequences. First, the toxins that go into the atmosphere. This adds to air pollution. It adds to climate change. It is not a solution. It adds to the problems. But that is maybe a bit remote for some of us. What else? Well, this - It affects some of our children.
This boy has been sent to keep the fire going. His parent has asked him to scrape the trash into the fire so it all burns. Obediently he does as asked. As he does so he swallows the toxins into his lungs. But it was not only him.
There was another boy – literally playing with fire and literally, swallowing smoke.
When we burn trash this is what we expose our children and others to. Is that what we want? Really? There are some practices that are happening in our communities with regards to trash and waste that need thinking through. It is too easy to just dump and set fire to trash. Doing something better might take more effort but it more than pays off – for the environment, for the oceans, for our localities, for our children and for all of us.
So what can you do to reduce your trash? Here are three simple things:
1. Reduce what trash you produce. Each of us can buy things with less packaging, especially plastic packaging. We can buy local and take a reusable bag to buy vegetables and other things we need.
2. Separate your trash. If we have trash – plastic, paper, glass, metal, other – then we can segregate it and take it to a place that recycles such waste. These days there are bins around that are there to put in our trash so it is disposed of better and if possible repurposed or recycled.
3. Educate yourself and your neighbours. These days many of us have smartphones and access to the internet. We can learn what to do to not make things worse with regard to the waste we produce. We can also educate our children – not on how to start a fire – but on how to be environmentally friendly. They are already doing this in school. Support that school effort.
Also, why not join in? Volunteer to clean the beach or your road, or your community. Do something. Organize with those you know. Come along and get involved.