This item of news on NPR radio got me thinking about how recycles are handled in the various places I’ve lived.
In Sudan, recycling was not an issue. If you had food scraps, throw them out in the road and the local goats would eat them. If you had tin cans, throw them out in the road and the local boys would pick them up and turn them into toys. If you had paper, throw it into the road and the local goats would eat that too. However, if you had anything important written on it, you might want to shred and burn it as the local children might take it home for writing practice. Cardboard boxes were never thrown away because you can always find a use for them, and besides, you or someone you know might be moving soon. Plastic bags were the greatest nuisance, but if they blew around in the road long enough they would find a barbed wire fence and attach themselves to it, creating a bag farm. We also referred to the white plastic bags as the national bird (the white-breasted Sudanese kiis). “Kiis” is the Arabic word for plastic bag.
In Mogran, a small part of Khartoum, we did have garbage pick up once or twice a week. There wasn’t generally a lot for them to pick up at our house because if we threw something away, someone would likely see it in the trash and think of some use for it and take it home with them. What the house help didn’t get, the guys from the garbage truck did. I’ve seen them sorting through what they picked up to find useful things to take home. How much actually got to the dump, I don’t know. We kept our rubbish in various containers near the gate to make it easy to put our when the truck showed up. In this photo, I came home to find a water hose leaking because someone had set the rubbish on fire and burned through the hose!
In Kenya, the center where I lived didn’t recycle anything. It seemed a shame, but food scraps attracted unsavory elements like rats, Maribou Storks, Ibis and other unwelcomed wild life. Keeping up with plastic and tin cans and glass containers took up too much space. So, I was delighted to find that Nakumaat had set up a recycle center. When I finally remembered to put my recycles in the car and went to drop them off, I was disappointed to find only garbage there and no recycles at all. Sometimes enterprising young people would come by the homes of some of my colleagues and collect their recycles, so I often passed mine along to them to give to these needy kids who were making a small living out of our rubbish. It was all rather unsatisfactory.
In England, recycling is a requirement and each county has a different set of rules about it. There is usually a sizable card describing the type of waste to be recycled, what color bin to put it in and when each thing will be collected. It takes quite a bit of studying to get it right, and woe betide you if you get it wrong! By comparison with Sudanese or American houses, English houses are quite small and compact. However, no matter how small your kitchen, you must make room for three or four recycle containers. Food waste gets put in one, paper in another, plastic in another and metal in yet another one or two. Glass must be separated and so should the newspapers! Pick up schedules vary greatly, so it helps to have a space outside to keep some of it while waiting for it to be collected.
So, when I arrived in the US and was offered a recycle bin, I said “Yes”. When I got one huge brown bin and instructions to put all recycles in there (except food), I was delighted. How kind of the company to separate it for me. They collect it every two weeks, and it fits quite nicely in my garage. For the multitude of plastic bags that accumulate, the grocery stores often have a bin to shove those into. I can bury my food scraps in the garden and fertilize my plants. I actually got some volunteer tomatoes that way. It is all so easy by comparison to England. Of course, it is hard to beat the “throw it in the road” of Sudan, but it certainly is better than the “we don’t do that” of Kenya.
Yes, Americans are truly spoiled and just don’t know it. So, let’s join together and clean up our act so that China will actually take our rubbish. Maybe they will find a wonderful use for it and sell it back to us in another form.