Friday, July 25, 2008

Wild recycling

"Privatization" of solid waste recycling in Lebanon. This little truck passes through my street every morning at around 6 AM. It stops at every bin, and 2 young men (almost kids) open all the garbage bags and empty them of their content. They then sort the plastic bottles and the aluminum cans, place them in the back of the truck and move to another set of bins. This leaves all the garbage in the bins is bag less. Great for flies. And smells. But they do a great service in recycling and reducing the amount that goes to the land fills. Is it really so difficult to organize this sector? Like to sort at home? It will facilitate the job of the collectors, reduce exposure hazard on the kids and environmental contamination. A few years ago Sukleen, the private company in charge of cleaning up Beirut introduced huge green mushrooms marked "bottles only". I have never seen anyone use them, and they just sit there, on sidewalks, monuments to failure.


Leila Abu-Saba said...

It's an interesting question - can you get the populace to sort their own voluntarily?

I lived in New York City for several years before they introduced recycling. IT was at the end of the "bad old days" when there were abandoned cars on the streets, burned-out buildings, whole regions controlled by drug dealers where the police would not patrol, etc. New York was kind of anarchic in those days.

Introducing a 5 cent recycling fee on soda and beer bottles sparked a "business" where street people searched the trash for recyclables which they could redeem. Residents didn't like their trash getting opened for the reasons you state above, so many of us began separating our own bottles and leaving them out, visible, in bags, as a "gift" to the street people, but also to prevent mess. I remember seeing a bag full of bottles hanging from the fence of a very bourgeois town house in Brooklyn.

Then they introduced recycling via the sanitation trucks. Nobody believed New Yorkers would cooperate with recycling one bit - too anarchic and messy we thought. But they got 1/3 compliance right away. I remember we were all amazed at how quickly people adapted to tying up their newspapers and setting out their bottles.

What would it take to get Beirutis to do the same? Does propaganda work? Has it helped with municipal trash - i.e. those lovely waste receptacles (there were none when I was growing up) so people could throw their popsicle sticks in a can and not on the road?

Meanwhile people in the States are fighting each other over recyclables now - independent scavengers are taking materials from bins meant to be collected by the sanitation service; fighting with other independents; fighting with the residents who say - it's my recycling, you can't have it, etc. As the materials become valuable then of course people will want to recover them. Just a few years ago the problem was too much recycled product and nothing to do with it. But now because of shortages in metals and other materials it seems the product is valuable.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Also regarding the smells -
My area (Oakland, CA and other cities nearby) has introduced kitchen scrap composting. The garbage company issued us small lidded buckets to put our potato peels and other vegetable/food waste in. Bourgeois housewives buy expensive stainless steel gadgets that can sit on the kitchen counter and are ventilated and protected to keep out offensive smells. The county also sells subsidized yard waste composters for leaves and grass clippings and kitchen scraps etc.

It's still more trouble to compost kitchen scraps - requires trips to the back yard composter, or a separate trip to the "green bin" which takes both kitchen and yard scraps.

However if people were composting plant matter, the remaining garbage would not smell as bad, would it? That's the point of this comment. The logistical and social problems of composting in a city full of rises are formidable.

PS I have found that when you layer dry leaves, straw and other dry plant matter over wet kitchen scraps, it cuts the smell. The composter doesn't smell if we keep adding dry matter.