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RE: [greenyes] Garbage in Developing Countries - Garbage for Food
Having just returned from a four week journey to Kathmandu, Nepal and its environs plus numerous cities and villages in northern India the thread of these posts has caught my eye. Second to the amazing seemingly uncontrolled chaotic, but fully functioning, transport system in those countries, what struck me most was the garbage everywhere. Large city or small village, litter was rampant. There is for sure a cultural difference across the globe in how litter is regarded. I did see a few collection vehicles in some cities and even 1 or 2 'dumpster'-like containers. But they were not common sights. Drivers of these vehicles would shovel up piles of garbage that accumulated here and there along the streets. Many times we saw people living on the street burn little piles at dawn or dusk to warm themselves. Litter containers were non-existent... litter control probably does not exist as a public service. Not a high priority when so many have so little. Litter is perhaps a luxury of the non-poor. 

I asked a friend one day what the biggest difference was between now and 30 years ago when he was last in India .... garbage everywhere. Today's garbage is a mix of organics (e.g., discarded vegetables) and packaging. The packaging, of course, was plastic, in its many emanations. Bags, wrappers, boxes, bottles, all the minutia we take for granted. You didn't see broken toys , old magazines, worn out clothes, bent lawn chairs, just basically plastic. The goods contained in this plastic were primarily those of the industrialized world: toiletries, cosmetics, batteries, snacks, etc. Food was fresh and displayed beautifully in open baskets or on tarps. 

Travelling through villages where shops lined the streets the space between the pavement and the shopfront was the area where litter accumulated.  Shopkeepers diligently swept off their front steps (reminded me of leaf-blowers blowing leaves into the public domain).  I think most people like to be neat and tidy, that not fouling our nest is a human (survival) trait. It's more a matter of where the nest ends. And in these many many small shops were cases of empty returnable Coke and Pepsi bottles, no bottles in the litter piles. 

I doubt most residents of these countries would think in terms of environmental justice. I suspect the people I observed would be glad to have money or food or other basic resources no matter how it came to them. We traveled with a number of Brasilians, including some from Curitiba. They felt the litter for ticket system worked as a way to ascribe value to resources that, for us industrialzed/developed types, shouldn't be lost to disposal and as a way to provide support to those who have next to nothing. Curitiba is a progressive city and hopefully their progress can spread to other developing countries.

-----Original Message-----
From: Christine McCoy [mailto:cmccoy@no.address]
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 3:07 PM
To: Doug Koplow; greenyes@no.address; keith.ripley@no.address;
Cc: eric@no.address
Subject: [greenyes] Garbage in Developing Countries - Garbage for Food

Hello All -


I think this is a very interesting concept, but have some major concerns
about environmental justice issues related to this type of program.  Why
should the rich have collection services and the poor or "under served" have
to exchange their trash for food or some other "need"? Seems to me that this
could be a huge problem in terms of marginalizing the poor even more then
they already are. Besides, with little controls on access to (i.e., fencing)
landfills [read: dumps] in countries such as these - who's to say that they
aren't just going to the dump and filling bags with garbage?

I lived in the Caribbean for a while and it seems to me that there is a
strong cultural/educational component inherent in littering. In fact, I was
told by a friend that she littered because she didn't want anyone to see her
with garbage in her hand - that she would be embarrassed. I also got such
explanations as "the sea will come and take it away" and of course the
inexplicable "a lizard will live there" (in a beer bottle!).

I firmly believe the reason people litter may also have more to do with
significant changes in how food is delivered and consumed in these
countries. These populations have gone from producing what was once largely
organic waste streams to huge increases in inorganic transport and packaging
waste - with little or no education regarding the consequences of improper

When writing my thesis on solid waste in the Caribbean I intended to do
surveys and personal interviews to delve into this more deeply, but
unfortunately I realized it was more work then I could do in such a short
time. However, if anyone has done any such work in this area - I would be
very interested in hearing more about it!!

I'm actually in this business because it broke my heart every time I heard
one of my students say "Ah Miss, just throw it Miss" - essentially urging me
to litter. Each time I told them "no" and attempted to explain why littering
wasn't the answer. I'm not sure it helped much since their other teachers
were those who made the comments I mentioned above!

Also let us not forget that a study was just released that 30% of Native
Americans do not have adequate solid waste services - not to mention the
rest of rural America.  So, in reality we are still dealing with these
issues right here in our own backyards! Trying to implement such programs
here would likely lead to cries of injustice.

Just my two cents!

Christine McCoy
Director, Environmental Programs
Rural Community Assistance Program
1522 K Street, NW #400
Washington, DC  20005
Phone: 202/408-1273 ext. 104
Fax: 202/408-8165
Email: cmccoy@no.address

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