Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Plastic problem

Sometimes I think if I really want to make a difference in the world I should've gone into waste management, because we humans sure have made a heck of a lot of waste that needs to be managed. Most of the time though, we privileged people don't have to think about it. We (hopefully) sort the recycling, take out the trash once a week, and then it's out of sight and out of mind.

Not so here at Nyota.

I'm a tree-hugging, recycling, composting ecologist working a beautiful area that is home to numerous endemic species. Imagine my horror at realizing that ALL of the garbage from our house goes into a hole in the yard right there where I can see it and be reminded on a daily basis of the waste my life produces. Not just the food waste goes in the hole- everything. Dogs eat the food waste, glass is inert, metal will rust, and I'm not throwing away any batteries. But the plastic... oh the plastic pains me. It's not going to break down on any kind of time scale that we work on. As far as our human existence is concerned, plastic is basically forever.

I'm not sure what to do. If it can't be recycled, the best and least harmful thing we've come up with for plastic is to concentrate it in holes in the ground. What can I do with my plastic here?

-Separate the plastic from the other waste and bring it with me to the city where is will hopefully be thrown in a properly managed hole and then I can feel better about not polluting Nyota with my forever waste.
-Throw it in the yard hole with everything else. After all, when in Rome...
-Burn it. This is not a great solution because I'd be releasing more fossil-fuel derived carbon dioxide into the air along with many toxins, and I wouldn't even get any use out of the heat. Other than throwing it in a hole, this is the main way that waste is managed in Ukenzagapia.

I try to avoid plastic bags and water bottles, but many items here come in some kind of plastic, and many of the supplies brought from home have plastic packaging. I've decided to collect all of my plastic for the rest of my time at Nyota. I'll decide what to do with it when I have to leave. If I can take it with me to the city I think I will. I think the chances are better that it will end up in a landfill, though perhaps this is just wishful thinking. At the very least, having to look at all the plastic I use even when I try to avoid it should be an educational experience.

1 comment:

Transient Theorist said...

Don't burn it!!!!!!! Seriously, I think that's significantly worse than putting it into a hole in the ground. In a former life I studied waste burning. Unless you burn it very very hot and with proper mixing/aeration, the chemicals you release will be nasty business and dispersed over a large area.

Depending on the kind of plastic, expose it to sun, and maybe try breaking/shredding it into small pieces to decrease (a little) its decomposition time...