Trash Trip

Exploring waste, from coast to coast.

What Doesn’t Belong Here?

Basket, tire, and plastic

Basket, tire, and plastic. What doesn't belong here?

I don’t have the exact location of this picture but it is near a small village, somewhere in the western region of Guyana. What I like most about it is that it captures the essence of what I see: tires and plastic cups (and bottles), which are everywhere in the world now, plus a locally, hand-made basket… the only thing that truly came from here.

While visiting several places throughout what is more commonly known as the Amazon (aka the Rain Forest), I kept noticing the impact of man-made materials. The supplies make it there, as they do just about anywhere anymore; getting the used-up stuff out is an entirely different story. The honeymoon of “newness” has long faded into memories and the used tires and broken plastic “stuff” has no more place – even here… especially here.

The idea of putting in a recycling center, for meeting the flow of recyclable plastics here, is akin to installing a nuclear reactor, for meeting the flow of power here. Call it the “trickle-down effect.” It trickles down into the small communities and never finds its way out again.

Walk around here long enough and you’ll find people burning their trash; not unlike their grandparents did, and their great-grandparents. But, back then, they burned all-natural things… things which came from their local environment, because there were no imports. There were only Amerindians in the area, isolated really, living off the land. Now, we have villagers who are connected to the global society, and trade, to where plastic bottles are piling up here; I saw a woman kicking an empty bottle at this same location, while she tried soothing her crying baby. The baby stopped crying but the bottle remained on the ground… waiting to be kicked around again, I guess, along with all of the other, indestructible bits of waste – found everywhere.

Some may say that it is a crying shame to see cultures changed by modern conveniences. However, who are we to judge others for adopting that which we use ourselves? Are people supposed to keep living as their ancestors, merely to entertain tourists who are seeking “the truly remote” places and people of the world? Is it bad for them to use plastic bottles, which are infinitely more durable and simpler to use, in place of more traditional wares? However, even here, the humble plastic bottle is treated as a one-time-use item… disposable.

I’m all for knowing how to make things, a la low-tech. If anything, it helps me appreciate the convenience of high-tech goods. Why should anyone be “denied” access to the things I take for granted? Simply because they live only a few generations beyond the lifestyle of an otherwise ancient culture (what I mean is, a “no-tech” society… a more hands-on way of living versus a push-button way).

So, my thoughts turned to, “what would I want to teach everyone here, about waste management, if I were to try?” My first thought is simply, “if it didn’t come from here, don’t burn it.” By default, that would include all plastic products, electronics, tires, etc. After that, it gets more complicated… even here.

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