We all need to be thinking trash

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I’m reminded of the garbage collectors in Ankara, who managed to open a public library a few years ago, comprised entirely of books once destined for landfills.


Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Wed 18 Nov 2020, 12:01 AM

Last updated: Mon 19 Feb 2024, 5:39 PM

You’ve got to appreciate how much trash is on our minds. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Last week, Dutch students announced the creation of a fully functioning electric car made entirely out of waste, including plastics fished out of the sea, recycled PET bottles, household garbage — and even some coconut and horse hair. The idea was to “prove the potential of waste” — and with a sporty two-seater that can clock 220 kilometres when fully charged, they’re certainly not wasting their breath.

Closer to home, an outdoor installation at the recently concluded Dubai Design Week also sought to highlight the need to give waste materials a second life. Colab repurposed construction scaffolding, green moss, and materials from last year’s event to create a playful, public seating structure for the design festival this year.

Consider it a long overdue antidote to our obsession with consumerism, but brands are finally being forced to incorporate sustainability into their game plans. And it’s something we can all get on board with. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think the onus lies solely on the shoulders of the Big Boys (read: corporates).

The UAE’s per capita municipal solid waste generation — think furniture, clothing, appliances, bottles — is one of the highest in the world. And it’s really easy to write waste off as someone else’s problem, until we recognise its source. We produce waste — and how.

Last year, Dubai reported a collection of 8,000 tonnes of household waste every day. As one expert put it, should we continue at this rate, by 2050, we would need a space measuring at least two times the size of the Palm Jumeirah to put our municipal waste in. Waste management is not just for governments and organisations to fix. I’d actually argue it starts with the individual, aka you and me.

The first thing to alter is our perception of what accounts for waste. The concept of reusing, repurposing, and recycling has yet to become a way of life in the average household. It’s so much easier to just discard things — and, even then, not appropriately. Ironically, the inconvenience of locating a charity clothes bin or walking a few more steps to the designated container for plastics or driving over to places that are authorised to correctly dispose of expired medications somehow surpasses our desire to ‘save the world’.

Because that is what it comes down to. I’ve had too many disagreements with people of different generations over water waste. Because it flows so freely through our pipes today, our imagination stops at the point where our cups are full. We take long showers, run washing machines at half loads, and leave the tap on while we brush our teeth, because it’s easy to forget that this hyper-developing country is being built on desert land. It’s commendable that the government is not under any such illusion — the number of initiatives and campaigns being undertaken to stave off water scarcity in the future is testament to that — but one has to ask: why are we?

Every man’s trash is truly another’s treasure, and I’m reminded of the garbage collectors in Ankara, Turkey, who managed to open a public library a few years ago, comprised entirely of books once destined for landfills. For months, the workers gathered so many discarded books that it turned into a community project, and today, the library houses over 6,000 books that spans all manner of genres.

Individuals are game-changers. Let’s not take the future out with the trash.

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