The Council on Foreign Relations daily brief puts scary findings on global warming, forced migration and gobbling up of natural resources at the top of today’s agenda. You know it’s grim news for the green when reports on the environment beat out three stories on international weapons crises to take the headline.
Archive for October, 2006
This will be my last African trash post for a while, or at least the last anecdote from Malawi that I post lest you start thinking the focus of this trash blog has become way too narrow, wonky and/or new agey. Never fear. I actually didn’t return with as many trash stories as I had anticipated for two possible reasons. One, I was working the whole time in my non-trash-related capacity as a nonprofiteer and two, (to state the screamingly obvious) people don’t throw much away in Africa.
I didn’t even see a trash fire, though I looked for them. A couple of times I saw smoke in the distance, but when I asked, the people around me explained that the dry season was ending and they were burning back the fields to prepare them for the pre-rainy season planting.
Most of what I saw were stories of zero waste and recycling. While sitting in front of Ivy’s convenience shack near the road block just south of Kande Beach, I watched a tailor appear out of nowhere and set up his sewing machine on the porch. He pulled out a bag of rags and started piecing them together, remaking old shirts into patchwork swaths of fabric to become new clothing or mending smaller tears in blouses and pants to make them good as new.
The whir of the tailor’s machine lay a pleasant track of ambiant sound beneath the layered murmors of children playing in the dirt road, women chatting while shopping for maize, men gossiping with the tailor and chatting up the women and the forestry worker from the road block coming by to charge his cell phone. I was reading Garbage Land, starting it really, and had just come to the part where the author is describing her quest to produce less waste than the average American. In this chapter, she guiltily throws away old clothes because she already has too many rags and has no other use for the battered cloth.
And then I had one of those useless Western moments that feel like epiphanies, but are really just recognizing the obvious for the first time.
Yes, I thought, we do throw too much away and that would never happen here. What I should do about this sad fact, remains a mystery. Or rather a challenge. One I hope to explore tangibly here–back amidst the excess of America–with this blog.
Check out Gothamist’s coverage of Gotham’s latest trash scandal. Thanks for the heads up, Kimberly.
On my recent trip to Africa, I found myself at a road block in northern Malawi, five hours before the overnight bus to the city of Blantyre was expected to roll by. I had been advised to flag down the bus there, because it would have to stop at the road block anyway.
Since I had some time to kill, the forestry official at the road block pointed out one of a row of shacks fifty yards away as a place where one might find a drink on a blisteringly hot African afternoon. So, I rolled my suitcase through the red dirt and asked the young woman behind the wire-fenced counter for a coke. She handed me a warm glass bottle and opened it for me. As is the custom in countries that still serve coke out of glass bottles, I drank it there.
Of course, given the hours of free time I had to kill, I drank slowly, sitting on the shack porch for a couple of hours using my suitcase as a bench. The porch didn’t offer much shade, none in fact due to the sharp angle of the sun. I reapplied sunscreen several times and still felt my arms browning and nose pinkening under the direct rays. Local children approached with the usual “howareyou, howareyou” and giggles when I asked them their names and ages. Women in plastic sandals with babies strapped to their backs in printed-cotton slings came up to the shack to do their shopping. Most of them came to buy ground maize, I imagine to make it into blobs of mashed potato consistency that the locals call nseema (the n is silent) and which they eat with kidney bean sauce and fish from Lake Malawi. When they asked for maize, the young woman behind the counter would come out of the shack and scoop the meal into plastic bags from a large burlap sack on the porch and weigh it on a scale hanging from the beam.
Neither she nor any of the women spoke to me. But when I handed her back the glass bottle, through the slot in the wire fence protecting her little convenience store, she handed me a note:
hello, my name is Ivy ______
i am 15 y o
will you be my pen friend?
my address is
On Wednesday, Oct. 25, Columbia joins other colleges and universities around the country in marking Campus Sustainability Day–an event designed to spark discussion and action to reduce the environmental footprint of college campuses. Columbia’s students, faculty, and staff have a long-standing commitment to responsible environmental stewardship–and this day is an opportunity not only to reflect on our accomplishments to date, but to build on them for the future.
The event will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Low Plaza and will feature information tables, sustainability kits, and a live Webcast from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. linking us with campuses nationwide.
Columbia researchers have led the way on environmental issues worldwide–from El Nino to asthma in urban neighborhoods, climate change, and environmental policy making. Locally, Mayor Bloomberg recently announced an expansion of Columbia’s efforts to advance environmental protection–New York City’s engagement of the Earth Institute to advise its new Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
This semester, working together as a community, we are taking a fresh approach to thinking about and managing our own environmental impact, with the establishment of the Office of Environmental Stewardship, under the direction of Nilda Mesa. We have a number of new initiatives getting underway. Among these are:
* Examining ways to reduce our energy consumption, limit our greenhouse gas emissions, and obtain power from renewable energy sources in the future;
* Incorporating environmental and energy enhancements in new construction projects at Columbia;
* Improving our recycling practices and establishing composting programs;
* Launching a Sustainability Advisory Council that will include academic, administrative, and student members;
* Expanding the Environmental Stewardship Web site to serve as a virtual forum for exchanging ideas and tips related to the environment and our daily lives.
The address of the site is www.columbia.edu/cu/environment. I invite you to join our celebration of Campus Sustainability Day. It is a good step toward working together as a University to help preserve and enhance the environment of our campus, our community, and our planet.
Sincerely, Lee C. Bollinger
This week in trash news:
- A cost-benefit analysis of state requirements to recycle electronics finds that the four states with such programs are making money for all involved, suggesting that a national plan would make megabucks.
- DSNY offers New Yorkers unlimited free compost made from the leaves collected by the city last year.
- The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act turns thirty.
- Bhutan gets $24.6 million from the Asia Development Bank to improve it’s solid waste and water treatment infrastructure.
- Filipino President calls for a greener country.
- An Indiana town council proposes “sniff tests” before stinky mega-farms can be built in their county.
I forgot to tell you that on my way to Amersterdam (leg one of a long journey to Malawi), I was sitting next to a member of the Ugandan parliament who represents a northern district. She had been in New York trying to raise awareness at the UN about the violent crisis in her region, which she claimed was worse than Darfur. I raised my wrist to show her that I was wearing a couple Bead for Life bracelets. It turns out, she knows the group and is one of their biggest supporters. She lifted her chin to show me she had on one of their necklaces. This little encounter has inspired me to do several things, one of which is host a bead party.
Still having photo issues. I did, however, find a website for the paper people!
Excuse the delay, I’ve returned in a daze from Malawi
and my jet-lagged brain is having trouble re-sizing photos for everyday trash. So trust me when I say I have pictures of elephants and of their dung and of that dung being processed and of the beautiful handmade paper that results from the process.
The elephants I saw at a well-stocked game park called Liwonde. The paper-making from their dung I saw in the city of Blantyre, a pleasant little town with purple flowering trees and even a side-walk or two (in sharp contrast to the dirt roads throughout the rest of the country).
PAMET is an NGO in Blantyre set up by a British woman and now Malawian-run that collects discarded bits of paper and cardboard and shreds it, along with plan fibers, elephant dung, burlap sacks and baobab bark to make thick and delicate sheets of paper from one or all of those ingredients. They also have an educational program whereby they teach others to make paper or briquettes to heat their homes by packing it all into disks. I took a photo of an old school exercise book on the floor of the old paper stock room waiting to be made into pulp for new stationary. It’s a wonderful cycle if you think about it: making new paper out of an old exercise book in order to sell and then be able to afford school fees and a new exercise book.
I made a solo roadtrip to the rural north of the country and along the way talked to many, many Malawians, all of whom mentioned bad economy and expensive school fees as factors holding them and their country as a whole back in this world.
Oh, and no I didn’t see Madonna. In fact, Madonna didn’t come up once in conversation while I was there except in the form of emails from home.
Photos coming soon. And by the way, it’s nice to blog again. I missed you all!
everyday trash might not be so everyday while I head to Malawi for two weeks. In the meantime, check out the much toted sidebar of friends, colleagues and bizarre resources. I promise to bring back fascinating stories of African trash. Oh, and did you see the Herbert op-ed in the Times this weekend?
I met fellow garblogger Diane Kurzyna virtually last week, through blog comments and email after we were both mentioned and thrown some web traffic by the cleaver and creative site, Art for Housewives.
Diane’s artistic alias is Ruby Re-Usable and her art is all about giving a second or third life to junk materials. Perhaps because I have spent the past five days in the Mid-West taking part in a wedding (a very classy affair, I should make clear—this is not a true comparison), but I’ve been particularly charmed by the series of small sculptures entitled White Trash Wedding.