By this time in the year I was certain that I would have our ‘trash problem’ figured out. If you read my posts from early on you may remember that I spent time puzzling over how to reduce the volume of trash that we burn. I am sad to say, I still have not found an answer.
There are containers and plastic bags that are clearly reusable and so we clean and save these. We throw all of our food out the door so that it can be eaten by the bugs and animals. There are a number of things that the kids enjoy playing with, so we hand these objects off to them, knowing full well that after the kids destroy them they will end up littered between the walkways. Other than that, we really have no idea what to do with things other than burn them.
Because of this, we have piles of potentially usable objects stashed in our house with the hopes of one day figuring out what to do with them. We still have a number of containers of stuff left from last year that we put in our extra room and have never dealt with. We have piles of cardboard boxes in the corner from packages we have received and we just kind of leave all of the unusable metal things in a pile (aluminum lids from food, broken radio antenna, batteries.) The room accidentally just turned into a jungle gym for the cockroaches because we have no idea how to get rid of/ effectively use most of the stuff in it.
Most of the time this becomes just background noise to my life- I put the trash in the garbage bag like normal at home, I never spend time in our room-of-stuff-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with, and none of it’s a big deal. Every time I take out the garbage, however, I am faced with it again. In the US, we have a culture of ignoring trash. We hide it from sight and forget about it. Having to burn my own trash disrupts this pervasive mindset and always forces me to re-confront (with guilt) the fact that I am consuming goods whose remnants have no role other than to be destructive. This was even more glaringly obvious this last time when the fire I started burned a brilliant green.
Having to face my trash is not only breaking me out of the mindset, but helping me to deconstruct it. In the US we don’t actually have any better way to deal with our trash- we just make it the government’s responsibility instead of the individual’s. What I’m doing here with my trash is not actually that much more problematic than what happens to my trash at home.
The one difference is that at home we can recycle paper and metal. When I burn trash here what I really want are systematic ways to reuse all of the trash. That’s what recycling does and what turning the peanut butter containers into holders for rice and lentils does. However, the reason why I have so many things to burn is that there are no systems put in place or obvious reuses for so much of my trash. The plastic/paper/aluminum foil juice containers are gross inside from the molding juice, are too strangely- shaped to be used as a container, and have too many materials in them for them to be broken up even if there was recycling.
I grew up with messages about buying things that have less packaging, but on a personal level it feels so hard to do that. The protein bars from home get me through my days, the snack foods from Korogwe really brighten my life (I get so tired of rice, beans, pasta, and fresh veggies), and the soup mixes from Dar (a new flavor!) make meals so refreshing. I feel silly that I don’t want to make a better choice for the planet (which really, is way more important than I am), but the idea of giving up these few and far between luxuries sounds like such a horrible option.
In college I was introduced to the idea of cradle to grave design in which the design of a product and its packaging includes design for its disposal. This includes products such as printer ink cartridges that you can bring to a store and get refilled, computer parts that can be sent back to the manufacturer and placed into another computer (which means not updating the design too often), and (for a third world country) beer bottles that can then be used to build houses (http://inhabitat.com/heineken-wobo-the-brick-that-holds-beer/). Although I thought it was an intelligent idea then, now I feel like I truly understand the need. If every piece of packaging that I bought had an obvious new use or place to bring it (like the glass coke bottles I’m now used to drinking from), then I wouldn’t have any trash to burn. That would be truly wonderful.