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The Problem with Plastic

NEPAL | Friday, 24 April 2015 | Views [282] | Comments [1]

The problem with plastic is that it doesn't go away. 
I've been learning permaculture for about a year now, 
which has entailed a certain measure of reprogramming
on my part of how I think about waste. I now try to
make less of it, by constantly being aware of my
purchases and packaging choices. I now see
paper and cardboard, and food scraps as
valuable inputs for my garden, rather than as 'waste'
that will go into a landfill. I consciously purchase
less plastic, aware that it takes a very long
time to break down and that very little of it is actually
melted down and recycled.
So what is permaculture? It's not easy to define, and 
has many implications on the way that we
think about our relationship with the world around us.
Rosalind Creasy in her book Edible Landscaping,
gives us the following definition:
"Permaculture speaks to humanity's place in an
ecosystem and strives to create self-maintaining
living systems that mimic Mother Earth and improve
the soil- and water- holding capacity of our gardens."
So yes, permaculture is a philosophy from which
we can approach agriculture, and other interactions
with our world too. Permaculture is based on
following the patterns that nature has already
modeled for us, as a result of which, we actually
can improve our environments, rather than
depleting them of resources, nutrients, and
leaving them worse off than before we showed
up. A major part of this philosophy then,
is to handle our waste responsibly.
So this brings me to Salleri, Nepal. I have broken
ground on a garden here at the hostel, from which
the girls who live here will eventually be able to
get a portion of their needed food supply. As it
stands now, the girls living at the hostel must
haul in food and money from their homes when
they go to visit every other weekend. Some must
walk up to 1 full day to reach their families and
retrieve these supplies. Having a garden right here
at the hostel will definitely be fulfilling part of
this need, which is great. And all of these girls
come from farming families and therefore already
have a knowledge of how to grow food in this region.
They also already know how to make compost- an
indispensable part of building soil.
However, the way that rubbish is handled at the hostel,
as is true for much of the developing world I think,
is that it is piled up and burned. This
includes plastic, cardboard, food scraps, ash
from cooking stoves, old shoes, nail polish containers,
dried up pens, anything you can think of as an
output from human consumption is included
in this pile. Those items that are not burn-able, such
as glass and metal, stay sitting in the ashes of
the burned rubbish. And even things that
are compostable are included. I cannot speak to
whether this is general practice or not- the girls have
not had a garden at the hostel up to this point,
and they may have different practices for saving
compostable items when they are home.
So- My first goal is to establish a
composting system here at the hostel.
I have bought some compost from a
neighbor to get the garden going.
However, in true permaculture fashion,
I am aiming to create a self-maintaining
system that does not rely on outside
inputs for it's continuation. In my first class
with the girls, I explained this goal of mine,
and asked them if they would be willing to sort
waste into 2 piles- rubbish and compost.
They agreed to this.
Shovel full by shovel full, I moved the
existing rubbish pile farther away
from the garden to prevent it's eventual
run off of burnt plastic, etc. into the garden
beds. As I moved the pile slowly but surely
away from the garden, I received confused looks
from those whom I told that the ash was no good-
I would not be putting it in the compost. And indeed
some of this ash looks like an incredible
additive to compost- but because
it is made up of who knows what kinds
of plastic, chemicals and other inorganic matter,
it simply is not fit for use in the garden.
So I am now facing the task of conveying
the downsides of plastic and other pollutants in
our environment, while not being able to provide an
alternative to their system for dealing with this waste.
It's not like there's trash and recycling pick up, which
allows us to easily forget about the waste that we are
generating- and so in the case of rural Nepal,
burning rubbish seems to be the most viable option
at the moment. I cannot force my views on this community
either, they must make the choice as to what practices they
do or do not undertake. And these remote
developing communities are clearly not the ones responsible
for the dire situation that our environment
is in- it's developed ones like the one I come from.
So though it may be true that it is better to
"reduce, reuse, recycle" where possible,
who am I to be preaching to these girls whose
lifetime of waste production definitely pales
in comparison to mine?
The development world still seems to
measure progress in the terms that
developed, western countries achieved it-
industrialization, rising GDP, rising consumerism,
and subsequent loss of traditional modes of
relating to the environment. And now,
developing communities like this one are
unaware of the downsides of these modern
conveniences. I think we have to do better in the West.
We have to set a different model of 'progress'
than the one we've been pursuing. The change I
want to see in the world truly begins
within my own community in the
States. I think that's why I connect so
well with the philosophy of permaculture-
for me, it provides the alternative. It's the answer
to many of the issues of our modern world,
and it will help heal us. Permaculture allows us to reconnect
with the earth and with each other, showing
us that plastic and other toxic material
use is a choice, not a necessity, and that we can choose a
different way.

 

Tags: development, permaculture, plastic, rubbish

Comments

1

Well said. Keep up the great work!

  Scott Laaback Apr 25, 2015 2:30 AM

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