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A community waste worker in a new project in Pakistan run by Tearfund’s partner Pak Mission Society (PMS).

From: Waste – Footsteps 107

Practical advice and inspiring stories about dealing with waste in our communities

We all produce solid waste in our homes, businesses, markets, schools and health centres. Solid waste is anything that we no longer have a use for, and so discard.

Photo: Mesakh Riwanto/Yayasan Sion Salatiga

Photo: Mesakh Riwanto/Yayasan Sion Salatiga

In 2013, local NGO Yayasan Sion introduced the Ngelo congregation to the church and community mobilisation process (CCM). This approach encourages churches to work together with their community to solve the problems they face. They decided that their biggest problem was waste, so the church decided to start a rubbish bank. 

They appointed administrators and decided on some rules. Members of the scheme could bring their non-organic waste to the rubbish bank regularly. For the elderly or those living far away, volunteers would collect their waste from their homes. The team decided to pay people for their waste, with different prices for different materials – for example, 2,000 rupiah (0.14 USD) per kilo for iron. 

After collecting the waste, the team separates it according to how it can be used. Some is sold on to waste collectors. Other materials are made into handicrafts such as purses, bags and lamps, which can be sold in the market. The team then takes the remaining waste to the final rubbish dump, 15km away. 

From the beginning, the community felt very positive about the project, because it enabled them to use their waste as a source of income. Poor families are now able to pay the school fees for their children. For the church, the garbage bank is a starting point for building relationships with the community. More than 50 people from outside the church have already joined the scheme. 


Knotty problem

Question: If open dump sites are so unhealthy, should we be working to simply close them down? 

Answer: Often, when the world’s attention turns to an open dump, the government responds by closing it and the journalists go home. All that happens is another open dump emerges nearby, and those who scavenge from the waste move to the new site. 

The problem is that if there is no alternative solution in place, people will discard their waste in the only ways available – dumping it or burning it. And the waste pickers will follow the waste.

Replacing an open dump with a government-controlled waste management system is not an automatic solution, either. The losers, again, are the hundreds of men, women and children who make their living by scavenging from the dump. If you take that opportunity to earn a small living away from the poorest people in society, they will starve. Solutions need to be inclusive. 

To close dump sites, you need to have a workable alternative solution in place. You need to have regular waste collection taking place, and you need somewhere to take it. One idea is to build resource recovery facilities alongside existing open dumps. Informal waste pickers who are currently working in dangerous conditions on the dump site can gain employment (or better still, form a cooperative) sorting recyclable materials and reducing the amount of real ‘waste’ that needs to be disposed of. 

There will always be something left, though. The fact is that in most cases, a standard, lined landfill site with landfill gas capture is still the most appropriate answer for non-recyclable waste. (That is, until we stop producing waste, or learn how to make it disappear!)

Answer provided by Zoë Lenkiewicz.

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