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21 jul201821

The Recycling Story - chapter 2

Guatapé, ColombiaGuatapé, Colombia
Few weeks ago I wrote about the basic history of recycling and most of all - the types of plastic, which is the least recycled material despite being the most present.

I have visited 11 different countries during last few years but things change quickly, therefore I can't say for myself what recycling is like there right now but I can say few things about the countries I have lived in recently.  But before I get to particular places, let's talk about the foundation. 

Recycling vs demographics
The more countries I visit I always get mixed feelings in regards to recycling. It is most admirable when even in small towns the public garbage bins are duplicated and their purpose becomes more narrowed. At the same time my eyebrows raise, my forehead gets wrinkly, all when I actually look into those bins and see the immense chaos inside them. 

There have been few interesting studies about correlation of recycling and demographics. Let me ask you a question? Do you think it's true that with age we become less involved in saving our environment? Is it just older generations that are more indifferent because they didn't have these problems 30 years ago? I personally haven't got an opinon on the subject and we have three major studies that generated different results. Gampa & Oskamp in 1994 conculded a slightly negative correlation, Oskamp in 1991 found no correlation, and Lansana in 1992 found a positive correlation.  Okay I lied, I do have an opinion - age doesn't matter. As in many other things I believe the age might have slight impact on the knowledge about recycling but I met people from many different countries, young and older, and they were on both sides of the spectrum. Some didn't give a flying monkey that their banana skin lands in recycling bin, the others would carefully take apart their packaging to put plastic, carton, and organics separately.

Many other studies, when they found a relationship, reported one common insight. Apparently women are more likely to recycle. Come on guys! Really? 

Knowledge is power!
Another one-liner that is totally true in this instance. The studies I've been talking about (and are part of a very interesting paper written by Yolonda Wright) conclude very obvious notion that people are more likely to recycle their waste if they know what materials products and packaging are built with, and how to recycle them. It might seem very obvious to some: "I know, therefore I do", but let's be honest it's not always like that. 

I've been living in Guatape for over 3 months now and here, in rural Colombia we have neither a weekly collection of garbage, or a close-by humongous container like in Poland. Instead we have some skips located very close to the entrance to the town. I usually take some rubbish when I cycle to town and throw it there. Every time I do it my fury gives way. This is what it looks like:
At first sight it seems completely understandable, right? Inservibles v Reciclaje. But as we know, or at least should know, a recycling plant/factory/sorting facility is not equal to the next one. Technology is improving but it very much depends on the abilities of the machines as to what is considered recycleable. Unfortunately in case of the picture above there are no posters or information what is allowed in which part, and every time I put my recycling on the right hand side, I can feel how earth cries when I see completely random things there. 

Rule of thumb is if you don't know what is recycleable in your part of the world, just go with the basics and then find out more. Clean carton, paper, glass, PET(E) and HDPE plastics - those things will be most likely recycled everywhere. Next step is to find out more about your local plant but people don't do that. I don't blame them - it is, or at least should be, a responsibility of governments, local and national, to educate people about how they should take care of the world.

Food for thought
This was one of the slogans few years back in the UK for a national campaign about food waste. It was called RENEW OUR WORLD and it was everywhere, trying to educate people that they don't need to race who will fill their ASDA's trolley first, mostly because 30-50% of what they bought will end up in landfills anyway. I have to say I paid attention to it because at that time, despite leaving by myself, I wasn't any better. 
Believe it or not but food wastage is as bad as using plastic straws that end up in our oceans. What is food waste? Here is a snippet from the campaign's information brochure you can download here.

‘Food waste’ is edible food that is thrown away as a result of actions by consumers or retailers. It can be split into three categories:
  • Most food waste is ‘avoidable’: food that is no longer wanted or has been allowed to spoil or go past its prime, such as leftovers that are thrown away or bread that has gone mouldy.
  • Some food waste is described as ‘possibly avoidable’: this is food that some people eat but others don’t, for example bread crusts or potato skins.
  • Other food waste is ‘unavoidable’: this is food that is not and never has been edible under normal circumstances and includes egg shells, pineapple skin, tea bags and coffee grounds. 
I have to admit that campaign was my first trigger. Yes it is easy to buy a lot but it's better for our planet to not be lazy and go to the shops more often and buy the amount you need only for few days. I started doing it especially after turning vegetarian 3 years ago. Tesco had been forgotten, Holland & Barrett became my second home, and my first home was local greengrocer in Durham. Every other day I would come for fresh veggies, fruits, seeds, anything I could get my hands on. Only products that I could keep for longer would be bougt in larger quantities.

Living in Guatapé has also made me aware of how to properly recycle food waste by creating compost that later I will be able to use for my vegetable garden. Of course in cities it might not be possible but with a bit of research you can find ways to find use for these food scraps but as the campaign rightly said - it all starts from conscious buying.

There, you know a little bit more now. All I can ask you is to not be a LEMON, yes DON'T BE A LEMON, or a BAD APPLE!

My experiences when travelling
Some countries are cleaner, some are less. Those are the unfortunate rules of differences in economies and investment that goes into making a leap towards better care for the earth. Actually making assumptions on country level are silly, you have different levels and types of pollution in cities, towns, or rural areas in the same country or county. 

I remember when I spent few days in El Porvenir, small village in Honduras, and started noticing small plastic bags everywhere. Turned out that is how people buy water - just as a quick drink. The problem was that all those bags would end up on the grass. At first (I was still a recycling baby then) I was angry at the people, the town, that they don't do anything with it. Later I realised they don't because they don't know how, nor do they have facilities to deal with it. You actually have to pay for garbage collection therefore most of the people would burn their trash, which isn't great either.

Canada was of course different. Living in Maple Ridge I spoke to many people and everybody was conscious about their motherland, how to protect it, how to organise their trash, and how to dispose of it. Everything because of a very strong system of educating its citizens. 

Cusco was somewhere in between. It is a city that's currently under the transformation from a rural city to more of a metropoly that spans across more than 15km in the valley. The amount of tourists grows, the amount of cars also, but there are parts that are being forgotten. I noticed good tendencies when it comes to recycling, a bit more awareness that was spreading hopefully to more remote areas. I would have water cut off every day during the night, so the city is aware of how to conserve natural resources.

The choices
Remember that in the end there are plenty of choices to live in closer harmony with your planet. The more I talk about it, the more I research I gain new knowledge that raises my awareness and I make conscious decisions to be more aware. Nobody is perfect and it's difficult to live zero-waste in current world but it isn't about being perfect. It is about doing your share otherwise our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids will be even more burdened by our mistakes then we are by our parents'. It all starts from simple things, baby steps, or however you choose to call it. You might think it's insignificant but it is.

I usually follow few rules when it comes to my buying choices:
  • No more buying drinks in plastic bottles. If a shop has something in glass bottle I will choose it over the plastic
  • A resounding NO for straws in bars - I learned how to drink from a glass many years ago thank you very much
  • Another resounding NO is for plastic bags. I have my bags I brought from Poland, one showing my love for books (got it from my sister), and another one from my highschool. I don't move without them, if I happen to forget them, I cry!
  • I recycle. Glass bottles or paint cans become containers. Plastic bottles become holders for screws or watering cans. Wood becomes a desk, set of shelves, or a table. There are always ways to recycle things. Just research and you will find a way.
  • Buying wholesale food. When I see vegetables covered in plastic in supermarkets I want to tear them all apart (the plastic) and save those veggies. Why, oh why? If I have a choice of buying something wholesale I will do it, even if I have to pay more. Most likely it came from a better source too if it's not packaged in a plastic with logos on them.
  • For a while now I have also been learning more about conscious buying of other things. Whether it be piece of clothing, electronic equipment, or a tool - I would make sure it's to last long. I don't buy luxurious items where you pay for the brand - that has zero appeal to me, but I also don't want to buy the same thing next month to add to the produced waste. Not to mention the difficicul to asses ethical implication of very cheap clothing like Primark. In the end I am still able to afford to spend a little bit more for something more-lasting, therefore I will choose to do so. When I'm completely skint then I'll wear anything :D
In the end I don't spend money on neither luxuries or useless things anymore. This started even before I planned to leave UK. I packed 75% of my wardrobe and gave it to charity shops around Durham, which marked the beginning of my minimalistic life. The only luxuries I had was my PC, my radiogram (ahh Dynatron how I miss you!), and a really nice iron. It turned out to be a very good base for preparation for the trip I didn't know I would take at the time, not to mention the added positive of managing expenses more consciously. I still have a long way to go but I have to admit that those people were right - having less means having so much more :)

Few interesting things happening in the world of recycling:

Marriott to eliminate plastic straws from all hotels
UK To Ban All Plastic Straws, Cotton Swabs, And Single-Use Plastics
India just banned all forms of disposable plastic in its capital
Which Countries Have Banned Plastic Bags?

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People's voice...
21st July 2018
Great post, Dawid! I share you passion for my minimizing food waste and recycling/reusing. I practice minimal food waste at home by planning and shopping for meals in advance and buying only what we need,, getting creative with leftovers, and by enjoying the challenge of making dinner for 5 from a medley of odds and ends in the fridge as opposed to throwing them out and hitting the grocery store for new stuff. Tough to with teenagers in the house who don’t share the same conservation approach, though :)
I love your lifestyle and your values!!!
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