A child in Waterloo plays glumly with a blue truck on his driveway. He pretends it’s a garbage truck, and he imagines himself driving down his street emptying the lines of black bags and blue boxes. Within a few minutes he begins to lose interest, he wishes he had the newer model. All of his friends had gotten the new truck as soon as they had come out in the toy store. As the boy laments his misfortune, he hears the low purr of his father’s car and watches as his dad return home from work, his sputtering car coughing out puffs of black smoke. The boy’s eyes widen as he spots a package in the hands of his father. Eager, the child drops his truck and rushes to rip open the package, throwing the plastic and cardboard wrapping on the ground, it’s a new blue truck! He clutches it in his hands and runs to show his friends. The old blue truck that was so easily cast away, is picked up by the dad and thrown into the trashcan. One thousand miles away, an army of ragamuffin children march towards a sea of garbage, their daily ritual of treasure hunting. Amongst the army, one of the children gazes earnestly at a mountain of garbage, piled as high as the clouds. He crinkles his nose at the putrid stench but he heads towards it anyway. He climbs cautiously, poking and prodding bags in hopes he finds something of note. A shiny blue object catches his eye. He runs to it before someone else sees it as well. He lifts it up and examines it, it’s a nice little blue truck. “Who in their right mind would throw this away?” he wonders. He scrambles down and rushes home, happy with his find.
This may just sound like a scene out of a movie, but it is unfortunately the sad reality for millions in impoverished countries. For some, scavenging from the waste has even become a livelihood. This does not mean that the mountainous piles of waste are good because they provide a means for families to get by. Instead it highlights the sad reality of just how divided our world has become. One person’s trash has indeed become another’s treasure. But the need for such a divide to exist is incomprehensible, if there is so much material that people on one side find it so easy to discard a slightly used item and purchase something new, then why must the other side struggle for the most meagre possessions?
As Canadians we relate to one of the scenarios mentioned. Most of us do not even consider waste management to be a problem. Our interactions with waste management ends when we place the black bag and the blue bin at the end of the driveway. For some, its even simpler, we open a door and push the bag into a chute where it disappears into a chasm, swallowed by the dark. Except it does not disappear when it falls into the chute or is picked up by a garbage truck. As Canadians, we are lucky that the waste is at least collected and removed from our sight. Those on the other side are not so fortunate. While, we as a collectively small percentage of the human population live in blissful ignorance, billions wake up to a reality that reeks. One where streets are lined with trash, some of which has travelled thousands of miles to make a pile there. Yes, that’s right. Countries like Canada and the USA ship some of their waste to developing nations such as India and the Philippines. Take a look at the articles listed in the Read More section.
Sometimes, we ourselves inadvertently contribute to these massive piles. We can choose to take the extra effort to recycle. Most people can attest to the fact that a lot of what ends up in the garbage could have been recycled instead. But a lot of people do not want to take the extra effort of sorting, even if it just takes a few seconds. We can choose to compost, to convert our organic wastes into supplement for our gardens. Instead, we let all our trash end up in landfills and then choose to buy manufactured fertilizers and supplements from supermarkets. The problems and injustices may seem endless. However, we can do our part to better the overall problem. Taking the step to change our actions and the impact we have on our planet is quite simple. As students, we are forming new habits and ideologies that we end up carrying with us for the rest of our lives. Small steps define large movements, and the problem is bigger than recycling and composting. We need to see beyond the process. It involves the degradation of our planet as well as the divide that we, as a race, face. The only way to effect change is to first change ourselves. Will you start today?