Waste not, want not

Published February 21, 2016
Dumper trucks full of the city’s trash are the only traffic one sees at the landfill site.
Dumper trucks full of the city’s trash are the only traffic one sees at the landfill site.

KARACHI: Trash flies freely in the air as do the swarms of flies. This place with heaps of garbage is their haven. Several stray dogs also roam about without the fear of anyone flinging a stick or stone at them.

A few lean buffaloes graze in the litter. The only plantation one comes across in this area is the drying wild bushes in which there are more plastic bags stuck than there are leaves. An old videotape, too, flutters like a ribbon in the dusty winds.

Caught in another gust of pungent, smelly air, a vulture balanced on one corner of the remains of an old cement structure spreads its wings before folding them again.

There is hardly any traffic in sight along the long winding roads in between the ‘mountain range’ of trash except for the big dumper trucks full of rubbish.

Scavengers.
Scavengers.

We are at the 500-acre Jam Chakro landfill, a place dedicated to the management of Karachi’s solid waste. There is smoke coming out of several heaps after being set ablaze, apparently a way of managing it.

It is not advisable to walk around in these heaps of trash as they may even contain dangerous toxins but looking at the other scavengers, the buffaloes and dogs, there are also some folks sifting through it. The woman among them has collected wooden sticks and pieces, which she happily takes to the men across the road squatting at a slight distance from her.

“We came here from Thatta, looking for work. But since we are jobless at the moment, we can use whatever we can find here. This wood will help in cooking food as well as keep us warm at night,” says one of the men, adding that he rummages through the burnt trash to look for metallic objects and bones, which he can sell. “There are also some other things such as cardboard, paper, glass, plastic and hospital waste products that can be recycled so we collect those, too, for selling,” he explains.

Reducing trash by burning it may not be a great solution.
Reducing trash by burning it may not be a great solution.

Karachi produces about 12,000 tonnes of waste a day, which keeps piling up. After rotting for days within the city, it is then transported to this area by dumper trucks. But according to experts, the saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, is very true though few pay much heed to it.

“I am against garbage dumps from the start. Trash and garbage is a big resource. If managed well, it can change the economy of this country,” says Nargis Latif, CEO of Gul Bahao.

“In civilised countries, separation of trash is carried out at source. If you mix ice cream with biryani, you ruin the entire meal. But both are delicious in their own right. The same goes for all this garbage lying around, of which 70 to 80 per cent can be used if separated and recycled,” she says.

Rummaging through the trash.
Rummaging through the trash.

One example of using the rubbish is Gul Bahao’s Chandi Technology, an innovative way of developing prefabricated blocks and panels to build even two-storey houses, water reservoirs, swimming pools and furniture. “It’s waste that even scavengers wouldn’t touch as they find it useless. And we turn it into these silver blocks and panels for construction,” says Nargis.

‘I am monarch of all I survey!’
‘I am monarch of all I survey!’

“All the garbage you see in the city and at garbage dumps is really a self-created problem,” she says. “The government purchases machines for sweeping and cleaning, but they do nothing for cleaning the city as the local government rents out a kuchra kundi for thousands of rupees that they collect from scavengers on a monthly basis. Then there are contracts, kickbacks and whatnot? And it all contributes to the garbage piling around us.”

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2016

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