Recycling in Bangladesh

It has been quiet here for a while. Verrrry quiet. If you lean in, I'll tell you why. ... I went away to Bangladesh. 

The story goes: I met a Bangladeshi friend in one of my first years at university and we become quite close. At one point, she invited me to go to Bangladesh with her and some other friends. Appreciative, but poor, I promised her that I would definitely go one day and so we agreed that I would go to Bangladesh for her wedding. That's right. She is now married. And I went to her wedding. 

I also chucked in a side trip to Thailand and speak to you now as a slightly different person. 

One of the things I learnt about most on my trip was culture. Of course I learnt about the Bangladeshi and Thai cultures, but also about my own culture. How to discern it, how to recognise it; I found it in a few spots I didn't expect. Indeed, I came up with the idea for this blog post in a CNG (compressed natural gas - a name given to small, green taxi-like things that I'd call cars if they were anyway near the size, speed or likeness. Heck, I'd call them cars if they had seatbelts), while in the middle of the WORST traffic I'd even been in, having completely surrendered to it. And that idea was around culture. 

You see, these CNGs, they didn't have windows. They had metal-grate doors that closed, but are a bit like chicken-wire in that you are still exposed to the elements. On one hot, sticky day after we had had a tour of old Dhaka, we bought ice creams and shared them with our CNG driver and tour-guide. We sat, quiet and still, in the "car" while we ate them and upon completion the two locals plopped their wrappers through the metal grate and out onto the ground. Just like that. No questions asked. An immediate disposal. A product of Australia and of my generation, I held my wrapper in my hand. I was not going to litter. The driver, having realised the wrapper in my hand, gestured that I plop my wrapper outside also. Well, needless to say, I didn't. What happened to that wrapper after I put it in the bin in my room that night, I'll never know. But it wouldn't surprise me if my efforts simply delayed the process of it ending up on the ground somewhere. 

Because, the thing is, if there is no rubbish service then there is no where to put your rubbish. If you put it in your bin at home, then it will just keep piling up. If you don't want it in your house, you can put it outside, put it where ever you like. It doesn't matter. Because unless someone collects it, or unless you take it to a tip or transfer station, it won't go anyway. So you might as well just leave it anywhere. You might as well plop it out on the road. 

Picture this image. There is a cosy-looking, run-down shack sitting to the side of a plot of land. Trees and chickens surround. The weatherboards are painted eclectic colours so that an artist would appreciate its aesthetic. And outside, just near the house, presumably somewhere near the kitchen, there is a great big pile. A great big pile of rubbish that falls down the hill. The chickens peck through it. This was a common enough image throughout both Bangladesh and Thailand, and very likely many other parts of the world where there is no comprehensive rubbish collection service. But this particular house, with its trees and weatherboards, is painted here for you from the memory of my visit to the Botanical Gardens in Dhaka. This house was the park ranger's house. 

So when I talk about recycling in Bangladesh, I talk about wastage and rubbish and the absence of infrastructure that could service the needs of the people. I talk about cultures that grow around these services and I talk about how that makes me feel. It makes me reflect at how outrageously effective the Australian Government has been to prevent littering and promote recycling. It makes me appreciate that the services exist for me to be environmentally responsible. 

When I talk about recycling in Bangladesh, I talk about a conversation I had with a Bangladeshi there, in Dhaka. A conversation about recycling in Australia. And it made me realise that if there ever was a bunch of like-minded, well-meaning people who had the capacity to reduce their waste entirely, it was going to be us, Australia. 

Yes, it'll be hard to recycle more and reduce our waste. But it's not going to be that hard. 

Join the movement. Deny the concept of waste. 

23.02.2015