Comment: Handling the trash

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 11, 2014.

There might be no hope that things will ever change. But there is a possibility. There is definitely a possibility. The likelihood, however far removed from reality, that one day we will be able to clean our filth and we will be able to clean our streets and our nullahs and our parks and our markets and we will not litter and we will succeed in disposing off trash effectively and we will master solid waste management.

There are opportunities and solutions to tackle urban solid waste management issues. Research studies indicate the municipal solid waste generated in Pakistan does not have many recyclables. But what ever items can be recycled should be recycled. A social attitude that promotes reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling items is something on which we can all agree.

Some solutions such as the attractive waste-to-energy projects, in which municipal waste is burnt to produce electricity, might have their own little detrimental effect on the environment, which is why they need to be carefully planned and executed.

A few thousand years ago, there were people who lived on the land we now inhabit who knew how to store their refuse and who knew, in some rudimentary form, the device we now call a “garbage container.”

So it seems we, you and I, all of us, have gone through a reversal that was some thousand years in the making. It is a reversal in fortune, fecundity, violence, population, land, intelligence and creativity. It will not go away just by wishing it to go away.

But where must this transformation begin? Well, it has already started in one form or the other.

In Lahore and Karachi and even in Jhang and, to some extent, Rawalpindi, waste-to-energy projects are either being considered or being implemented. Not in Islamabad, however, where such a project is not yet allowed.

There will be big money involved here, big bureaucracy and big politics, some of it as filthy and disgusting as the country’s trash problem itself, but there is also this sliver of a possibility of change, and that’s worth fighting

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