Many people in poverty find ways to create income for themselves and their families. Some choose to work in a factory or sell fruit at the local market. For others, having income comes from sifting through garbage dumps to find sellable materials. There are some very large garbage dumps located in Sub-saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Due to waste distribution throughout a dump site, many people can sift through to find sellable items. These items can range from everyday plastic waste to copper byproducts. This type of work can be dangerous due to injury from objects in the dump or burning things that create toxic fumes. For this reason, charities such as Children of the Dump create opportunities for children in these situations to receive an education.

Payatas Dump

Looking more specifically at Manila, the city has a garbage dump that’s named Payatas Dump. The garbage dump allows people in poverty to sift through it to find items to sell. People collect the items, wash them if needed and then sell them for a minimal amount. Some people don’t just work in the dump, but also live near it since transportation can be expensive. The shelters created near the dumps are made from surrounding garbage and house several people in a confined space. In 2017, the Payatas Dump was closed, and many people lost their livelihoods. Some asked garbage truck drivers to dump garbage into the streets to scavenge enough for a small meal. This type of work doesn’t just appeal to adults; many children work in the dump to earn money for their families. As a result, many children of the dump are unable to have an education and some will sift through garbage their entire lives.

Children of the Dump

Children of the Dump is an organization created to aid children and their families who sift through garbage for money. The organization is partnered with another charity located in the Philippines and relies heavily on donations. Due to the lack of opportunities for these families, Children of the Dump provides three different programs:

  1. “Cashew Early Years” – Donations to this program go toward providing a free meal and half a day’s worth of education for 100 kids aged four to six.
  2. “Grapevine Outreach” – Donations to this program are given to families so children can attend local schools. This type of program gives children the opportunity to have an education rather than working in the dump.
  3. “Mango Tree House” – This program provides a place where displaced children can live and go to school to grow up in a nurturing and educational environment.

There are several success stories of children who were a part of Children of the Dump’s program. Two students, Danny and Jamaica, participated in the programs at very young ages. The two went on to become college graduates and are working full time.

Sifting through garbage dumps can be a way for people in poverty to earn income. However, it can prevent children in the dumps from having time to get an education because they are looking through garbage to earn money for their families. Children of the Dump works to ensure kids have access to education, helping students like Danny and Jamacia work toward future economic success.

– Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr

sanitation in algeriaAlgeria is a former French colony in North Africa. Libya, Tunisia Niger are on its western borders. Morocco, Marius and Mali are on its eastern borders. About half of the population lives in urban areas concentrated near the Mediterranean sea. Algeria is a member of OPEC and the Arab Maghreb Union, a regional organization. During the 1990s, the country experienced a civil war between Islamist terrorist groups and the Algerian army. While the army’s victory ensured greater stability, Algeria continues to face challenges such as sanitation. Here are ten facts about sanitation in Algeria.

10 Facts about Sanitation in Algeria

  1. Diseases: Poor sanitary conditions place Algerians at-risk for diseases. In 2018, Algeria experienced a cholera outbreak with 217 cases. The cases were concentrated in Algiers, the capital. Government responses included testing the water supply daily for pathogens and requesting 5,000 diagnostic tests from the WHO. By way of comparison, cholera has been virtually eradicated in the United States with most cases in the U.S. originating from international travel.
  2. Rural-Urban Divide: Urban Algerians are more likely to have greater access to sanitation than rural Algerians. Three percent more rural Algerians do not have access to basic sanitation (i.e sewers, latrines and septic tanks) than urban Algerians. This rural-urban divide continues when comparing lower classes. Algeria’s urban poor experience 10% more sanitation coverage than their rural counterparts. To help address the challenges associated with rural sanitation, the African Development Bank established the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative in 2003.

  3. Hand Washing: While the majority of Algerians are able to practice proper hygiene by washing their hands, disparities exist among rural and urban communities. Currently, 83% of Algerians are able to wash their hands. This is slightly higher than what is typical in the region. However, there is a 14% gap between rural and urban Algerians; only 73% of rural Algerians are able to do so.

  4. Recent Improvements: Over the last decade, rural Algerians have gained greater basic sanitation. From 2000 to 2017, basic sanitation coverage increased by approximately 10%.  Today about 70% of Algerians have access to basic sanitation.  This is relatively high for the region as an average of only 50.2% of individuals have this service region-wide.

  5. Access to Toilets: Similarly, the number of rural Algerians openly defecating has substantially decreased.  From 2000 to 2017, this percentage decreased by 12.5%. Today only about 3% of Algerians experience this level of deprivation. This is substantially lower than the regional percentage of 10% of rural individuals.

  6. Rural Sewers: Disadvantaged Algerians have increased access to better sanitary facilities. Since 2000, approximately 14% more poor Algerians gained access to sewers. Notably, this positive trend is true of rural Algerians. Since 2000, 17% more rural Algerians gained access to sewers. Today about 60% of this demographic has sewers.

  7. Regional Access to Sanitation: As a whole, more Algerians have better sanitation facilities. In the last decade, sewer availability has increased by about 14%. Today, about 83% of all Algerians use sewers. This percentage is higher than the regional percent of 58%.

  8. Drinking Water: In 2000, few Algerians had access to quality drinking water facilities. The majority of Algerians gain drinking water from pipe-improved water. Notably, this is true for both rural and urban Algerians. To address this issue, the Algerian government established L’Algérienne Des Eaux (ADE), a public company, in 2001. To further remedy this problem, the Algerian government established a program to create more extensive water pipelines to Médéa, a city in Northern Algeria.

  9. Students: Most Algerian students have access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water. Currently, 98% of Algeria’s primary students have basic sanitation; 87% have safe drinking water. This is a remarkable achievement as regionally only about 8o% of all students have basic sanitation and 74% have safe drinking water.

  10. Drinking Water Improvements: Most Algerians have access to safe drinking water. 93% of Algerians have basic access to drinking water. This is true of both urban and rural areas with only a 7% gap between the two categories.

These ten facts about sanitation in Algeria reveal that Algeria has overcome substantial challenges.  While most Algerians have access to some level of sanitation, drinking water and hygiene, there remains a higher risk for waste-related illnesses such as cholera. Furthermore, while there remains a persistent gap between its rural and urban citizens, the country’s overall coverage and sanitary facilities have improved since 2000. With sustained effort by the Algerian government and the African Development Bank, Algeria can overcome the remaining obstacles to better public health.

– Kaihua Tymon Zhou
Photo: Wikimedia

UNICEF’s WASH Program
According to a joint report from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four of the world’s health care facilities does not have adequate access to clean water and sanitation services, including sewer access. This means that about 2 billion people face a lack of clean water in their communities globally. Luckily, UNICEF’s WASH Program is in place to help remedy this.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

In 17 out of 69 impoverished countries, at least 20 percent of medical facilities had no water service at all in 2016. Therefore, by going to these facilities, there is a risk of further infection. Ironically, the condition the facility is attempting to remedy could worsen. In developing countries, people often have a concern that they could become sicker after visiting a hospital. UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program aims to bring water and means of sanitation to these at-risk health care facilities to create immediate benefits and establish an element of trust between medical facilities and the general population of impoverished countries. By doing so, projections determine that poor communities should increasingly report to medical professionals when they have a health concern, and many poverty-linked, poor-sanitation-caused diseases will receive better treatment and be better controlled.

UNICEF’s WASH program promotes education, fixing systemic issues and training. However, it mainly goes about achieving these goals by addressing issues on the ground level. Simply put, impoverished communities typically do not have easy access to sanitation measures and fresh water. Therefore, WASH has set out to directly fix the issue by installing facilities that can directly bring free, clean water to people in need. In certain areas that especially need better sanitation and water access, the program goes so far as to build physical water facilities.

How it Works

The facilities consist of a solar-powered borehole well that pumps clean groundwater from within the earth into 24-liter storage tanks above ground. These tanks keep the water clean and usable for whenever communities need it. There are no restrictions on the use of WASH facilities. Those who need it can use it to wash their hands, fill up bathtubs and draw water from their households, etc. In addition to supplying usable water to these communities, the WASH program also installs latrines. The latrines make use of the newly-supplied groundwater to reduce the amount of open defecation in impoverished communities.

WASH in Nigeria

A WASH facility in north-central Nigeria has seen exceptional progress after its installation. Like many poor Nigerian communities, there was little to no health care coverage. Further, the water was dirty and soil-transmitted helminths infected the area due to unsanitary defecation. Even the schools were a breeding ground for disease. Just by bringing clean water, WASH brought the rural community from an unsanitary village to an “open defecation-free” location. In doing so, they also slashed the prevalence of poverty-linked diseases.

UNICEF’s WASH program operates in coordination with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. Two out of the 17 SDGs directly apply to WASH’s mission. First, ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Second, ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. By making direct, measurable progress towards these goals, the U.N. can garner further support. Therefore, the world will be able to meet more SDGs, making the world a better place for everyone in the very near future.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

Dengue FeverAccording to the World Health Organization, dengue fever is one of the ten major global health threats of 2019. The mosquito-borne illness results in flu-like symptoms that can kill up to 20 percent of those infected. Approximately 390 million cases of dengue fever are reported each year across 100 different countries, although, many cases go unreported. Cases of dengue fever have also increased 30 times in the last 50 years, meaning that today, 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk of contracting the disease.

Why the Increase?

While dengue fever used to be concentrated in countries with extreme tropical climates, such as India and Bangladesh, the disease is now prevalent in countries that have more temperate climates, such as Nepal. With higher than average temperatures, rainy seasons are lasting longer which creates the perfect environment for the Aedes mosquito, the carrier of the disease. Unfortunately, the geographic regions that the Aedes mosquito inhabits coincide with low and middle-income countries. Many of these countries do not have sufficient health care systems to cope with this major health issue. Therefore, the effects of dengue are even more severe.

Protection from Mosquitoes

The World Health Organization is leading efforts to reverse the increasing threat of dengue fever. One common tactic used is immunization. The first immunization for dengue fever was approved in 20 countries in 2015. However, follow-up data from 2017 showed that the vaccine was actually harmful to those who had never contracted the disease, putting people at a higher risk of more severe cases of dengue. Now, the vaccination is recommended as a measure for those who have already been affected.

In addition to immunization, people can inhibit the Aedes mosquito’s survival and procreation by properly disposing of human waste, and not leaving out any stagnate, uncovered containers of water, as mosquitoes thrive and lay eggs in both environments. It is also advised to use spray insecticide to repel bugs and invest in screened windows and sleeping nets for protection in homes.

Combatting the Threat

The World Health Organization is partnering with local organizations and governments in affected countries to ensure that the number of deaths caused by dengue fever will decrease by 50 percent in 2020. In order to reach this goal, however, additional funding and research are needed so that the scope of dengue fever is properly understood. Health care providers also need the training and resources to properly address the issue and detect the disease in its early stages as well. If dengue fever is diagnosed before the symptoms become too severe, mortality rates of the disease become much more optimistic.

 

Madeline Lyons
Photo: Flickr

Clean Fuel Solutions

Today, 40 percent of the world lacks access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking. As a result, traditional wood, charcoal and kerosene fuels cause indoor air pollution claiming around 1.5 million lives per year. Fortunately, a number of organizations are taking up the mantle to introduce clean fuel solutions for the world’s poor. Keep reading to learn more about these top innovative clean fuel solutions.

4 Innovative Clean Fuel Solutions

  • KOKO: KOKO is a small portable stove that uses bioethanol. The business model relies on mobile banking which enables users to buy a KOKO and clean fuel by paying for it in installments. KOKO partners with fuel majors so its model requires significantly lower upfront capital expenditures compared to other clean cooking fuels. As a result of its decentralized sales points and mobile/cloud technology, its model delivers bioethanol fuel closer to customers. When taking imported ethanol and taxes into account, it is also the cheaper option at 85 cents per liter.
  • BBOXX: BBOXX is similar to KOKO in that it uses mobile technology and installment payments. BBOXX engages in the same process as KOKO but also has BBOXX Pulse. The BBOXX Pulse device collects data and insights letting the company provide its services to previously unreachable populations. BBOXX also detects when fuel is depleted letting the user know the fuel cost and replenishing the fuel supply. It currently operates in 12 countries and has been sold in more than 35. BBOXX received a $15 million investment from a number of companies most recently Oikocredit. With this investment, the company experienced a rapid scale-up of its business model allowing BBOXX to reach key regions in Rwanda and Kenya.
  • Biogas device – Omer Badokhon: Omer Badokhon invented a small-scale biogas system that converts waste into clean fuel. The device is created from plastic or fiberglass and works by using specially designed fermenting chambers. This device then takes food scraps and converts them into biogas. Badokhon won the “Young Champions of the Earth” award from the U.N. Environment Programme and is building the first group of units with the prize money. The units have been piloted in 1,500 rural homes in Shabwa, Sanaa, Hadramout, Ibb, Taiz and Aden. Badokhon also received $10,000 from the Yemeni oil company PetroMasila to complete his research. Not only does the biogas device create clean fuel, reducing pollution, respiratory illness and death, but it also has the potential to reduce cholera rates. By recycling, waste should not be as big of a problem as it is a major contributor to cholera.
  • HomeBioGas: Another clean fuel solution is HomeBioGas. HomeBioGas is an invention that uses bacteria rather than electricity, naturally breaking down organic matter to turn it into either cooking gas or fertilizer. HomeBioGas performs bacterial anaerobic digestion of organic waste, for example, food scraps or animal manure. It also has two filters, a bio-filter that reduces odors as well as a chlorine filter that eliminates pathogens. The device itself is an easy-to-assemble kit, making it a perfect fit for villages in places like Palestine and Uganda. There are an estimated 70 different countries that are interested in having their own HomeBioGas devices and are willing to distribute them throughout their respective countries. An Indiegogo campaign raised 200 percent of the company’s $100,000 target, thus it is now launching globally.

– Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Top 6 Water NGOs in Latin America

A number of countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region are experiencing water crises which present an obstacle in achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to clean water access by 2030. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations actively working to help them get there as quickly as possible. Keep reading to learn more about the top six water NGOs in Latin America.

Top 6 Water NGOs in Latin America

  1. Founded in 2007, Water Charity’s first project focused on improving the health of garbage dump workers by providing water filters in Guatemala City. Since then, the NGO has executed numerous water missions throughout 12 Latin American countries, among other projects worldwide. Each of its projects is innovative and tailored toward the specific needs of the communities in which they work. For instance, through the Dajabon Latrine Project in rural northwestern Dominican Republic, 110 families now have access to safe and sanitary latrines. Moreover, the initiative strives to educate families on the importance of health and hygiene given Dajabon’s poor education system.
  2. Living Water International in Mexico has been working to improve water access, hygiene and sanitation throughout the country’s poorest and often most rural communities. With operations spanning from water systems to hygiene education, the organization aims to focus on the marginalized regions of southern Mexico. Living Water’s “Lazos de Agua” program from 2013 to 2016 promoted WASH (“water, sanitation and hygiene) services to 68,000 beneficiaries in Oaxaca and Puebla. The organization’s projects, such as a new initiative to serve beneficiaries in 65 Mexican rural communities, continue to emerge across the nation and beyond.
  3. blueEnergy knows that the most efficient way to create change is through community consultation and working with local actors. Recognizing the context of a changing climate, blueEnergy has delivered water and sanitation to more than 30,000 people in marginalized regions of Nicaragua. Regarding a recently built water filter, Victorio Leon, a resident of Bluefields, Nicaragua only had positive feedback. “This filter has helped me economically and helped me avoid being sick a lot of the time… now we know we can drink this water with confidence.” Indeed, according to the World Bank, lack of water and sanitation results in a loss of 0.9 percent of Nicaragua’s GDP. Promoting health, and ultimately economic opportunity is among blueEnergy’s primary goals.
  4. WaterStep recognizes that making a true difference in developing countries requires planning for the long-term. For this reason, the nonprofit educates vulnerable communities on why and how to use safe water solutions such as bleach making as well as how to use WaterStep’s on-the-ground technologies. One of its ongoing projects includes that in Ecuador, which began following the country’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016. Thousands of Ecuadorian survivors were misplaced and lacked any source of clean water. WaterStep responded to the situation by implementing water technologies and training people in refugee settlements on how to use this equipment.
  5. Water For People has targeted Honduras’ marginalized and rural regions such as Chinda and San Antonio de Cortés, since 1997. The NGO invests in public and private sectors alike to provide proper water and sanitation solutions. Since the nineties, Honduras has seen success not only in meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the percentage of people lacking clean water by 50 percent. Moreover, at least 84 percent of the rural population now have access to improved water. Grassroots efforts such as those by Water For People are making clear steady strides towards achieving SDG goal six: providing clean and safe water to all regions.
  6. Solea Water acknowledges the clear inequalities between rural and urban Panama. While Panama City has seen outstanding economic growth in recent years, in marginalized indigenous areas, extreme poverty affects nine in 10 inhabitants. Consequently, clean water access remains a critical issue in these regions. One of the organization’s many projects includes work in Sinai, Panama, where seven in 10 people lack safe drinking water. In addition to implementing a municipal water system which utilizes sustainable technologies to pump water, the organization has supported WASH education to locals. Solea Water’s goals of better health, education and overall improved standards of living within regions like Sinai are made a reality through the organization’s tireless dedication.

What Happens Now?

While access to water has improved in poor and marginalized regions in-line with the decrease in global poverty, disparities remain. These disparities are clear between regions, where 94 percent of citizens in the United States and Europe have access to safe drinking water compared to 65 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, even larger disparities can be seen within a given region, such as the gap between urban and rural regions within Latin America. While 96 percent of citizens living in the Dominican Republic’s cities can obtain piped water, less than 25 percent of Dominicans in rural areas have this same access.

While the fight to universalize access to clean water and sanitation remains a pressing matter, these top six water NGOs in Latin America present the importance of civil society’s proactive planning, hard work and progress.

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

 

Wasted Medical Supplies
The United States generates over two million tons of wasted medical supplies each year. Facilities do not use many of these supplies such as unexpired medical supplies and equipment. People even throw away completely usable, albeit expired medical supplies. This surplus exists because of hospital cleaning policies, infection prevention guidelines and changes in vendors. Additionally, because equipment must always be ready, replacements are always in order. As such, in the U.K., medical facilities replace equipment before the old versions are out of commission. Waste ranges from medicine to operating gowns, all the way to hospital beds and wheelchairs. Beyond consumables like medicine and one-time supplies like syringes, the need to replace before equipment is sub-optimal leaves a margin for waste on big-ticket items like MRIs.

Many hospitals have dumped their garbage from the reception and operating rooms along with usable medical surplus into incinerators. Although this burning is a source of many pollutants, it is still common practice in many developing countries.

This issue of medical supply waste intertwines deeply with a lack of access to medical equipment in the developing world. While developed countries live in a world of sterile excess, developing countries and remote villages with little access to suitable equipment to meet their needs suffer.

How Does this Waste Relate to Poverty?

People view access to the level of health care service in the developed world as the standard rather than a privilege. In places of poverty like Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, facilities are in desperate need of supplies and equipment to treat patients in their region.

Inadequate provisions leave patients on the floor or in out-of-date hospital beds paired with another patient. In the DRC, rape is a common weapon of war. The U.N. Human Rights Security Council passed a resolution that described the problem as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Many of the patients at the doorstep of Burhinyi Central Hospital are suffering from rape-related ailments. Some examples are HIV/AIDS, fistulas, bladder and intestinal damage and infections. Without the necessary equipment to handle such cases, impoverished areas, which are already more prone to injury and disease, deteriorate.

How Can it be Fixed?

Again, the issue of wasted medical supplies id deeply connected to poverty. In fact, they are complementary. The solution lies in moving the surplus from areas of excess to people in need. This reduces the waste in developed countries by giving supplies to hospitals that need them. Therefore, one can convert wasted medical supplies to usable surplus.

There are many NGOs like Medshare and Supplies Over Seas (SOS) that follow this process. These nonprofits operate based on collecting, sorting and sending the usable medical surplus to hospitals in need.

SOS has a container shipment program that sends cargo containers filled with medical supplies. These containers would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. A typical container contains six to eight tons. Its medical contents value conservatively at $150,000-$350,000. Since 2014, SOS has shipped containers to 20 countries in need.

A volunteer at Medshare outlined her experience working with surplus medical supplies, saying that, “It was shocking how much waste there actually was. Warehouses full of totally usable stuff all ready to be thrown away.” She added, “[she] sorted through things like syringes and gauze packets which were all put into huge containers for hospitals that need it. It feels like a difference is being made.”

Stop Wasting and Start Donating

Wasted medical supplies and impoverished areas without access to proper medical equipment are issues that people can resolve simultaneously by salvaging usable supplies and equipment that were ready to go to landfill and sending them to communities in need. Regarding medical waste and poverty, the best solutions occur when those who have more give to those who have less.

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

Waste Management in CairoCairo, a city of roughly 20 million people, produces more than 15,000 tons of solid waste every day. Even though the government funds some formal sector waste management, much of the time it relies heavily on the local poor. Since it is these neighborhoods that are often deemed “too expensive” for waste collection, the local individuals are burdened with the task of handling the solid waste.

Effective Methods

Zabbaleen, or Garbage People, spend their days sifting, sorting and transporting waste. Despite this arduous and tedious work, the locals have found methods of waste management in Cairo that arguably surpasses formal sector methods. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Association of Pollution, they recycle about 85 percent of the city’s waste—more than is even seen in North American and European cities.

The economic returns from informal waste management in Cairo are high, and thus it is a sector that requires proper facilitation in order to protect its workers.

Positive Impacts

Many firms purchase recycled materials at a lower rate than virgin resources which gives them a competitive edge. Zabbaleen are self-employed meaning they are lowering the overall unemployment rate in Cairo. In fact, globally, more than 15 million people rely on waste collection for employment. Organic waste diverted from dumpsites helps to feed local animals.

Negative Impacts

Children are kept home from school help with sorting thus they miss out on educational opportunities in exchange for immediate income. In Egypt, the net number of children enrolled in primary school is increasing, but Zabbaleen are among those least likely to attend. Exposure to toxins make Zabbaleen highly susceptible to diseases such as the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) which can be contracted from improperly disposed medical waste. Zabbaleen do not receive job benefits or protection despite being service providers to the city. The Association for the Protection of the Environment notes that although these workers help sort through 40 percent of the city’s waste, it is at no cost to the city.

Zabbaleen are integral to waste management in Cairo. In regions where formal infrastructure is not effective, these individuals are essential in reducing rates of pollution, providing jobs, and selling goods back to the market at a discounted price. Since Cairo does not directly fund these individuals, they rely on the help of outside organizations and firms to support them.

The World Bank funded a project in 2014 called the Cairo Municipal Solid Waste Management Project to help the country achieve environmental and development goals while recovering from residual economic hardship from the shocks in 2011. Since the population grew at such a rapid pace, the initiative strived to restore macroeconomic stability in order to help reduce extreme rates of poverty in the Delta and Upper-Egypt regions.

Organization to Empower

The Zabbaleen themselves run an organization that supports garbage collectors. The Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), established in 1984, assists marginalized groups in their journey to reducing waste and raising the living standards of their community. One of their vital projects helps to treat individuals exposed to the Hepatitis C Virus from improperly disposed of medical waste. Egypt experiences some of the highest levels of HCV in the world with approximately 150,000 people infected each year according to the World Bank. About three tonnes of medical waste is generated daily, and much of it is simply disposed with municipal waste—putting Zabbaleen at risk.

Garbage collection in any large metropolitan area is critical to the survival and economic advancement of that city. As a result, it is crucial to include and recognize informal sector participation when creating policies and allocating funding. Locals are the most knowledgeable about their cities, thus governments will benefit from recognizing and heralding this expertise in order to support effective waste management in Cairo. The economic returns of garbage collection are high, so funding and supporting the workers will subsequently help reduce poverty in the region.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Wikimedia

the children of the landfills
Let’s face it, the world produces a lot of waste. In 2016 alone, the world produced approximately 2.01 trillion tons of waste. This is an astronomical number that, by 2050, is expected to increase by 70 percent, according to the World Bank. East Asia and the Pacific region are the world’s largest producers of waste, producing 23 percent or 468 million tons of waste each year. A majority of this waste ends up in landfills. In developing countries, such as those in East Asia and the Pacific region, 90 percent of waste is burned or thrown in unregulated dumps.

This waste disproportionately impacts the poor. In many middle- to low-income cities, nongovernmental companies control waste management and are backed by many of the governments of each country. These companies employ a large percentage of children under the age of 18. Moreover, East Asia and the Pacific region have more working children than anywhere else in the world. The United Nations Environmental Programme states that in cities such as Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the percentage of working children is as high as 51 percent. These children are the children of the landfills.

The Children of the Landfills

These children who work in these toxic waste fills are among the most vulnerable and impoverished in the world. They often have to miss school to work in landfills, contributing to their families’ income. This subsequently contributes to a cycle of poverty, as there is a direct correlation between the amount of education a person receives and their level of poverty. If a child is not given the tools they need to succeed in the modern world, then they are forced to succumb to the depths of poverty as that is all they have ever known.

In many of these countries, the vast majority of landfills are unregulated dumps in which toxic waste is present in alarmingly high amounts. Health symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, are commonly reported, along with low birth weights and stunted growth in children. These hazardous materials also expose the children who work in these dumps to an increased risk of a variety of cancers including, leukemia, lung cancer and brain cancer.

A Uniquely Dangerous Environment

Sadly, for the children of the landfills, toxic waste is merely one of several hazards they are exposed to on a daily basis. Children must be cautious of where they step due to broken glass and other sharp objects. They also must be wary of water-filled sinkholes hidden by the plastic waste that floats on its surface. If a child were to fall in, they would likely never be found again.

The most dangerous hazard for the children is trash avalanches, caused by workers in bulldozers moving trash as the children collect scraps. The World’s Children Prize tells the story of a 14-year-old girl named Kean who witnessed the dangers of working near the bulldozers. She explains that a young boy was crushed to death by a pile of trash, as the bulldozer operator was oblivious to the child’s presence.

The West and China

East Asia and the Pacific region’s waste problems have recently become exacerbated by China’s decision in 2018 to stop importing most recyclable waste. For 25 years, China was the world’s largest importer of recyclable waste. This sudden shift in the recyclables market prompted the West to redirect it’s waste to countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. These countries have since become overwhelmed with waste, greatly amplifying the plight of the children of the landfills.

The Good News

Fortunately, the United Nations and nonprofits have a plethora of initiatives aimed at fighting poor waste management. In particular, the Gates Foundation works with the governments of East Asian countries to improve sanitation and waste management by implementing more efficient waste management systems.

Organizations, such as the World’s Children Prize, help empower the children of the landfills through education, so they can break free from the cycle of poverty. Similarly, the International Labor Organization fights for the rights of children in these developing countries.

More importantly, the best way ordinary people can help these children is by decreasing individual waste footprints. This can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways. To do so, easy changes can be made, such as using refillable water bottles, declining to use plastic straws and silverware. Bigger changes involve changing one’s diets and methods of transportation. Whether one makes small or big changes, the children of the landfills rely on them to fight for a better future.

Shane Thoma
Photo: Pixabay

 

10 facts about plastic waste in southeast asia
The Philippines recently made headlines when they sent nearly 70 cargoes of imported refuse from Canada. But the Philippines is not alone in their rejection of plastic waste from the developed world. Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have followed in China’s footsteps to establish a total ban on plastic imports. What is the broader story behind these import bans? What will Canada do with their 70 cargoes of waste? To answer these questions, here are 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia.

10 Facts About Plastic Waste in Southeast Asia

  1. Worldwide Production: Worldwide production of plastics reached 381 million tons of plastics in 2015, nearly doubling from 213 million tons of plastics in 2000. The packaging industry accounts for nearly 141 million tons of plastic production.
  2. Low Recycling Rates: Only 9% of all plastic is recycled, while 79% heads straight to landfills. Another 12% is incinerated. This means that of the estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic existing in the natural world or in landfills worldwide, only 500 million tons are recycled.
  3. Waste per Capita: China ranks the highest in overall plastic waste disposal, generating an average of around 59.08 million tons of plastic per year. Other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines dispose between 2.5 and 5 million tons of plastic. Comparably, the United States produces an astounding 37.83 million tons of plastic waste, making it the country with the highest political waste per capita ratio. This fact, among these 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia, highlights that waste management cannot be considered a purely regional issue. It is a global issue.
  4. Plastic Management: Countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and other low-income countries have the highest shares of plastic waste that is deemed inadequately mismanaged. Just five countries–China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam–produce half of all plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
  5. Growing Alarm: The growing amount of plastic is alarming for many reasons. According to a WasteAid report, nearly 9 million people die each year from diseases related to waste pollutants. There is also a growing concern that microplastics found in the tissues of fish could be dangerous to human health. Additionally, tons of plastic are diverted to dumpsites, which could contribute to 8-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
  6. Huge Imports: While Southeast Asian countries are culpable for mismanaged plastic waste and contamination of the worlds’ oceans, they also import more plastic waste than any other region in the world. Before its ban on plastic, China imported 6.4 million tons of plastic waste in 2017. In the last quarter of 2018, the UK alone exported nearly 18,000 tons of plastic waste to Malaysia.
  7. The US Plays a Key Role: Plastic waste and pollution particularly in Southeast Asia is a problem of poverty and represents a broader dynamic between the developed and developing world. In 2018, the United States sent an equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of plastic to developing countries who already mismanaged 70% of plastic waste. Workers in places like Vietnam sort contaminated, hazardous plastic waste from the U.S. in poor working conditions for meager pay.
  8. Impact of a Total Ban: With the recent rollbacks on plastic imports to the poorly regulated shores of Southeast Asia, researchers believe China’s ban alone displaced 120 million tons of plastic in 2017. Thailand has followed suit, stating that it will enforce a total ban on plastics by 2021. The introduction of these bans ironically has Australia, Canada, and European countries, facing growing piles of low-quality plastic scraps, a problem they can no longer export away.
  9. World Bank Initiatives: The World Bank has confronted poverty and lack of infrastructure as one of the main ways to address the colossal problem of plastic waste and its relationship to poverty and poor regulations in developing countries. The World Bank has committed $4.7 billion to more than 340 solid waste management programs to improve waste disposal methods in predominantly developing countries. They particularly seek to bolster waste disposal infrastructure, legal regulations, and health and safety, among others.
  10. A Shifting Paradigm: In the developed world, import bans have forced countries like the U.S. to renew investments in recycling infrastructure and public education on issues of plastic waste. Some states have imposed strict regulations on plastic production and consumption, and with more public awareness and subsequent political pressure, more states can follow. On a corporate level, companies like Intel, Eaton, and Texas Instruments recycle more than 85% of their waste, hopefully, with more to follow.

In developed countries, one of the main ways to mitigate this issue is to limit the consumption of plastic products and review the laws that have allowed the harmful trade of plastic waste to places like the Philippines. In developing countries, banning contaminated plastic waste the first step in ensuring that every country takes responsibility for their own waste. These 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia highlight the numerous components in this growing crisis.

Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr