Socialism and waste management

“Garbage, in its "worthless" state, is the primary fuel for creativity.”
― Yusuf A. Leinge

Some say politics is dirty. Is it really so? But I think dirt is also politics. Why?

People who live in Colombo and who visit Colombo daily dump 750 tons of garbage every day. Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) relieves the burden of garbage at Meethotamulla where you can go for a hike on a mountain of dirt.

The residents of the surrounding areas protested last week violently against dumping garbage in their environment and they had a good bath after all from riot police. Are they citizens, I wonder and if they are citizens why doesn't the CMC listen to their woes? They may be thinking they are non-citizens themselves. Citizens do not burn old tyres on roads damaging them permanently. They are the roads they travel and not only the roads the garbage dumpers are driven. They are public roads and the tar is public money.

Fronline Socialist Party (FSP) leader Pubudu Jayagoda claimed in his Facebook that one of their activists was leading the agitation and Jayagoda was critical on whom he called liberals for not taking the side of the protesters. I don't know if they may like their counterpart(y) JVP takes to streets in Meethotamulla mobilizing people against dumping garbage there. The two leftist parties are in a tooth and nail battle for claiming the patent for protests over public issues. It is always good from the side of the people that some elements are available to support them when they want to go against the government, no matter whoever takes the political advantage.

Marxists argue capitalism cannot solve any problem of the system which it creates. I have not noticed anybody has spoken about the socialist solution for the garbage problem. Capitalism promotes consumerism. Extreme consumption patterns lead to produce an excess of waste. Therefore the solution for the problem of garbage must definitely be anti-consumerist.

Meethotamulla protest was successful since the garbage issue was taken out of the dump and set in the TV screens. People of Meethotamulla ask the authorities and the fellow citizens if it is right to dump others' shit in their locality. Actually, garbage needs to be dumped in some locality. Residents of Meethotamulla say they can be dumped in Muthurajawela, an environmentally sensitive wetland which they consider wrongly as ground which is not in any locality of humans. What you give will come around in some way and be careful folks!

Everybody thinks garbage is something, of which we must rid our immediate environment. We are the people who hang the dirt bag on a nail hammered to the parapet wall outside near the gate. We don't care how it stinks when the brew flows out on the road. It is outside, man. Developed nations dump developed garbage in outer space now with similar attitude. They are like the ones who throw their bag of shit on the road in wee hours while driving their vehicle at a breakneck speed so as the number is not noticed.

What is the actual practical solution to this?

Garbage is not totally waste. If we have proper ways to manage our waste, most of the things we throw away can be recycled. Unfortunately, we don't recycle all paper we use. We import paper. It is same with glass and other materials too. Much of the matter of the dump in Meethotamulla comprises of compost automatically processed after dumping. Why can't people make compost at home and use them to be put into flower or vegetable plants in pots? We import chemical fertilizer and it is so cheaper for the farmers since the entire population pays for the fertilizer subsidy. Compost appear costly vis-a-vis the cheap and easy chemical fertilizer.

Super markets and the other retailers must be taken to the management of polythene and plastic waste. Nowadays, you cannot take your own cloth bag even to state owned retail network Lak Sathosa and ask for your commodities put in them. The busy and careless customer servicemen of public service reject your bag silently and put the stuff in polythene bags. Food City girls put even the box of matches in a polythene bag. The local government has to manage the waste they deliver. I think the cost for managing of polythene and plastic waste spread by the retailers is many times higher than the taxes paid by them. They must be asked to collect their waste and to assist the authorities to manage them.

The packaging industry of the modern times is packed in plastic and polythene. Therefore, there is no go back to 'Kadala Gotta' type waste paper packaging. People have health concerns too now which they did not have in the times of 'Kadadasi Gotta' package. But packagers must not be so lavish in throwing away material difficult to be recycled. There must be laws that must be thoroughly imposed on the packaging industry. Some regulations related to the thickness of the polythene matter were introduced by the previous regime but the laws are freely violated due to lack of monitoring mechanisms.

Recycling must definitely be rewarded. It is not a sin that we have a pompously subsidized recycling industry in the country. Give all sorts of relief to those who recycle. They are saving the planet.

The most hazardous general dumping is related to CFL bulbs and batteries of mobile phones. CFL bulbs are thanked for saving power but the flimsy, low quality CFL bulbs cause more severe damage to the environment due to mercury in thrown away bulbs. Laws must be brought to make compulsory for the distributors of the CFL bulbs to collect them back after the warranty period is over. The lifetime of most of those bulbs is the time of warranty offered by the producers.

Real revolution in waste management is actually in the minds of the people. We must change our attitudes from the mindset of taking all the polythene bags home and throwing them away thereafter to a mindset of say a sharp NO to unnecessary packaging. People must use them like misers. As citizens, we need to be extra careful in dumping garbage.

Authorities must have proper mechanisms for waste management. People tend to free themselves of the waste they produce in ad hoc ways when there are no proper ways and means to do it. The society must be disciplined in terms of waste management. Citizens may not mind even the Lee Kuan Yew type draconian laws against the polluters but only after streamlining the waste management systems of the country.

- Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe

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