These days I kind of laugh when expats or those abroad complain about a lack of local recycling facilities. Almost every imaginable object here is recycled in a natural human process, be it a piece of fabric or a scrap of metal.
Perhaps they see a seemingly overwhelming amount of rubbish on the roadside, but let me tell you what happens to a significant portion of that garbage.
Trash is a revenue stream for town-dwellers. Plastic bottles are collected and sold for 200 shillings, and they are used to hold everything from fuel to natural medicine. Papers, whether old schoolbook notes, newspapers, or letters to a loved one, are recollected and used to wipe one’s buttocks and/or start a cooking fire. Anything which can be tied – ribbons, old clothes, strings – are used to, well, tie stuff, especially onto bicycles. Long poles are used to push ripe papayas off the trees. Tree branches become ladders. Small debris and old leaves are used by children to make soccer balls. Little bits of plastic are placed into parts of bicycles to prevent air from leaking – or wrapped around chunks of dirt to protect young seedlings. Metal scraps are welded into bed frames. Rubber tires are used to make slippers. Others use machines to compact all types of garbage to make cooking briquettes.
Everything is an economic commodity.
Uganda has much, much less waste than many (most) wealthier nations. It simply has very few places to outsource that waste, like landfills. This lack of waste infrastructure, while a serious concern, results in resourcefulness and creativity, tools and toys.
Nobody boasts about recycling in Uganda. Reusing is simply economical – part of being human, not something for bragging rights. Yet where I’m from, people maintain a sense of moral superiority if they print on recycled paper and send some of their waste (we know it’s never all of their waste) to a recycling plant. This comparison is hilarious to me.
That all being said, I wouldn’t advocate dumping all of your household waste in the streets, saying you’re doing someone else a favor.
It’s sure a heck of a lot easier finding whatever I’m looking for in my home these days.