Global Waste Management Explored in “Trashed”

Unloading of waste into unapproved dumpsite

Workers unload segregated waste into an unsanitary dumping site near the hill station of Panchgani, India in 2012.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Office of Sustainability

While watching an episode of M*A*S*H, I was struck by a quote that Hawkeye said to a bomber pilot who realizes his actions injure innocent people. “20,000 is a long way to come down,” he says to the pilot. Spending nearly a year working on a waste management project in India had the same effect on me – it brought to my attention that my habits were damaging the Earth.

Global warming sign in India

A sign in Pune, India warns citizens about global warming.

Living and working in India burned into my brain the image of mountains of trash – product containers, single-use bags, plastic tea cups, diapers, etc. – and why recycling simply isn’t adequate. Now, I compost my wet (organic) waste and try to purchase dry goods when possible to reduce container waste. On average, Americans produce 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day, and only recycle about a third of that total. India, by comparison, generates less than a pound per person per day, though it is predicted to double by 2025 because of adoption of Western packaging practices.

India and the U.S. both have serious, but quite different, issues in the area of waste management. To get a more complete picture of waste concerns facing developed and developing countries, go to this week’s screening of the documentary “Trashed.” Narrated by Jeremy Irons, the film weaves stories together from the U.K., Iceland, Lebanon, China and more related to plastics, landfills, incineration, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “Trashed” is showing Thursday at Brewvies Cinema Pub, 677 S 200 W, Salt Lake City, UT. Admission is $5, which includes a drink ticket, and the doors open at 6 pm. The movie begins at 7 pm. The screening is part of the Zero Waste Awards hosted by the Utah Recycling Alliance. The venue is 21 and older.

Cows in the landfill site

Cows roam through the unapproved landfill site near the hill station of Panchgani, India in 2012.

Random waste dumping

Random dumping by the public is one of the complicating factors for India’s waste management reforms.

I attended the Utah Film Center’s screening of “Trashed” this past summer.  I was struck by the film’s balanced approach to issues faced in different parts of the world. It doesn’t praise Western societies for their recycling and incineration initiatives, and it doesn’t disparage developing countries for their difficulty in keeping up with rapidly urbanizing populations.

The photos in this blog represent a snapshot of my time working with the organization Janwani, which has partnered with several organizations and the city government of Pune to lead waste management reforms.

Waste pickers sort trash to find recyclable in landfill

Waste pickers dig through the unauthorized dump site to find materials to sell on the recyclables market.

Biogas plant

An employee sorts through organic waste at a biogas plant in Pune, India.

Worker delivers organic waste to biogas plant

A worker delivers organic waste to a biogas plant in Pune, India. Dry waste is sold in the recyclable market.

Heat from decomposition causes small smoke columns to rise from an unsanitary landfill site near Panchgani, India in 2012.

Heat from decomposition causes small smoke columns to rise from an unsanitary landfill site near Panchgani, India in 2012.

Ayrel Clark-Proffitt is the outreach and education coordinator for the University of Utah Office of Sustainability.

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