The choking concoction filled the air.
It was smoky and pungent.
Every move towards the centre of the rubbish dump was proving a tall order for his lungs but he had to trudge on.
He had to push himself towards the ultimate prize…the waste metal scraps lying near the center.
If he delayed a bit, it would not take long for others like him to pounce on the valuables.
Over time, he’d become accustomed to life in the rubbish dump.
He needed it to survive.
Waste picking wasn’t his choice occupation but circumstances drove him towards that direction.
Coming from a broken home and with few options available, he had to do what’s needed to make ends meet.
He had to endure not only the searing heat and smoke but also toxic fumes he couldn’t brush aside.
Rubbish (especially in the developing world) is a complex mixture of all sorts of solid waste.
From food scraps to plastic bags…
From spent batteries to fluorescent bulbs…
From metallic waste to expired drugs…
There’s no shortage of variety in this concoction.
But what gives it a lethal punch is lighting it up and seeing it go up flames.
Emissions from burning waste are often downplayed.
But the respiratory disease burden they deliver to the surrounding neighborhoods is simply unimaginable.
On many cases toxic gases may pass for mere choking inconveniences.
These airborne rascals are bound to compromise even the most robust immune system if inhaled continuously over time.
But not only does air quality matter.
When the rains come, they deliver the missing ingredient needed to mobilize some of the toxic stuff held in rubbish.
Percolating rain water dissolves toxic metallic ions, expired pharmaceuticals/ chemicals all mixed together to produce a leachate that easily drains into surrounding water bodies.
These steams and runoffs are used by those living alongside them as a water source.
For many, the rainy season avails a greater water flow allowing them to draw more for storage oblivious to the dangers such waters pose especially if flowing near a rubbish dump.
Lack of municipal water treatment services expose many to the dangers such waters hold.
But lastly, a rubbish dump holds more than just a concoction.
The mound creates just the right conditions for accelerated decomposition to take place.
Never be deceived by the matter lying dormant on it’s surface.
Elevated temperature towards the centre of the mound leads to accelerated breakdown of organic matter.
Food wastes, animal droppings, and carcasses are broken down faster by the action of heat and microorganisms leading to liberation of gases.
Among the buffet of released gases, methane carries greatest significance.
Being a greenhouse gas, methane contributes immensely to climate change.
But on the flip side, it could also be tapped to provide energy for households.
Biogas production is not only a benefit communities could ride on from surrounding rubbish dumps, but also an opportunity for households to take advantage of.
For it to work, there must be separation of waste at the domestic level.
Plastics could be recycled for future reuse, metallic waste could be collected and sold to smelters, the waste remnants after biogas production could be used as soil amendment, glass waste could be crushed and used to make ceramic products…
Waste is value in more ways than we could imagine.
But it starts with us making a choice…
A choice not to burn it…
A choice not to dump it…
But a choice to draw value from it.