Small individual actions can create larger collective difference
My trash is another person’s treasure
I know this task was supposed to be something simple and practical, but for me, it’s a bit complicated since I’m basically working all over the place, moving from project to project, community to community.
Regardless of this task, since 2005, I’ve been actively separating my waste where I was living in the UK and together with my housemates recycling and composting on a daily basis. In Peace Child, where I spend the last 5 years living and working, the youth staff shares a house where in general 10-15 people live and shares all the responsibility about cleaning and maintain the house. We tried as much as we can to walk the talk, and so, one of the first things you have to learn when you move to Peace Child is recycling.
Since we are fortunate enough to recycle almost everything in the UK, we had a very simple system in the house. We placed in the area close to the kitchen, big boxes where we separated Plastic, Paper, Metal and Glass, and inside the kitchen we had a small compost bin for separating the organic waste, like vegetables, fruits, egg shells, tea bags, etc. Daily we simply separated our waste, rinsing the bottles and cans, and drying it before placing them in the boxes. When the compost bin in the kitchen was full, we would take it to our compost bin in the garden – a big gray bin proper for house composting, where we made compost we later used in the garden. When the recycling boxes were full, we loaded then in our van (originally run with vegetable oil) and went to the city’s recycling facility. It was a quite fun exercise. There we have basically different places for every single thing… and you are in charge of doing it yourself. In the beginning I was always surprised the quantity of people in the recycling center (that only opens like 2hrs a week), and always was impress with the will of the people there, that would travel a couple of miles to do their recycling once a week. Always made me thing about Brazil, and the way lots of mine friends would complain about going in the basement of their buildings to take the recycling.
Sylvain, our french volunteer helping in the recycling
Anything can be recycled! 🙂
Instructions to indicate where you should dispose your waste
Glass was divided into brown, green, blue and transparent
Kitchen's compost bin already full... needs to be taken to the big gray bin outside for some proper composting
Anyway, for the task, I was supposed to specially pay attention to my recycling this week, but since I’ve been in the road for the last month working around Europe (UK, Austria, Norway and Greece) I have been mostly staying in hostels and hotels, and have unfortunately very little control over the management of the waste in the hotels.
In order to do this assignment, I decided to have a chat with the staff working in my hotel, trying to learn more about the waste management – how and if they separate the trash from the hotel, what was the procedure, where they dispose it, and I thought I can compare this a bit with the way it has been working in my house.
To start with, everybody in the hotel thought I was a bit weird trying to go through the trash of the hotel, and see how they managed it. After a bit of negotiations with the management team (that thought I was from the sanitation inspection institute), they let me enter in the staff reserved areas, and talk to people about it, under the agreement that I would not mentioned the name of the hotel.
In the 2 stars hotel where I was staying in the Island of Rhodes, they have 80 flats, with capacity for over 160 guests. Most of the guests are staying there for very short periods (mostly around 2-4 days) and some guests (about 15 people) actually live there in long term contracts (3 months or more). They only have 4 staff members working on the maintenance of the rooms (which includes cleaning and collecting the waste), and only one person that is in charge of the disposal of the waste in the end of each day.
The maids (who are in charge of room cleaning) are supposed to do the first separation – they have in their trolleys already a special bag for plastic bottles and for metal cans. All the rest that is “recyclable” goes to one blue bag and everything else goes to another black bag. Once they passed through all the rooms, they bring their trolleys to the back of the hotel basement, where Adonis – a 17 years old Greek student, is in charge of disposing the waste.
I spoke with Adonis that day, to learn about how it works in the Hotel, and well, the chat was quite interesting. From the very beginning, he was quite sincere and told me he felt the Hotel didn’t really care much about recycling, he also said he was not really convinced about recycling himself, but he was doing it mostly for the money.
He said Rhodes municipality has a collection system for recyclable waste, but that he feels the system is a bit inefficient. Inside the hotel even, most of the times, the Maids don’t bother to separate the waste, and bring the trolley down to him with everything mixed. He, normally busy with several of other tasks, admits that not always take the care of going through each bag to ensure all the things are separated properly.
He explained he cares mostly about the plastic bottles, and the hard cardboard paper, because that is something he is able to sell to local craft shops (keeping the money for himself!) All the rest, he takes to a recycling facility designated for the Hotels in the area, which is located only 500 meters away from the hotel we were (and still Adonis complains is way too far!).
We walked together to the facility that day to do the recycling, and although the place looks super nice, it was quite clear the service was not working as well as it could. Lots of plastic bags with recyclable waste were left around the place. And when we opened the bin reserved to composting, there were plastic bottles and bags mixed in the middle of the organic waste.
Recycling Facility in Rhodes
bags left in front of the recycling bin
"Recycling Machine" where people should place their waste in the right spot
More bags that were simply abandoned in front of the machine
Compost bin.. not taken serious 😦
I invited Adonis for a coffee and we talked a bit about it. He thinks that nobody working in the hotel sector in his city were ever explained the reasoning behind recycling and composting. And as it makes no sense to them, they tend to overlook the separation and disposal of waste, unaware of the actual environmental impact they are causing in the Island. He also said it would probably be different if people would learn how to make profits out of the waste (that was just like his case with the bottles and the cardboard paper!). If trash would represent money, people would be far more careful about the way they manage it.
I left the hotel already the next day, but I tried to write in the suggestion box, that the management of the hotel should think more about ways to sell their recyclable waste and make profit out of it. And maybe with part of the money they would make they should compensate the employees that take recycling serious.
I left the Island of Rhodes, amazed by its beauty, but also thinking a lot about this “recycling issue”. I wonder if that’s the same situation in other places around the world, and I’m curious to discover the situation back in Santos, my hometown, where we have lots of hotels which are constantly producing waste. Maybe a very interesting project would be to run capacity building and awareness raising programs targeting hotels and their staff. Specially in places with high frequency of tourists, the impact of better waste management systems can be huge.. That’s something that I will be thinking more in the next few weeks, if somebody wants to get in touch, and join forces to collaborate tackling this… it will be awesome!
As little as I have, I know that there is always someone out there who has less than I do.
Well, in general I think I’ve done quite well in the last few years in terms of avoiding accumulating excesses. For the last 5 years, I was working almost as a volunteer. Earning little money actually makes you very creative and quite aware of the way you use your resources.
Since I moved to the UK in 2005, a lot of my clothes are second hand. Mostly I “trade” them with friends – I give them what I don’t use, or don’t fit me anymore, and they do the same with me. Anything that was extra I would simply donate in my local charity shop, where by the way, I normally go for shopping “new clothes” for a very low price. The system of second hand clothes in the UK works really well.
Because of my work, I also have access to a lot of very interesting book and specialized publications, that normally would be very expensive and difficult to find. Once I’ve read them, I normally make sure I pass it ahead to another friend who might benefit from it, and they normally pass them ahead once they are done. I only keep the very special ones, or the ones that have special meaning for me… anyway, I became almost like a library for some friends that know they can always borrow them from me, and return them once they are done.
Food is something we never waste! And we were super creative in using leftover food again and again. I think these years in the UK was a good cooking school for me, and now I’m able to recycle food very easily! I’m able to make a whole new recipe for dinner, using the leftover from lunch and adding one or two ingredients, or mixing things up.
Apart from all of this, somehow, I was able to accumulate quite a few (A LOT!) things. Recently when I moved from the UK, I had to mostly get ready of all this excess…. Special things, or that had some special meaning I gave it to friends of mine (like t-shirts, magazines, books, little crafts from around the world), and everything else, I had to give to Charity Shops (mostly clothes, shoes, guitar, books, suits, jeans, etc). I need to admit was a quite difficult process… cleaning up my place, and having to choose the few things I was going to keep (having in mind my 20KG luggage allowance!!!!)… In the end I still kept few boxes that are waiting for me in the UK… I’m going there in the end of this month, and I plan to have a second go in giving away my stuff… than, as usual, organize a “Friends’ Bazaar” where my friends simply help themselves and pick up whatever they want to keep, the rest of the things I don’t need, I plan to simply give to the Charity Shop, to be re-sold…
Everything I consume has an impact in the world
Uhm, I think this is very difficult for me on the road.
While writing this, many times I caught myself really thinking about my consumption in the road and how it differs from when I’m home. If I would take the last week as an example, it would be super simple to cut consumption down since I was in a 5* hotel, with all inclusive system. But if I consider my normal routine, I think I’m in general quite good in keeping a low consumption.
For the last 5 years I’ve been vegetarian, a decision I took in order to reduce my carbon-footprint. Recently I was working in Turkiye and Zambia, both places which have a strong meat-based diet, so I’ve started eating meat again. It makes things normally easy and even cheaper, and it saves me from forever lasting discussions with people who don’t understand the concept of being a vegetarian by choice. I quite like eating meat, and it’s alright for me… although I tried to keep low meat consumption, I find it very difficult to avoid meat when I’m travelling. When I cook myself, very rarely I use any kinds of meat, I really prefer cooking vegetarian dishes, and I know a lot of good recipes for that. But normally when I’m eating out, I’ve been eating meat in most of my meals. That is something I want to change. I think I need to reduce my meat consumption again, and try at least to keeping a mostly vegetarian diet.
When I’m travelling I also tend to over consume coffee, coca-cola, red-bull and things with caffeine. This is mostly because I work long hours and need help in keeping energy levels high and staying awake. But under normal circumstances back home, I normally don’t consume much of those things… so I might try to reduce the amount of caffeine I consume when I’m working abroad as well, even though I know this will be VERY difficult.
Finally, one thing that I know I have to reduce is my shower time… easy when we have a bathtub and can use less water. But I normally relax in the shower, and stay for minutes there. I’ve started to pay more attention to the water I’m wasting, and trying to half the time I use in the shower to start with.