10-14 Trash Talk!

How long does it take for popo skin to decompose?
My job in the last year has been focused on trash. I spend a lot of time talking about trash and compost and other such goodness. It isn’t nearly as fun to write blog posts about trash as it was to write blog posts about sex. That’s why there has been less work-related things on the blog. But, here goes another update on work.
My counterpart, Brian, and I got noticed back when we did the trash boats. Since then, we’ve been working on some fairly public stuff. Most recently, we’ve been part of a team effort to change the solid waste management system in the mamas’ market.
A few quick numbers on waste management in Vila. The downtown mamas’ market produces 55 metric tons of rubbish each week. The smaller Freshwota market produces 515 kgs of rubbish each day. Of that rubbish, 97% is compostable materials such as coconut husks, leaves, cabbage stems and coconut leaf baskets. The average single-family home in Vila produces about 15 kgs of waste that is about 50% compostable each week.
Peak Tire of Mount Trash.  (More on Peak Tire later)
These numbers are important for a two reasons that I understand enough to explain. The first is that we live on a small island. Land is scarce and needed for food production, especially as town is growing and the import/export difference is not in Vanuatu’s favor. The Municipal dump was meant to last 100 years. At current rates, it will fill up in 20-30 years. This is due to the speed at which Port Vila is growing and that it is the only dump available so everyone uses it, not just people inside Municipal boundaries.
The second reason also has to do with food production. The soil in Vanuatu is extremely rich. It is the kind of rich that makes fence posts sprout. Historically, the ground has been managed using a system that in the US would be called permaculture. (Here, it’s just called farming.) The crops are mixed together and plots are rotated every 4-7 years to allow fallow time. Due to increased demand and people’s interest in winning cash money, the fallow times are shortening or disappearing entirely. At the moment, the soil is rich enough to sustain this, but it is only a matter of time before this impacts yields. Replenishing the soil now by using compost will ensure continued fertility for future generations.

Minister of the Environment, putting his rubbish away.

So, back to the market. The previous system was to heap up all the trash – organic, inorganic, and recyclable – in a couple of major places. After a few days, scrape it up with shovels and move it to where the Municipal truck can reach it. The Municipal truck would come through “twice a week” (kinda, sorta, maybe) and scoop all the now-rotting trash up into a truck that would take it away to the town dump. The market smelled like sewage and rotting food (not helped by the sewer that runs in front of the market).
The new system is a bit more complicated. The mamas, or whoever is throwing away garbage, separates the waste as they throw it away. There are 55 gallon drums placed around the market with pictures of vegetables, tin cans or plastic. The person throwing away the waste, puts the right kind of rubbish in the right bin. Municipal will carry away the green waste every day (right now it is taking 2 trips a day). They will remove the other waste twice a week. The green waste is going to Rainbow Gardens where it will be used as compost or pig food.
Painted drums to show where things go.  It isn’t working.

Brian and I fit into this in the education side. We’ve been running “awarenesses” about decomposition, compost and rubbish separation. We started by creating a timeline that showed how long it takes different kinds of garbage to decompose. (Newspaper = 3 weeks, plywood = 3 years, cigarette filter =3-5 years, biodegradable plastic bag = 13 years, etc.) Our next lesson was all about compost. We took samples of raw materials, half-composted material and fully composted material and asked the mamas to guess what was in the half-composted stuff. We also explained how they can make this at their house to improve their yields. A lot of the flower farmers already use compost, but the vegetable farmers don’t much. Now, we are focusing on appropriate waste separation. Before you think this is too basic, keep in mind there is a problem in using the toilet properly. As in, which way to sit and where the toilet paper goes. Seriously.
The new system took effect last week. I left and went to Pentecost. I’ll see how it is going when I get back to Vila. We have 2 more weeks of educational activities, then it is up to the city to maintain the system. Cross your fingers that we’ve done enough and this takes off.

Waste in the right drum!

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