A change in behavior and the public’s participation are key factors for functional waste management.
Waste is increasing
Humanity has created 8.3 billion tons of plastics since large-scale production of synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or in the natural environment. Globally, some 3.5 billion people lack access to formal waste management services and the population from remote areas in Afghanistan is no exception.
Global plastic pollution numbers are mind boggling: 500 billion plastic bags are used each year, one million plastic bottles bought every minute; most plastics do not biodegrade, so the plastic waste humans have generated could remain for a hundred or several hundreds of years. More and more plastic waste is found in the Afghan landscape, even in such places that deserve or already have the status of a national park. It is said that a dip in the lakes of Band-e-Amir, the first Afghan national park, will cure you from diseases, however the rubbish and waste that seems to end up in the lakes would suggest otherwise.
Community based initiative in Sokhtagi
Shocked by the amount of garbage littering the lakes, marshes and rivers of the region of Sokhtagi, Nai Qala’s president shared her sad feelings with the local community during her stay in the area, in March 2018. Her words resonated positively with the population and encouraged them to take action. At the end of June 2018, the school council of Sokhtagi organized a general waste collection day where more than 350 people participated. Parents, schoolteachers and students gathered several dozens of kilos of plastic, glass, metal and fabric from Sokhtagi marsh and its surroundings.
Such motivation among the community of Sokhtagi, in a historically isolated region, is remarkable. Among many other benefits, is the building of a school that makes villagers more aware of their environment. “We have one of the most beautiful lakes on our doorstep, we must take care of it and, who knows, one day our village might become an area that will attract many outsiders to visit” said a gentleman who was among the cleaning volunteers.
Becoming aware of the environment and the generated waste
Nai Qala promotes sustainability values and engages the community to be mindful of their environment and take care of nature. Nai Qala encourages the community of all the villages where it builds schools and health centers, and ensures the environment is discussed with the beneficiaries of its programs.
At a time when the World Bank estimates that global solid waste generation is on pace to increase by 70 percent by 2025, with developing countries facing the greatest challenges, such community based initiatives give a strong signal of hope. Not only a waste collection day, but also a critical thinking about the materials populations use as well as good waste management practices will help keep those remote regions of central Afghanistan clean. Let’s hope that waste reduction, waste collection, being thoughtful about what one buys and choosing a sustainable option whenever possible will become part of the local culture.
Roland Geyer et al. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, July 2017 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782