CLEAN the mess that we created

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(original posting at Express Tribune, Also original inspiration of idea was by SEECS social entrepreneurship club which was replicated at a wider scale at EME)

We have entered 2011 and still face basic sanitation and cleanliness problems. With the municipal corporation left alone to do the tasks of collecting and dumping waste, the problem seems to be going nowhere.

Waste and garbage dumps are an ordinary sight. All those years I passed by them and always wondered how this  mess can be taken care of. For all those years, the hassle of carrying empty bottles and wrappers, in a bid to find a dustbin, was quite a painful task. This thought led me to sit down and study the supply chain of waste management.

The waste management chain

The poor garbage collectors handpick bottles and cardboard from waste every morning to sell it to the kabaris. The kabaris sort it and sell it to middle men until all of it ends up with local companies who use the waste as raw material in the production of bottles, cardboard, plastic, tissue papers, newsprint paper and even white A4 paper.

The poor children, who picked out the garbage in the first place and carried it around all day, are at the bottom end of chain and receive the lowest fraction of the money made in the process – all at the cost of their education!

It might be a very difficult thing to do, but we could try to break this chain and bring in organisations in between, who take the garbage from kids, for an amount of money that can be used to educate the children.

All I ask is for are small steps which can bring change.

Cash for trash: A Rs40,000 experiment

At NUST, we did an experiment of hacking parts of this waste management chain. All we did was install separate bins for paper and other garbage. We divided the whole waste management system into two parts. Paper went to storage while the rest went into trash.

Within a semester, four tons of paper was collected with a profit of Rs40,000 and a reduction in incineration by 90 per cent. What if every school and university started doing this? Let’s up it one level. What if mohallas and communities hire children to sort their entire waste, take it along, and sell it. The money paid for the collection can go for arranging for their school.

It’s not hard to recycle

Let’s take out a calculator.

An educated estimate suggests that only 21 per cent of the total waste in Lahore goes towards recycling and it generates an amount of $4.5 million. Further it can be predicted that if recycling is seriously adopted, $8.8 million can be generated from one city alone.

A recent report by Dawn News about recycling by Tetrapak (packages) portrayed a very good example of dealing with this situation. Keeping economic benefits of this process aside, taking out the trash on Sundays isn’t really that difficult and the youth in Pakistan have done it through Facebook. Organisations likeZimmedar Shehri have shown us that it is possible.

In the age of technology and Facebook (two separate ages), it’s not that hard to link organisations and form synergies to take small steps to curb such a nuisance. Organisations like EPSPakistan Sustainable NetworkPakistan Environment ClubSubh-e-nauScope are a good start for such synergies.

So for the next summer vacation, intern at such places for a change, to make a change

Chandi ghar

He is an alumnus of NUST (CEME, Electrical) 2009 Batch and Cornell University (M.Eng Systems Engineering) Class of 2011. Uzair has been an active member of student societies and EME Alumni Association. He was the co-founder of EME Environment Club and Society of ICTs (at EME College). During his undergrad he has been a correspondent of the EME college's fortnightly magazine 'campbuzz' and currently he is on the editorial panel of the EME Alumni Newsletter. Uzair is also an alumnus of ITU Telecom Asia Youth Forum (2008, Bangkok) and a proud NUSTian, who represented Pakistan at the forum. After the forum, he has been working with the youth around the globe to build a human network ( He has also been blogging for ITU (UN's sister organization) on school and community connectivity through ICTs. He is also a Project Manager at Possibilities Pakistan (a platform for Pakistani youth to discuss study abroad prospects). He can be reached at ms2346(at)cornell(.)edu

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