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Recycle, Re-use, Reduce?

Written on: Monday November 24th, 2008

A journal entry from: Discovering Indonesia

Many of us grew up hearing over and over again how important it was to remember to always throw our garbage in the garbage cans, recycle whatever we could, use compost, etc. etc.  Therefore, although I'm probably not the "greenest" citizen I could be, I have to say that seeing the situation in Indonesia was truly eye-opening and showed me how well off we still are in Canada.

My very first morning walk to work in Banda Aceh-Indonesia, essentially sums up the environmental conditions of the region:

My first day of work, I woke up to a horrific smell my nose had never come in contact with in my entire life.  It wasn't until I climbed out of bed and walked into our living room to find our maid (which I was not aware we had) outside in our yard standing over an enormous cloud of smoke, that I realized where it was coming from.  Standing there with a big smile on his face, he continued to empty out the contents of every garbage-can we had, into this enormous bonfire!  Needless to say, we were all a little bit shocked but it was quite obvious that this was a common every-day practice so we tried our best to continue getting ready for work...while inhaling as little times as possible :P

Out on the main street, we realized that almost every house had a huge cloud of smoke hovering over it which quickly demonstrated to us, that 8am-9am was clearly the "burning garbarge hour" of the day for the entire neighbourhood.  We later found out that there were no such thing as garbage trucks.  Locals had the option to drop off their garbage at a central garbage dump, which in the end would only be turned into the mother of all bonfires.  Hence why locals preferred to skip the trip to the dump and just burn it in the comfort of their own backyards.  We learned quickly that recycling was out of the question for us as it would all be thrown into the same fire in the end anyway.

The main street we took to work, we ended up nick-naming the "pot-hole street" because of the endless pot-holes or rather, entire blocks of missing side-walk along the way.  Each hole would be filled with sewage water, garbage wrappers, urine, feces, and consequently, tons and tons of flies.  Again, because of the lack of garbage cans anywhere, garbage collecting facilities of any kind, and also the fact that the majority of locals didn't have any form of plumbing/toilet facilities in their homes, this was not only the case for the pot-holes on the street but also the river that ran along the road behind our house.  The same river that the poor families of Banda Aceh have no choice but to use for bathing, cooking or even drinking water.  

This is only a small window into the reality of the environmental situation in Aceh and the many basic services and facilities they struggle to have access to. This in turn makes us realize, once again, how lucky we are here in Canada and thus how much more we should be taking advantage of the environmental services and facilities we DO have at our disposal.