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Oh, I Love Trash

This is a trashy tale. An tale of the refuse that leaves my house….besides this blog.


I’ll preface this by saying this is purely an anecdotal tale, based purely on observation, nearly non-existent research, and lots of speculation.

As with many of the posters on the Internet, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to digging for answers.  


I’m also lazy and illiterate in the local language. Which probably also applies to many things written on the Internet.


I don’t know quite why, but I’ve been tuned into what happens to my trash since I got here. Maybe, because I’m surrounded by so much garbage, maybe because the system seems so efficient and horrifying at the same time.


This is the cycle of trash as I see it.   


The yards in most homes in Jakarta are walled and somewhere in the wall closest to the street is a 2’x2′ metal door that leads to a 3×3 foot concrete box. Some of these boxes have lids, some do not. Mine does but it’s rusted open.

It’s into this concrete box that all my secret Asian trash flows. Paper, glass, plastic, food scraps, yard waste. If we don’t want it, that’s where it goes.  If it’s been a busy week, the box overflows. If not, it fills half the box.  


Once a week or so, a man comes.  I think that I pay him $1.50.  He unlocks the door crawls through the 2’X 2’ door and pulls out all the trash.  


This is where the first sort takes place.  High value items like glass, metal, discarded gold bullion are taken here.  I know this because our pembantu has asked us to presort this stuff.  Cardboard is also valuable.  So much so that she keeps this and has her friend come get this separately. Yard waste is cleaned out of the box and piled on the curb outside.  Everything else is re-bagged and hauled away.  


The yard waste sits on the curb for an undetermined amount of time. Someone must come for it, because the pile ebbs and flows. Some must rot, some definitely blows down the street.


The bagged trash is taken down the block It is piled in the shadow of, and downwind from, a gleaming new office tower. This is where the next sort takes place. Extraneous food and food just beyond its use by date is taken by people.  That deemed unfit for humans is left for the rats. What the rats don’t get, is left for the dogs and the cats.  That is the animal hierarchy in this concrete jungle.  What the animals don’t eat rots in the sun.  


Paper is separated from the good plastic. Plastic like cups and bottles is good plastic.  That is all taken and recycled by whoever gets there first.  The, now often opened garbage bags, filled with unusable things like plastic bags and cellophane are sometime piled, but mostly they are strewn there on the road.  Winds come and blow it down the street.  


Once every week or two, someone comes along and scrapes what is left of the piles into a large dumpster and hauls it all away to who knows where. It is lost to me.


The yard waste and plastic waste that has blown away down the street ends up in two places. Neither of them are good.  


Some of it blows into drainage ditches, which lead to canals, which leads to rivers, which leads to the sea.  It blocks at choke points and stops the whole city up. It is a major cause of seasonal flooding. There are men whose job it is to clean up plastic from these choke points 24 hours per day.  For if it’s ignored, the city will drown.  


The other place the wind borne detritus ends up, is the curbs and gutters where it is swept up daily by

neighborhood street sweepers into nice neat  and tiny piles and promptly set alight into illegal fires.

Flying in over the city one can spot thousands upon thousands of these tiny fires spewing blue, carbonized plastic smoke and filth into the air. Nanometer sized particles are inhaled by the millions of us who neglect to wear a mask likely accumulating in our lungs, blood streams and end organs, saved for further disposition until our likely untimely deaths. .

See what I mean?  Plastic to ashes, ashes to dust. It is totally efficient.

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