Scholars from around the globe come to Berkeley to study a variety of subjects. This month, one of those subjects was trash.
Sonia Mendoza came from the Philippines. Zini Mokhine came from South Africa. And Shibu Nair came from India. Supported by Berkeley’s Ecology Center and the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance’s Zero Waste Fellowship, the visitors spent three weeks gaining first-hand insights into Berkeley’s waste removal and recycling programs.
While Berkeley has had recycling and composting programs in place for nearly three decades, less developed nations are just beginning to address the growing piles of waste in their homeland.
We don’t have anything like [these recycling programs]. Everything [in South Africa] goes in one container," said Mokhine, who works for Earthlife Africa, one of the oldest environmental organizations in South Africa. “I learned quite a lot here.”
What they learned in Berkeley was to reduce, reuse and recycle and to ‘please don’t burn.’
Mokhine marveled at Berkeley’s recycling infrastructure. “Recycling is quite an accomplished process here," he said. “The other thing that was an inspiration to me is the reuse." He pointed to the Urban Ore site as an example of this kind of thrift.
But the South African man also said that American ways could be improved and that the United States has trash problems too.
There is a lot of waste because there’s a lot of unnecessary consumption, driven by the profit-making American psyche,” he said. “When you look at some of the materials that are discarded, it totally explains the [attitude]. I wouldn’t copy America on that score.”
Mendoza, who works for Mother Earth Unlimited in Manila, echoed Mokine’s sentiments. “I learned that people [in the United States] are disciplined, putting plastics #1 and #2 in the right containers,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of waste... directly proportional to per capita income level. We generate a lot less in Philippines.”
Nair, who works for Thanal Conservation Action Network in India, also offered perspective on America’s ways.
“[Here in the United States] I saw glass bottles, perfect in shape, being crushed and melted for making glass,” he said. “Actually, that is energy lost. In India [that is] employment for washing and cleaning.”
Nair offered some positive sentiments about Berkeley as well. “Berkeley has a lot of community-based activities and lots of laws. Americans have 30 years of experience.”
The common goal of the visiting scholars is to introduce “Zero Waste” programs in their homes.
While the focus of Berkeley’s Ecology Center is reuse and recycling, the international GAIA’s goal is to eliminate incineration as a waste-disposal means. Incineration is hardly common in the West, but many developing nations are being asked by manufacturers to consider burning as a quick-fix method of getting rid of mounting consumer and industrial debris.
Incinerators are banned in the Philippines, but not in South Africa or India.
Dave Williamson, operations manager of the Ecology Center, said the international fellowships were a good platform for information exchange.
“We got a feeling of solidarity and of confidence. They [the visiting scholars] learned a lot about the people of the United States,” he said.
Williamson said he learned from the visitors.
“With plastic, there’s not much you can do with it, so in India they are replacing it with jute,” a fiber for sacking and cordage obtained from two Asian plants, he said. “They also use banana leaves to make disposable utensils [which] are different looking, but first world Americans would feel comfortable using them.”
The Ecology Center and GAIA have plans to train as many as 100 international colleagues through similar programs.