At NBN we think and write an awful lot about consumer products, their distribution, and consumption, and over consumption too, so it’s all too easy to fall into the conventional thinking of the proudly left of center, light-footed Eco-conscious American.
So we frequently have to remind ourselves that most of the complaints we have are those that only the planet’s most fortunate people get to care about. For example our local water often smells overwhelmingly of chlorine. Yet whenever we start to whine about this we’re reminded that an estimated 20,000 people die every day from hunger and an estimated 2 million from treatable disease often caused by dirty drinking water. A big cause of the problem, as noted in Rose George’ powerful book THE BIG NECESSITY is the fact that 2.6 billion people lack any type of basic toilets.
So we put our whining in perspective. Said another way most people in the world don’t have enough to eat. We get to complain about Whole Foods Market.
After watching Garbage Dreams a remarkable documentary a whole new level of insight and appreciation was created in an hour. The movie, which has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world, will be aired as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series on April 27th at 10:00 pm (check your local PBS listings).
The film follows three teenage friends in Cairo who work as Zaballeen, or garbage collectors. A community of 60,000 Coptic Christians living on the outskirts of the city, in a ghetto that is one of the world’s largest garbage village, the Zaballeen have been the primary garbage collectors of Cairo for decades.
In order to make enough money to live on, the Zaballeen who gather garbage by hand, recycle an amazing 80% of the garbage they collect creating what is far and away the most efficient resource recovery system in the world.
Yet when Cairo, a city of 18 million decides to modernize and hire three international waste disposal companies the way of life for the Zaballeen is thrown into peril. The Zaballeen form a school and seek to modernize their collection methods while seeking to educate Cairo about the wasteful and inefficient ways of the modern disposal companies who landfill most of the garbage that the Zaballeen would recover and sell.
This is a powerful socioeconomic documentary. It is a personal one as well. The film details the hopes and dreams of the teens who have been working as and derided as garbage boys since they were very, very young.
Its a remarkable film that in those overused words is life changing. No its not merely that the next time NBN wonders whether to wash out and reuse that Ziploc bag or toss our those plastic takeout containers from our favorite Thai place that our town doesn’t recycle (they’re number 5 plastic) we’ll think twice. Nor is it about what to do with the used tin foil, old toaster ovens, leaf blowers and laptops.
Whether or not we throw them out, post some on FreeCycle or take others to the dump, we know one thing for certain. We’ll be more grateful for those things we take for granted, including that chlorinated water, as well as the bathroom that lets us have our choice of water, hot, cold or warm.
Visit the Garbage Dreams website and click on the How to Help tab on the top of the page for more information and ways to help out the Recycling School. You can also learn more about the school on Facebook or you can make a donation here