It’s been weeks since the city council last collected refuse from the residents of Bulawayo. Refuse bags have piled, bins are full, bad odour and flies are now a common feature in different homes. Sithandazile and Tsitsi have decided to take the matter in their hands and throw the litter at a bush a mile away from their homes. It’s just before dusk, there are less people walking outside giving the two friends an opportune time to illegal dump their garbage without anyone seeing them. “Sithandazile hurry no one must see us,” says Tsitsi. The two friends quickly dump their garbage whose plastics are open, leaving the contents spilling over and rush back home.
Many of us are like Tsitsi and Sithandazile we worry about our immediate environment and forget the responsibility to protect our planet. We are well aware that we are not supposed to throw litter or garbage anyway or everywhere but we still do so. “It is not our duty but the duty of the city council to ensure our environment is clean. Besides we pay them for that,” that’s our attitude! But then do we ever think of the effects of our actions or genuinely we are not aware of the repercussions of our actions on the environment?
The malpractice is termed illegal dumping because of the harm it causes on the environment. Not only does throwing garbage on open areas or practising unhygienic habits have adverse effects on the environment but it causes health and safety risks, place animals and plants at risk and strain the national budget because of excess costs. In the world Naples is an example, where toxic waste dumping has had an adverse impact of causing high rates of cancer, allergies and birth defects. Another example is Surat in India where a pneumonic plague broke out in 1994 causing 52 deaths because of unhygienic conditions.
Unfortunately, some of the everyday decisions we take for granted thinking are for our convenience can in the long term inconvenience us. Below i highlight the effects of illegal dumping on the environment, according to Eco- labs and Conserve Energy and Future:
- Illegal Dumping damages the environment: Land, water, soil and air pollution are primarily caused by illegal dumping. The chemicals and non-biodegradable materials in the waste affect the physical environment and water ways by contaminating ground water and soil. Hazardous household waste items such as batteries, computer equipment and left over paint particularly can be dangerous to surface water. Air pollution causes various respiratory diseases and other health effects as contaminants are absorbed from lungs into other parts of the body. The toxic substances in air contaminated by waste include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.
- Health and Safety Risks: Unmaintained and overflowing bins are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, insects and vermin. The flies that roam on the garbage are the same flies dropping their offsprings on your plate. By so doing they increase the risk of you contracting salmonella, which causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, enteric fever, gastroenteritis etc.( Ecolabs, 2016) . Throwing hazardous waste that may contain toxic substances, sharp objects and contaminated waste like broken glasses, pampers, batteries, tins, tires, bulbs, rotten food etc., pose serious health and safety risks to children who may pick, eat or play with it.
- Illegal dumps can be fire hazards: dumping of chemicals or explosive materials like batteries can augment the risk of wildfires. Cigarette butts may also start fires.
- Entire Community put at risk: illegal dumpsites can block storm water drainage systems, thereby causing flooding. Flooding can also be breeding ground for mosquitoes which cause malaria.
- Animals and plants put at risk: waste dumped in forests or other natural environments containing harmful substances may lead to spread of diseases among different animals in the food chain. Some garbage compounds may alter the pH level of the soil. Change in acidity level and the elements of the soil caused by illegal dumping may lead to adverse effects on their growth behaviour.
- Financial burden on tax payers: Tax payers’ money is committed towards cleaning the mess brought about by illegal dumping. Municipalities spend a lot of money fixing natural areas and infrastructure affected by illegal dumping.
- Less tourists: a dirty city means less tourists and less money to boost the economy.
To achieve environmental sustainability it is important that we become environmental conscious. It is everyone‘s responsibility to practice environmental friendly habits and set an example for our children on how to keep our environment clean all the times. Such a daily habit will help us control pollution, conserve our natural resources, control spread of diseases, save tax payers money and recycle. Instead of illegal dumping we can recycle our large amounts of waste by taking it to official waste disposal sites. Odilo Linzi from Orleans Waste Management said that “The most common and effective method of waste management at family level is to separate waste using bins or bin liners to segregate garbage through labels plastic, glass and garden organic. This method is environmental friendly and makes it easy for waste recyclers.”
We can also compost our food waste and use the compost for our garden. We can also reduce paper usage. At the office instead of printing utilise soft copies. Use grocery bags instead of plastics. All these habits are possible if we all it take it upon ourselves to be environmental conscious, it all begins with you. Someone is watching and you could be the person to change environmental attitudes and behaviours with your actions! We would love to hear how you dispose your waste/ litter/ garbage that could help everyone to be environmental friendly. Please share your ideas on the comment section so that we learn from you too!!
Loraine Phiri is a communications officer whose vision is to inform, engage and empower communities to be active change makers in their development. She hopes her communication skills will contribute to the achievement and realisation of Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063. She can be reached on her email email@example.com.