Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I have to say a word about waste. In Western societies, we are used to buying and throwing away. When living in Europe, I was always shocked at the amount of daily waste one family could generate. Plastic, paper, used batteries, cardboard, glass, left-over food, everything was in one way or another disposed of. Some of it was supposedly recycled, which made us feel better, but that didn’t reduce the amount of waste we produced. Hard to quantify, but as a family we filled up at least two 100-litres bin bags per week, so that multiplied with the number of families in one city only, and the figure takes frightening proportions.
Living in Ethiopia gives me a new prospective on the issue of recycling. Here people truly recycle everything, because everything has a value. An empty plastic bottle can be sold on the street to someone who will find an inventive use for it. Empty cardboard boxes are redecorated to become wardrobes and shelves in houses. Clothes change hand several times. Even when worn out, they are endlessly repaired to be sold again to new owners. Glass bottles are automatically reused. If fact, we can’t buy coca-cola or beer in a shop without bringing back the empty bottles, just like in Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s before the industry invented mass production of plastic. At home, we drink mineral water from a refrigerated water fountain or dispenser (the same type as commonly found in offices). I was surprised to find that the plastic container costs far more that its content at about 10 euros for 20 litres, compared to 0.8 euros for the water only. So, the second time I bought water (which is delivered at home), I only paid 1.6 euros for 40 litres, because I gave back the empty containers.
Paper too has its value. One area of Addis is known for its binder makers. During the sunny season, they lay pages and pages of old sheets of paper to dry on the side of the road. These can be old accountancy spread sheets, hospital patient cards, or business records. They will take a new life as filing binders in stationary shops.
Food also is a highly sensitive issue; it feels like a real offence to throw it out. In Europe, I used to bin food leftover on the plate. Here I put it in a plastic bag and give it away, and if I don’t do it, the babysitter will. A few days ago, I asked her to give the rest of the food to the local beggars in our area, but she replied that she would take it home and eat it herself. I had said to her that she could help herself if she was hungry, but she seems to prefer her own food. As a result, a small kitchen bin is more than enough, which we use mainly for unavoidable waste such as fruit and vegetable peel, or the occasional wrapping paper. We are learning parcimony in our fridge as opposed to our customary abundance.