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Eco@Africa

Let's talk about... burning trash

It's no secret that explosive population rates are leading to ever-growing mountains of waste. Some countries burn their trash - along the lines of out of sight, out of mind. But does it really go away?

We're a pretty messy bunch, us humans. Wherever we go, we leave a trail of trash in our wake. And that's a growing problem, especially in places where there's no established collection and disposal system.

Africa, by way of example, generates an estimated 200 million tons (APINA) of rubbish annually, as much as 50 percent of which is thrown into landfill, where it contaminates groundwater and soil and leads to the production of methane - a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide - or becomes fuel for open burning.

And there's a thing. The very name, open burning, and the smoke that billows from its uncontrolled roar, leaves little to the imagination. Though they might remove raging piles of trash from sight, they don't remove them per se.

For what goes up must eventually come down. And much of it does, in the form of toxins that settle on our crops, our oceans, rivers and even our skin. Other particles remain in the atmosphere contributing to global warming and entering the human body as carcinogens through the respiratory system.

It's a catalogue of ills to match most any and enough to warn us off an increasingly common practise - yet it doesn't mean trash should never be burned. Sweden is the master of managed waste-to-energy incineration, and even imports unrecyclable garbage from its neighbors to collectively provide heat and electricity to more than a million homes.

Getting that technology to every corner of the globe will require as much patience as it will cash, but one day it - or something like it that has yet to be invented - will happen. Because it has to. That much is obvious. And in the meantime, we can mould our dreams into small-scale green realities, by recycling, upcycling and treating waste as a resource - both phsyical and financial - and a means of excercising the boundlessness of the human imagination.

Yes, trash is all around us. It is an inevitability of the modern age. But what we do with it, is not. So let's talk... what do you do with your waste?

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