Monday, April 13, 2009

Garbage in Ulaanbaatar

I recently saw in a news item that the mayor of Ulaanbaatar has decided to get tough on the garbage problem in the city. His solution struck me as a bit curious. He wants to recruit private business in the effort to clean up the streets, presumably by better enforcing or encouraging responsible disposal of trash. This may be a fair solution to one aspect of the trash problem, but I certainly hope it is not considered the panacea for the problem.

It has been striking this spring since the snow and ice has melted to notice just how much trash there is in the city. The other day I was looking out my apartment window at a group of new mothers standing and chatting while rocking their babies, and I noticed that they were standing among trash. It was everywhere. Plastic bags, bottles, broken glass, bones, you name it, and it was there. The Selbe River is not much better. This river which runs north to south past the US embassy and the Sky Center is looking especially polluted and trashy this spring. Now, it is possible that businesses are dumping their trash up stream or near the playground by my apartment building, but it seems more likely the trash is coming from poor sanitation services or households disinclined to properly dispose of waste. In my neighborhood, at least, it seems primarily to be a household and individual problem rather than a private business one.

As a person who utilizes the Selbe River as one of only a handful of precious green spaces left in the city, I certainly feel motivated to help out in doing my part to clean up that space, as well as the playground behind my apartment building. But, I don't exactly feel empowered to do it. For one, even if I did take it upon myself to clean up the Selbe, it would be a Quixotic pursuit at best. There is just too much trash for one person to collect. Another reason is that I am not sure what I would do with the trash once I collected it. I am sure my apartment manager would soon get irritated if I filled up the trash shoot with garbage from the river. Not to mention, I am not even sure if my apartment manager properly disposes of our trash, too!

So, I hope the mayor's office does in fact get tough on cleaning up the city, but I think part of the solution should involve getting private citizens empowered to make a positive contribution to the effort. Whether it's walking the extra five steps to the garbage can on the street to dispose of a ice cream wrapper, or it's forming groups of neighbors to clean up areas that we all live and play in, offering practical ways for disposing of this garbage once it is collected. This stuff does not happen automatically, so someone needs to take the lead role in organizing households and individuals to take the trash problem seriously. Otherwise, we are going to be buried alive in trash in this city.


Mic said...

You should always keep in mind that if you don't clean your mess in the place where you work, the tendency would be to lose the drive to work harder.

amstravels said...

I've been having discussions with colleagues about small businesses collecting directly from households and connecting to recycling networks to prevent rubbish dumping in the first place. There seems to be a consensus that this will work - as long as it is cheaper and the collection more regular than the existing waste collection services. I hope so!

Mongoliamel said...

Darn. I wish I'd seen this post before so I could have shown it to my administrators. We just planned a student clean-up day, and one the places we considered was the river you're talking about. Final choice was to take them to the outskirts of UB where it's more countryside-ish. Sadly, the places in this city that need clean-up are endless.