Hannah Hughes is spending three months volunteering in Bangladesh with Tearfund Go. Together with the youth in the local community they are transforming how plastic waste is collected and recycled.
Driving to the beautiful Badarpur - a town south of Dhaka, the capital city - we pass buses tarnished with scrapes and dents and decorated with adventurous colours. Tiny rickshaws crammed with people slither through every available space possible on the road.
Badarpur is inescapably green, unlike much of the UK. Trees stretch as high as your eyes could take you, while new tastes and smells test your senses.
Its beauty is short-lived. There is rubbish everywhere. Every corner and crevice holds secret stashes of plastic bottles, discarded packaging, abandoned rags and scuffed shoes, tucked away, trying to be out of sight. With 4,500 tonnes of waste being produced per day in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka alone, you can imagine the impact the lack of waste management is having across Bangladesh.
Waste is a global problem too. Every 30 seconds the UK public throws away two double-decker busloads of plastic. Rubbish collection and disposal in the UK makes this easy to ignore.
There are no dustbins and no bin lorries in many poorer parts of Bangladesh. This means that people often have no choice but to live among their rubbish or burn it, which releases chemicals like carbon dioxide into the environment. The effect on people's health and the environment is devastating.
Meeting the community that we were going to live with for the next three months, we realised that this was a huge problem for them too. Getting together, we started to think creatively and sustainably about what we could do to reduce the rubbish.
Bag it up
Looking to inspire the local youth and engage them in making their town litter-free, we organised a weekly village clean up. Our motto, ‘Chollo Badarpur (Let's go Badarpur), make beautiful Badarpur!’ cheered them on.
Springing into action, our creative team designed handmade posters and flyers and distributed them around the community, inviting everyone to come and join in.
On Sunday, we headed to the heart of the village with gloves and rubbish bags in hand, ready for our first collection. As we set out and began to collect the litter, more and more children came to help. It was a huge success! Everyone had huge smiles on their faces as they filled their bags with rubbish. It was amazing how such a simple activity could empower young people to make a difference in their community.
Wealth from waste
Talking to our new Bangladeshi friends we discovered that a local plastic collector regularly travelled through the village. He was unmistakable when he came. Balancing on his shoulders he carried a huge makeshift pair of weighing scales made of bamboo, with baskets hanging on either end. He carefully sorted through our offerings, and paid for the items that he could take away to sell.
While reducing waste overall is ultimately the goal (and Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign calls on multinational companies to take responsibility for the waste their products create), recycling waste is the next best option. Recycling plastic in Badarpur was a huge accomplishment towards a longer-term goal, where we could see how discarded plastic could generate income for the youth programmes in the community.
With the bottles that weren’t recyclable we decided to get creative. With scissors and pots of paint in hand, the local youth had soon transformed them into beautiful plant pots and hanging baskets.
Already colour and life has come into this local community through a small and simple change. Badarpur’s young people are becoming the life and soul of this small community and have shown how God’s own beautiful creation should be protected.
With the support of the local youth, plans are underway to install bins – made from bamboo – around the village, and encourage more regular waste collection and recycling.
What story could you be a part of? Volunteer overseas with Tearfund Go www.tearfund.org/go.