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Should Waste Management be a Human Right?

A question I love asking is, “Do you know where your garbage goes?”

Most people have no idea.

I don’t completely know the answer myself. I know that every Sunday night, my roommate and I are responsible for putting our trash into the outside bins provided by our landlord, but I don’t know where it goes after the City comes and collects it.

I don’t know because I don’t have to.

Start asking this question in the developing world however, and nearly everyone you talk to knows the answer.  In Haiti, people know where their trash goes, because they have to deal with it. They know because they carry it every week to throw down a ravine, or they burn it in their front yard or take it to their neighbors’ pigs.  They see the trash lying in their streets, clogging their canals, and becoming an inescapable part of their landscape.

Last year, citizens across India protested against improper waste management, which was a first for the country. The public finally reached a breaking point and brought the crises of waste to the attention of their government. Improper waste management is unsightly of course, but also quite dangerous: increasing rates of infectious disease, supporting vermin, and adding to the ‘slum mentality’ of areas that quickly come to resemble landfills more than neighborhoods.

What I find interesting about the protests in India is that it poses the question – should waste management be a human right?

We at Thread argue yes, it should be. We also believe that not only should people including the very poor have proper waste management systems, but that waste is actually the renewable resource that will be the key to these communities’ transformation.

When we look around and see the waste on the streets and bottles in the canals, we see jobs and exportable goods, and potential in places that are too often written off as too unstable for real potential.

So even more than waste management, I think Thread would make the argument that a real human right is the ability to see and pursue the potential of individuals and their communities, no matter how corrupt or broken those environments might be. We just use waste as the conduit to tap into that talent and to allow people to realize that they do have resources.


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