Clara Kollm

Clara Kollm (Chintan Environmental Action and Research Group - Chintan): During her undergraduate study, Clara worked abroad in Thailand and travelled widely in Southeast Asia. At the time of her fellowship, she was pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. While at UMD, Clara also completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management and a certificate in Public Leadership. She also interned in Washington D.C. with a non-profit environmental law firm, Earthjustice. After her fellowship Clara wrote: "Being in India and learning about an international NGO is invaluable to me and my education. This experience ...has given me a greater appreciation for the human condition. This was my first experience with that level of poverty, and I predict that this experience will continue to influence my life choices.”

Waste, waste, everywhere

05 Jul

In Delhi, trash is part of the day-to-day reality; it’s on the streets, it’s in the rivers, it’s everywhere. Since this is not the reality I experience in the United States, it would be easy for me to divorce the waste management issues I see in Delhi as solely being India’s issue, but that would be a mistake. In fact, waste is one of the few things that ALL humans have in common. We may not see trash, but don’t be fooled! Issues related to waste management are rampant in the US as well. Here are some interesting articles about waste-related issues that caught my attention!

– According to this Grist article, half of the litter in the San Francisco Bay area comes from fast food!

– This New York Times article describes a conflict between affluent Upper East Side residents and nearby residents in a less affluent area about where to locate a waste transfer station. The article details how waste transfer stations are disproportionately located in low income areas and the class conflict that this breeds.

-There are new electronic waste rules for North and South Carolina that are outlined in this Huffington Post article. I found this one particularly interesting because the other Chintan intern, Abby, is working on India’s new e-waste rules because lots of e-waste is exported to India where waste-pickers work with it in abismal conditions.

– This Grist article describes how Austin, Texas could become the first city to have a no-packaging grocery store! If people generate less trash, then waste management becomes more manageable, and landfills don’t fill up as quickly. People often forget that with waste management comes questions about consumption (and over consumption) patterns.

– For those of you who are business minded, this article in the Sustainable Business Forum overviews how sustainability is essential for “high performing supply chains.” The article quotes an excellent paper written in the European Financial Review by Dr. Chris Laszlo and Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva (authors of a new book Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advange):

“the linear throw-away economy, in which products and services follow a one-way trajectory from extraction to use and disposal, can no longer be supported, as we are simply running out of things to unearth and place to landfill. Consumers, employees, and investors are beginning to demand socially and environmentally-savvy products without compromise, while radical transparency is putting every company under a microscope.”

Another issue that is intimately tied to waste management is water pollution. If you haven’t heard of the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch, read this. To give an overview, the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch is literally an aquatic landfill approximately the size of Texas (some estimates are much larger) that was discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Some say that this is the largest landfill in the world, and to think – it happened by accident. Trash from all over the world entered waterways where it just floated along and followed natural currents. These natural currents trapped the garbage in a large gyre, and created the landfill. The majority of garbage in the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch is plastic, read about the effects that plastic has on the ecosystem here.

Despite the size of this issue, it is still relatively unknown so Plastiki (a boat made entirely of plastic bottles) and crew set sail across the Pacific in 2010 to raise awareness. Read more about this incredible journey here.

So remember, even though you aren’t in Delhi with me looking at the trash on the streets – you can still be learning about waste management and waste related issues. Just because you don’t see the problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that you aren’t unknowingly contributing. Here are some things you can do:

1) Stop using plastic bags because there is really no excuse to be using plastic bags anymore. Delhi has actually banned them to help with it waste management problems. If people in Delhi can do it everyday, you can too. Yes it takes a few times to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store, but here in Delhi if you don’t have them you have to buy new ones! Try holding yourself to that model and you’ll learn quickly.

2) Find out where your trash goes. Ask some questions about which transfer station your garbage goes to so that you can be more aware about space limitations and other issues. In MA we bring our trash directly to the transfer station (rather then have trash pickup) and that is certainly a cool place to go. If you haven’t ever been to a transfer station, it’s worth a visit.

3) Recycle. If you recycle, then those materials do not end up in the garbage, and ultimately end up being reused rather then going to a landfill or the ocean. If you have to use plastic water bottles, make sure to recycle them!

4) Vote for environmentally aware politicians on the local, state, and federal levels. With the presidential election coming up, make sure to consider the environment when selecting your candidate.

Read any good articles or have tips of your own? Post them in the comments!

Posted By Clara Kollm

Posted Jul 5th, 2011


  • Ankit

    July 5, 2011


    Love the way you are working here, Setting an example for us to wake up!

  • Karie

    July 5, 2011


    Clara, great post! I’d never heard of the Pacific Ocean garbage patch. Eek! We need some good environmental lawyers out there to take care of stuff like that… know anyone? 🙂

  • Stacy

    July 5, 2011


    I love that you’re bringing this issue “home” for your readers. It’s so easy, as you say, to click your tongue and think “oh, the developing world…” but we are all complicit and we can all make a difference. I also love that you preempt the nay-sayers by making a few practical suggestions for what we can do about it. DC started charging for plastic bags at grocery stores in Jan 2010 and the impact has been extraordinary. Keep up the good work, Clara!

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