Saturday, January 31, 2009

Garbage in, garbage out

My biggest pet peeve is when store clerks automatically try to put whatever you are buying in a plastic bag. In New York, it is really annoying. In Nigeria, it should be criminal.

I was thinking about this because today -- the last Saturday of the month -- is Environmental Day here, when there is no movement allowed between 7 and 10 a.m., and everyone is supposed to clean up the area around their home.

Lagos is very dirty. There are no garbage baskets, so everyone just throws garbage on the ground or in the gutters. You can't really blame them. I will even admit that I have dropped a dripping frozen yogurt package on the ground once or twice already. But the worst culprits are plastic shopping bags. And, unlike in India, where you see the "untouchables" manuvering carts of refuse around each morning, there is little infrastructure in Nigeria for picking the trash up.
So, I was very interested in this social experiment . Were the Lagosian people just saving themselves for Environmental Day? Would they turn out and scrub their city clean?

Not really. I was underwhelmed. One thing that was effective was the no-traffic rule. Savior and I went for a run at 7 a.m., and it was true -- there was no one on the road. Police were out in full force to enforce the ban -- they even stopped us at one point and told us that we should be home cleaning. We talked our way out of it and finished a great run on the empty streets (below).

But the pick-up idea was less impressive. After the run I grabbed a bucket and rake and set out to clean the street in front of the office. Sadly, I was almost all alone. It seemed like most people used the morning to catch up on their sleep. Some boys played soccer in the street.

Nice as the idea of Environmental Day may be, trash removal is a classic government function. The Nigerian government can't get off so easy by expecting the people to do all the work -- especially because the people here are mostly struggling to survive. Maybe Nigeria needs a tax on plastic bags, which led to a 90% reduction in Ireland? Or maybe all the police we saw on the streets this morning should be deployed to clean the gutters instead?

Any thoughts?

No comments:

Post a Comment