As the tropical rain pours down outside, I am sitting here hoping that the tide is out. Otherwise, tomorrow morning we are going to wake up to news and images of the flooding throughout the lower parts of Panama City.
Unfortunately, Panama City has not done a great job of “city planning”, especially in respect to natural runoffs and areas of watershed. As the population and housing needs expand, the city has expanded. Encroaching on tidelands and mangrove forests. Though there has been a move now to curb the expansion into the mangroves, there has still been a lot of land-fill of the tidelands that were once the watersheds of the river basin. So, areas which were built 40-50 years ago, which have never flooded before, now flood regularly when the high tide and tropical rain meet.
Many people accuse the government of failing to deal with the issue of waste and rubbish blocking the sewage and storm water drains. But the issue is much bigger than this; there are
- The typical issues of rubbish bags being opened by stray dogs, cats or vultures.
- Failure to collect rubbish regularly (most weeks our rubbish is collected on a Sunday, or not). Sometimes we simply have to call and beg them to send a special truck to pick up because it’s been so long.
- Homes here don’t have gardens and composting: and most people don’t even know what compost is anyway.
- This is the tropics – you can’t just leave rubbish out for more than a day without it starting to turn rancid.
- Re-cycling is virtually non-existent here and there is only a small culture of reuse and recycle.
I’m aware of this every Saturday when I go to the market with my own bags and I still have to refuse the offer of a plastic bag at each stall. I’m aware of this when I go to the supermarket and I see that most people are not carrying their own bags. And I’m aware of it when I see the rubbish on the sides of the streets.
This issue has not been addressed by recycling stations at the primary schools or outside supermarkets or gas stations. Even trying to recycle paper and cardboard in Panama seems to be hard work! They don’t come and pick it up – you have to drive it over and drop it off. How many companies or homes are going to take the time to do that?
But I am even aware of it in my kitchen. Every maid so far has had to be trained not to simply throw away the peel and veggies that are “up to scratch”. They don’t realize that those ugly veggies that are not pretty enough for the salad can be used to make a fabulous vegetable broth!
And then they complain to me that I don’t have any bullion cubes for veggie broth! Really? Admittedly, my cooked veggies from the broth that I then throw away (and keep only the broth) probably decompose much faster in the rubbish than the raw ones would have – they probably smell more as well.
But more than anything, I am appalled by the packaging at the supermarkets (not that I buy my veggies at the supermarket anymore) – the way that they individually wrap all in Styrofoam and glad-wrap! As if there wasn’t enough rubbish already.
But this is definitely a modern day problem, the same way that the floating island of rubbish is a problem in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the plastic now found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench!
There are ingenious solutions found in a number of parts of the world, such as this solution to “flip-flops”:
It’s really easy to complain about the problem, it’s much harder to do something about it. Even on a personal level. I can make small choices:
- a recycling bin in the yard (because I’m lucky enough to have a yard)
- the choice to take my own bags to the vegetable market and supermarkets and only buy fruit and veggies that are not pre-packaged
- the conscious decision to hold onto the paper to take it to the recycling plant ourselves
- metal / glass water bottles – which we refill regularly rather than buying bottled water
But the plastic bags, bottles and packaging issues need to be addressed on a massive scale if we are going to make any headway. My little contribution is only a tiny grain of sand in the Sahara desert and that’s not enough.