A Palagi in Savaii: Recycling

As I am cleaning my whiteboard this morning with Aeroguard – because it’s the only thing that really gets a whiteboard clean aside from actual whiteboard cleaner, which we can’t get here – it’s got me thinking about how different my mindset is now from the throwaway culture I came from. Once upon a time if my shoes broke I would just throw them away and buy new ones. The problem here is that you can’t really just pop down the street and buy a new *whatever* in most cases, so I find myself super gluing everything back together thinking “I can get another month out of this”.

When I first arrived here I created a project for myself to clean out our storeroom. This was about week 4 of my life in Savaii so I was ‘green’ to say the least. A whole day spent and a wonderfully clean storeroom left me with 4 boxes of junk (as I saw it then). As I am trying to dispose of said junk, my Maintenance Manager – Sio – happens to walk past, just in time to rescue 3 out of 4 boxes which were heading for the tip. I suppose that there is a reason for this, Sio is the Samoan Macgyver, the man can make anything work!  But really you can’t risk throwing anything away in Savaii because there is usually a very good chance that you will never get it here again!

Take Sio’s car for example, if it belonged to anyone else, Samoan or not, the thing should have died about 3 years ago… He is the only one who can drive it, because he starts the thing with a screwdriver! He never drives above 40km/hour (because I don’t think the car could take it) and he is constantly replacing parts or fixing things with it, but it works! Late last year, he went to start the car with his trusty screwdriver and the key barrel completely fell apart. He grabs a taxi and heads off into the village to buy a complete new key barrel. Now excuse me for thinking common sense but when he returned and put everything back together I asked if he was happy that he could use a key to start the van from now on. He looked at me a little funny and said “no, the new barrel didn’t come with a key”. Of course by new, I think the thing was about 3 times recycled.

Replacing the key barrel in the trusty van!
Replacing the key barrel in the trusty van!

What is really strange here is that there is no official recycling program. Sure you send your beer and soft drink bottles back to the manufacturer to reuse, but as far as separating paper and plastic there is nothing. After a bit of research I found out that the very simple reason for this, recycling is too expensive in Samoa. There is nowhere to process the waste in the country and the cost of sending waste offshore for processing is horrendous so until someone has the sense and the funds to buy proper machines for recycling here we will continue to just throw our rubbish into landfill.

It is a strange contradiction here in Samoa, people will use things beyond their lifespan, a t-shirt will last until there is so many holes it is barely a shirt or shoes will last until you are basically walking barefoot with decoration, and yet littering is commonplace and recycling is non-existent. I suppose it is all about education, there are some great rubbish collection projects around in schools and I know that the tourism association puts on ‘Keep Savaii Clean’ days so the process has begun. It is just so bizarre to have come from a place where not recycling was a sin and littering was a fineable offence to one of the most pristine islands I have ever seen and see empty soft drink cans and polystyrene take away boxes lying on the side of a road, which is completely surrounded by tropical forest!

At least they’ve got the reusing part down at least, though personally I think it is a little extreme at times – 1 blue thong and 1 red one! Watching the way people are here and seeing myself change from the throwaway person I once was to someone who could have existed in my grandparent’s era (with the reusing things at least) is a pleasure. It is such a lovely thing to see even the most basic things treasured and looked after.

Keep Savaii Clean rubbish collection
Keep Savaii Clean rubbish collection

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