Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bill Clinton: Closing Landfills a "Silver Bullet"

Bill Clinton at the opening plenary of 2010's Clinton Global
Initiative, via Daylife

As we know, Bill Clinton has a knack for fostering partnerships
between states, businesses, and nonprofits: It's what his annual
Global Initiative is all about. That extends even to some unlikely
provinces -- like trash, for instance. During the opening plenary of
2010's session, he remarked that he hadn't yet heard of anyone coming
all the way to CGI to talk about garbage. Yet one of the most
interesting initiatives made so far this year was one spearheaded by
the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, that dealt in exactly
that. The commitment is designed to lend support to "waste-pickers"
around the world, and to help eradicate the world's landfills.

"Waste-pickers" is the common term used for anyone around the world
who subsists by picking through trash, most often in landfills.
Societies often neglect these people, and they often get passed over
for things like health care and other human services. But they provide
a sound service -- they're recycling, and cutting down on the waste in
over-clogged landfills.

The initiative, which is backed by heads of state in Africa, India,
and South America, as well as private corporations like NRG Energy,
would seek to both empower waste-pickers and better organize the
effort to reduce and clean up landfills.

"The closest thing to a silver bullet is closing the landfills,"
Clinton said, noting how landfills are a major source of greenhouse
gas emissions, are full of reusable materials and, and occupy
otherwise valuable land in cities and communities. "It's why so many
people scavenge," he said. He also discussed how the organic materials
in landfills can be used for fertilizers and fuels.

"Maybe a better analogy is oil wells," Clinton said, discussing how
landfills should be viewed as potential energy sources. Details are
sparse on the project for now, but the idea of better training and
protecting some of the world's poorest yet most important recyclers is
indeed a good idea. It's feasible that (however far) down the line,
such waste-pickers may be organized to the extent that in certain
regions landfills as we know them may be unrecognizable -- and safer
jobs created and valuable resources reclaimed in the process.


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