I watched Captain Planet growing up. I participated in the KESAB campaign (Keep South Australia Beautiful) like most primary school students did. I put my rubbish in the small bin and the recycling in the large bin. We bought recycled paper and toilet paper. In more recent years, I’ve chosen not to buy palm oil products because of the its relationship to deforestation of the habitats of orang-utans. I cheered when the SA government decided to make you pay for plastic bags at the shops. I’d hardly call myself an eco-warrior but I am concerned to be ‘green’.
Yet, I realise that I’ve never heard anything about pollution in the Global South. Perhaps that comes from a stereotype that most of the industry is in the western world (and maybe China). Or maybe it’s just that shows like Captain Planet were aimed at western kids.
So seeing the litter, the use of plastic bags, the limited recycling
options, the burning waste and that ‘Blue Band’ is made from Palm Oil has been quite a shock. It’s not just my Aussie upbringing – I believe that being ‘green’ is a great way to love your neighbour and steward God’s gifts in creation. So my mind started turning over.
My first thought was that people burn their waste and spread Blue Band on their bread because they don’t have a choice. Where are the recycling plants? It’s Blue Band or nothing – butter is super expensive and imported for rich westerners.
My second thought was about corruption. Are politicians concerned for their own hip pockets or for the good of Tanzanians? Why does Unilever sell Blue Band here and not in Australia? Why are they able to market it as ‘full of vitamins’?
So my third thought was about education. How can Tanzanians advocate for change if they haven’t seen a picture of an orang-utan or if they don’t know the environmental cost of burning a plastic bag? Where is the Gruen equivalent?
My fourth thought was that I had jumped way far ahead. Not because these thoughts don’t make sense, but because they are my thoughts, not someone else’s. Our first three years here are for listening and learning. With this in mind I asked our language tutor about attitudes to the environment. He had plenty to say.
He told me about Moshi region in the north-east of Tanzania where littering incurs a fine of 50 000 Tanzanian shillings (a large amount here, roughly AUD30). He reported that plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda. He mentioned recycling initiatives in Dar es Salaam.
But he also said that in Tanzania pollution is a big problem, on multiple levels. There’s the individual litterbug but one has to ask why the Tanzanian government allows plastic bags when Rwanda doesn’t, for example. ‘Tanzania is a dumping ground for the rest of Africa,’ he said.
Part of listening and learning will be hearing more than one Tanzanian’s view.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.