One practical way to control accumulation of unwanted waste is to observe the three golden Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle.
It is common sense that you can reduce the amount of waste produced by reducing the use of the commodity that generates the waste. In this article, I will feature paper as a commodity to be subjected to such controls. Because paper is made from trees, by reducing its use, forests will be saved. What is more, paper waste will correspondingly reduce.
The proliferation of computers will eventually eliminate the use of paper. Already people are talking of a ‘paperless office’ or a ‘paperless city’. A hundred years from now, paper will be a commodity people will learn about in history lessons. The lucky ones will probably have the chance to see it in museums. The use of paper will not only have reduced but will have been eliminated.
Another way to control the use of paper is to reuse it. By reuse is meant finding an application for already used paper. Organisations, for example, generate tons of paper which is printed on one side. The reverse side can be used for something else, yes, something completely unrelated to the original use. Such paper can, for example, be used for maintaining records. I have seen choirs use song-sheets the backs of which are printed with information unrelated to the songs. That is reuse. By engaging in massive reuse, we will significantly control the amount of fresh paper in use, which will translate into reduced paper wastage as well as reduced pressure on forests which supply the paper in the first place.
The third option is to recycle paper. This entails recasting used paper into fresh sheets that can be used over again. Paper is made from vegetable fibres, mainly those from trees. But it can also be made from grass, cotton, or even industrial hemp. Used paper can be crushed back into fibres and sheets can be made from such fibres, to be put to a variety of uses.
An organisation exists in Malawi that recycles paper. It is called the Paper Making Trust (Pamet). Pamet collects paper waste, shreds it into small pieces and grinds it to pulp after adding water. The pulp is then placed on a wire mesh so that the water can drip through the mesh, in the process letting the fibres dry into a nice paper finish. It is the manual way of making paper.
To increase the body of the pulp, Pamet adds additional fibre from sisal or banana tree bark or elephant dung. Yes, you read it correctly, elephant dung. Pamet staff undertake frequent trips to Majete National Park in search of elephant dung, which they use without any adulteration. Elephants eat a great deal of vegetable material and therefore their waste is rich in vegetable fibre.
The recycled paper is converted into artistic articles. A team of artists showcase their talents by making greeting cards, photo albums or map globes from the recycled paper. You can have wedding invitation cards on such paper, which will have an exotic feel. Pamet have a shop behind the CFAO Volkswagen showroom at Mandala. You would be surprised at the range of articles you can buy from the shop if you visited them.
Converting recycled pulp into paper sheets is just one of the options available. It can also be moulded into egg trays, ceiling material, sound proofing materials, among others. I must hasten to add that only food grade pulp would be used for production of egg trays, not the pulp from elephant dung, in case somebody was beginning to have an upset tummy.
Besides paper, other materials too can be re-used or recycled or their use reduced. Plastic is a case in point. Everybody will agree that plastic is an environmental nuisance because it does not degrade by natural means. A look at any freshly graded road in town will quickly reveal this. You will notice many pieces of plastic all over the place. Other materials will have degraded and will have blended in with the soil, not so with plastic. Reduction in its use is something the nation needs to consider seriously. There has been a ban on certain plastic grades to force a reduction in the use of such plastic.
People must also seriously consider reuse of plastic. The plastic bags we use for carrying our shopping can be used many times over before they are discarded. That way we will reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment. Plastic can also be recycled by deliberately accumulating it in designated areas, then melting it so that it can be remoulded into a variety of plastic articles.