In previously sustainable countries, westernization brings unmanageable waste: We get flooded with plastic but don't even have garbage collection. Apparently the result is that 40% of the world's trash is burned.

Around me most people deal with their unsorted waste in two ways:

  • bury in their land, which also is the place where food is grown
  • burn in the open air on their land

Any suggestions for something more sustainable?

I guess sorting is the first step, with composting organic stuff. But what about plastic? Burning seems the most toxic, but won't burying plastic slowly pollute the ground (especially with tropical rain)?

2 Answers 2


I compost all organic material, with the exception of paper. I bury meat and animal bones bc it can attract other animals.

I have been known to re-use cardboard as a one-season box garden.

It may be true that recycling is not energetically a win in a cost benefit analysis, while there may not be a local pickup, you could ask around if there is a recycling center, or you could even build one.

When my dad lived where there was no recycling pickup, he drove us to the local dump/recycling center, we fount plenty of cool old furniture, and the it was actually a clean and approachable place, you could save your recyclables and drive them to a place that can reuse them. Creating a place like that could be the answer to the problems, and even turn a tiny profit.

If there isn't a convenient place to take recyclables, and you don't want to build a recycling center you should sort and store, and then find ways to repurpose, or re-use.

For metals you could always build a mini forge, and melt down ingots of aluminum or tin into something useful. This can be dangerous as heck, so don't go lighting fires or building forges without doing serious research. Youtube video provided to give you an idea what it looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A7w3mFcmUk

You are absolutely right that burning or burying plastic can pollute the ground. I live in the city rather close to a large university, so sometimes I drop my plastic and aluminum in their recycling bins.

Some folk knit blankets out of plastic grocery bags, and donate them to the homeless. (which sounds embarrassing, why not knit a real blanket instead of a trash blanket, and give that to them).

I think that the best thing we can do as consumers is to avoid buying unnecessary plastic. However, we cannot consume our way out of ecological devastation, and we need radical change in our government and economy if we are going to stop wasting and polluting with petroleum products like plastic. At least glass will turn back into sand, and is easy to reshape.

Let me know what you come up with, I would love to hear about any nifty re-use you can come up with.

  • 1
    Thanks. It's too bad governments don't tell corporations to deal with the plastic. Going back to fabric bags and glass jars doesn't need technical innovation, just political courage.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 4:06

The question has two general aspects. First how to collect plastics efficiently and second how to treat it afterwards.

Best supporter for collection is to generate a value that people perceive and motivate to collect, as it works with bottles, cans and paper. In these areas even poor people are motivated to collect and separate.

The treatment of plastics can be different. There are thermoplastics that can be brought into an other form by thermal treatment. In general all plastics can be heated at higher temperatures to generate e.g. diesel by pyrolysis. Here is shown how it works.

Operation of factory and sale of diesel generate values that must be used to pay collection of waste. Unfortunately in many countries the generated values dilute by corruption and such projects fail. Especially in poor countries this cycle of value should be financed and controlled by UN organisations, instead of financing sophisticated, highly developed projects to catch the plastics out of the seas.

Best of course would be to avoid artificial plastics at all and only allow plastics that rot in a short period of time.

  • Thanks. We will bring plastic out to poorer people that will deal with it. Not the greatest plan but better than burning.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 4:08
  • Ever seen where and how poor people live, especially in the poor suburbs? No need to bring plastic to them, they are surrounded with it, don't have efficient garbage collection nor income. The real answer was "pyrolysis" which needs plastics to be efficient and can generate value.
    – Salt
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 9:31

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