INTERNATIONAL: Indiscriminate Dumping Soils Environment

The problem of garbage dumped along roadsides or in waterways can haunt any country - from the poorest to the highly industrialized and affluent.

In India, for example, nightmarish conditions persist. "It is a general situation that household wastes are tipped haphazardly in and around the roadside dust bins, leading to water pollution and adverse ecological, social and health impacts," said E.V. Jagannath, an environmental engineer in Mysore.

In a study of Bom-bay, the world's sixth-largest metropolis, Dr. M. A. Varhese reported on conditions in districts occupied by the urban poor, who make up 50 percent of Bombay's population. "Drains are clogged with waste, garbage is thrown around transfer areas, waste piles are used for excreting and further scattered by animals," he said. A primary cause for this pollution is a lack of reliable collection services.

A similar "unsuccessful battle with solid waste collection and disposal" in Nigeria is reported by Dr. Tunde Agbola of the University of Ibadan, a non-industrial city of three million. "Waste heaps all over most cities are polluting the land, air and water and have lowered the aesthetic value of the urban environment," he said.

The People's Republic of China generated about 100 million metric tons of municipal waste in 1995. Most of it was discarded, untreated, on the cities' outskirts, used as fill in low-lying areas or, after de-composition, as a soil conditioner.

Indiscriminate dumping also contributes to the serious environmental damage in Eastern Europe. For example, residents of Tirana, Albania's capital, having resigned themselves to deteriorating collection service, dump trash out of their apartment windows onto piles in the streets.

In former East Germany, so-called "wild dumping" was epidemic in the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, in the early 1990s. "After the Berlin Wall's collapse, Berliners would drive out into Brandenburg and litter the countryside in about a 15-mile rad-ius of the city with garbage bags, neatly packed to avoid soiling their cars' interior," according to Bern-hard Remde, the Waste Manage-ment and Remediation Depart-ment's director at the Brandenburg State Environmental Ministry. Al-though the situation is improving, Remde detects a deep-seated environmental insensitivity on the part of urban residents.

Throughout Germany, just as the problem was considered a thing of the past, it has resurfaced as a growing trend. Some solid waste experts offer an explanation contrary to Remde's; they claim that general environmental awareness is on the rise, but citizens' willingness to separate their trash is eroding. This paradox results from citizens' perception that they are being overcharged for waste disposal and recycling.

In addition to paying for garbage pickup, which is spiraling upward with landfill costs, consumers are charged a few extra cents for every product package so that it can be recycled in the "Green Dot" system. On top of this, more and more communities are introducing variable-rate collection systems. Frustrated by smaller, more expensive and less-frequently emptied containers, citizens feel that the re-duced service levels free them from their waste responsibility.

People register their protest if not by leaving trash bags in fields, woods, parking lots and at public facilities, then by stuffing waste in recycling bags or drop-off containers. In 1994, the average recycling container contamination was reported to be nearly 25 percent nationwide and as high as 30 percent or even 40 percent in some regions.

What offenders have failed to realize, however, is that the dumped refuse is removed at the taxpayer's expense. Furthermore, contamination drives up recycling costs and makes it more difficult to meet the statutory recycling quotas (see figure).

One solution - recycling bin inspection by special "sheriffs" - was introduced in Germany's Franconia region after used paper bins were found to contain foreign material such as butcher scraps and even dead pets. Contaminated bins are visibly sealed to prevent collection and alert citizens to the wasted recyclables.

In Cologne, an alliance of businesses is trying to reduce littering by honing consumer awareness. Members' dues are proportional to the disposable packaging amount circulated by the firm in the previous year.

The Institute for Ecological Re-cycling offers advice for designing successful generation-based rate systems: Results are directly related to public acceptance. To win co-operation, the institute stresses listening closely to citizens' wishes, needs and concerns.