Bill Clinton: Closing Landfills a "Silver Bullet"


Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr/CC BY-SA

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, 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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