Piki Tup is on strike. I didn’t really pay attention to piki tup until a few weeks ago. They are the waste disposal company that serves Soweto and the greater Johannesburg area. But for 2 weeks piki tup has not been picking up anything.
I have never before noticed trash like I have this year. One of the first realities of life in South Africa, especially in the black townships is the trash. It is only recently that Soweto has gotten the piki tup service, like so many other services it was reserved for the white areas. Trash pick up and collection is not the norm. But living in Soweto I get the benefit of being in one of the most progressive townships in the world. We have buses, trash collection, police stations, and hospitals, things other townships that are not so prominent or in such urban areas only dream about.
I knew that I was fortunate in this regard especially comparing stories with other YAGMs and their dilemmas of what to do with their trash. Prior to this yeah I didn’t give a second thought to recycling let alone how my trash just disappears once a week. Now that it is gone I feel guilty with every piece of paper I have to throw in the trash since there is no recycling option. Yet, I have the privilege of trash cans that get picked up weekly.
That was they did get picked up until two weeks ago. Living with about 6 million people the trash piles up really quickly. It is everywhere. There is usually trash on the side of the roads but this is mounds. I thought it was bad in Soweto but then I was traveling through central Johannesburg. Walking through streets with thousands of people as we all try to dodge trash, each other, and the taxis speeding down the road makes the journey even more of an obstacle course. It has sadden me to see areas that weeks ago had kids playing now have trash and to see billowing black smoke from trash burning since there is no other option.
The strike is not over. I find myself asking how all of this will ever be picked up? How will this all be cleaned up? Then I realized how close we are to Earth Day. Earth Day is easy to celebrate in the United States. I live in Denver, Colorado a pretty environmentally responsible city but how do I recognize this holiday in Soweto in the middle of a garbage truck? I try to do my part; reusing paper until there is no space left, composting what I can. For now I am hoping that the strike will end soon and that trash collection will resume.