Monday, September 24, 2012

Litter Patrol

Part of the area we cleaned up
 Albania has a trash problem.  While this problem is not unique to Albania it is intensified in a country that is so small. You only have to walk or drive down the street to see trash- whether it be household garbage, construction refuse, or cigarette butts, plastic shopping bags, and empty Chipsy containers littering the sides of the roads.  Many locals blame the Roma for "dumpster diving" but the litter extends far beyond the range of the scant number of available dumpsters.  I've heard others blame Italy for all of the trash that washes onto Albania's shores.  (During a trip to Croatia a local blamed Albania for the trash on Croatia's shores).  The option to recycle is another questionable concept here.  When I ask I am told that yes we can but further probing as to what is and isn't recyclable only leaves more questions unanswered.

Litter is a problem on both a micro and macro level.  In our neighborhood alone private citizens are forced to tote their bags of trash up to the main street. For some people this often means carrying your trash for a kilometer or more before coming to a dumpster. It is no wonder that many people dump their trash at the end of our street (and the former location of the neighborhood dumpsters).  The dumpsters were moved farther away from our neighborhood last year after complaints that they were unsightly.  Somehow I would argue that the never ending heap of trash that has taken the place of the dumpsters is even more unsightly.  When branching out into the more heavily pedestrian travelled areas of Tirana (and other Albanian cities) trash receptacles for food wrappers, empty soda cans, and the like are virtually impossible to find. On the rare occasions I have been able to find one it has been so overflowing that I opt to continue to carry my empty container with me to dispose of later. Unfortunately as evidenced by the piles of trash next to the cans, I am in the minority on this.  We've been in places that I consider totally off the beaten path- whether on foot on a hiking trail or on a dirt road that necessitates a 4 x 4 vehicle- and we've come across piles of construction debris or household garbage.  Really people? It obviously took a lot of effort to access these areas and yet you still chose to tote your trash all  the way out here?  On a larger, and perhaps even more disturbing level, roadside ditches, riverbeds, and fields are often overflowing with heaps of trash.  I remember the horror and disappointment I felt on my first drive from the airport when I looked down off of a bridge and into the river below. Instead of seeing water I saw mounds of decaying plastic bags.  All too often I see entire dump trucks emptying entire loads into the rivers and road sides.  I've developed the mantra that in order to enjoy the beauty of Albania I must only look at the horizon and never look down since doing so will more often than not, bring about disappointment.

A cool view (and I managed to crop out the view of the trash)

Trash dumped into Albania's inland waterways doesn't stay there. It flows down the rivers and into the Adriatic Ocean where it pollutes the water, poisons the fish and aqua eco-system, and degrades the otherwise beautiful coastline.  As I mentioned, trash isn't a problem unique to Albania.  In as such, the Ocean Conservancy sponsors an International Coast Clean Up effort every September and this past weekend a group of us from the Embassy volunteered to do our parts to clean up the Albanian coastline.  Tagging onto an effort by a group of local environmentalists who are making a concerted effort to keep the area clean, we headed out to nearby Cape Rodon to spend the day cleaning the shore.

I had never been to Cape Rodon but I was immediately struck by its natural beauty.  Located on a bunker filled tip of peninsula north of Durres, the isolated area is home to the ruins of the Rodon Castle and a tiny, but still active Saint Anthony's Church.  The castle, dating back to 1450 was a part of Skenderbeu's countrywide fortress system.  Today it is but a shadow of its former self with a few remaining walls jutting out into the Adriatic.  Sadly, the amount of trash, mostly plastic bottles but also Styrofoam, plastic bags, and glass shards almost obliterates the area's beauty.  Our group spent several hours filling countless bags with the debris surrounding the castle ruins yet our efforts hardly put a dent in the mass of litter.  The beachfront area near the church fared slightly better.  Perhaps it is because there are fewer rocks and crags for trash to collect in.  Maybe it is because this area is a bit more accessible (we had to hike into the area of the castle and haul all of our collected trash out). For whatever reason this area looked noticeably better because of our efforts.  Of course, with tides carrying a seemingly endless supply of fresh plastic debris towards the beach, I doubt the small area remained clean for long.

Sadly, all of the beach cleaning efforts in the world aren't going to put a stop to the trash problem until the source of the trash is eliminated (And no, the recent proposal to import trash from other countries is not a good idea).  Albanians, and everyone else who is an offender, need to stop dumping trash along roads, waterways, and in any other place it is deemed convenient.  Individuals need to take ownership of their own trash and municipalities and the Government of Albania need to develop measures to properly dispose of their waste.  No matter how much Albania tries to market itself to the rest of the world, if the country is covered in trash, no one will want to come here.

Just because I think this is a pretty scene and speaks to the beauty of Albania

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