Many of us are repulsed when we encounter people of unsound mind, who are often unwashed and smelly. Regardless of the circumstances that led to their illness, we do not venture near them because we fear contamination. They can serve as a symbol of a broken society. Bewildered and wandering, often with no destination or dreams but death; the many layers of ‘dirt’ are like the social ills, such as the killings and assaults, which have plagued this nation. And let’s not forget the corruption and deception that continue to soil our path in the struggle to realise that ‘good life.’

I often use one reality to juxtapose another. My thoughts on the griminess of those with unsound mind are some of the things I pondered on recently as I walked my street, which was lined with garbage bins. For two weeks the garbage men had not visited. For two weeks the bags continued to pile up. Two weeks of stench. Two weeks of questioning whether we have progressed or regressed.

Being a person who is deeply bothered by filthiness and chaos, I was distressed walking the street. For years, there has been an issue with solid waste disposal not only in Georgetown, but in other parts of the country. For example, I visited Bartica last year and was stunned by the dumps. My many trips up the East Coast have also exposed garbage by the piles in different areas. A trip to Berbice earlier this year also revealed much of the same. There was a time when I avoided areas such as Stabroek because of the stench and excess of garbage. While there have been improvements in recent years, the problem is not completely resolved and it is far from an end judging what has been happening over the last few weeks.

In many conversations, I have often voiced the opinion that many Guyanese people are dirty. Besides the problems City Hall has had with paying debts to contractors, the people are also at fault for the garbage problem.

In 2015, there was a clean-up campaign following the election of a new government; water flowed in trenches that had been stagnant for years and streets and pavements that many were unaware were there were revealed. However, I have been observing that the attitude of many people has not changed. I still observe people disposing their garbage in the street; throwing garbage through the windows of moving vehicles with no thought or care as to where it would land; and folks are still taking bags of trash and leaving it at the street corner.

Many of these people perhaps have clean homes even though it is hard to comprehend if they do, because I believe one’s behaviour in public is an indication of how one behaves in private. But are we to excuse them because the system has failed to put efficient systems in place to take care of 100% of the garbage generated? What are they to do if there are no acceptable places to dispose? And while some people will choose methods such as burning, smoke inhalation is a risk to health.

When garbage is dumped on the street or thrown in a gutter, offenders may think that it is no longer their problem. But flooding is worse when there are clogged gutters and stagnant trenches. We all suffer when there is flooding. Pests like mosquitoes thrive in such conditions and are responsible for diseases like chikungunya.

There is an old saying, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ which I believe can be interpreted both literally and figuratively. Cleanliness, for me, is an indication of wholesomeness and order and we are more able to positively focus our energies. Just like the untidiness of the people of unsound mind being a metaphor for many of the ills in our society, an individual who chooses to dispose garbage without a thought or care, I believe, is somehow unsound; that person often has not thought about the damage to the cooperative. As alluded to before, it might be a matter of convenience; absence of garbage bins or the situation recently with irregular garbage collection. However, we must find ways that do not lead to us further polluting the environment. For example, many years ago I developed the habit of returning home with garbage generated while on the street if there was no bin to put it. A person driving on the streets who dumps garbage out of their window cannot say they could not save the disposal of that garbage for when they would have reached their destination and as for people who start and contribute to dumpsites, perhaps instead of believing there are no other options, they can hold the powers accountable and continuously pressure them to put better methods in place.

As individuals, we must begin to think about what we can do to lessen the waste we produce. How can we reuse, recycle and reduce? We must begin to seriously utilise methods, such as composting. Compost is made from organic waste, such as from fruits and vegetables and can be used as fertiliser for our plants. Though there are not any huge recycling plants yet in our country, we can think of ways we can recycle the things we often throw in the garbage and familiarise ourselves with companies or small businesses that may accept items such as glass bottles to recycle and reuse.

Plastic is huge problem in this country. Many beverages, household products and even water is packaged using plastic. At the supermarket, our goods are often packed in plastic, which is not a substance that can just evaporate. It is not biodegradable and takes hundreds and sometimes thousands of years to degrade, depending on what type of plastic it is. What that means is that every day the plastic problem is becoming worse. One of the small things we can do is to carry cloth or paper bags when we go shopping and perhaps companies can begin to explore other packaging.

Soon, conscious decisions to curb the garbage will not be just a choice, but an obligation. As a matter of fact, I believe we are already there. The increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane as a result of pollution, is slowly killing our planet and it is frightening to think about the world our children will inherit.

Like the people of unsound minds who are dirty and often just waiting for death, aren’t we with our pollution slowly killing the earth? Perhaps one day the world as we know it will just cease to exist if we do not change our behaviour.

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