A dumpsite in Ulaanbaatar

When you have a piece of garbage, what better way is there to get rid of it than to simply ditching it in a trash bin? It’s easy, quick, and you will never have to see it again. However, that’s not the end of the story. Your garbage will have to be disposed of one way or another and in Mongolia, it’s usually bulldozed underground in a landfill or burnt in an incinerator.

Both of these options aren’t very eco-friendly. You might not realize it but landfills in Mongolia are becoming humongous and their stench is worsening by the day. There are many negative issues associated with landfill and the top three are toxins, leachate, and greenhouse gases. Landfills can also leak through the base, or overflow, resulting in adverse impacts on the health of nearby residents and the surrounding environment.

While Mongolians are still cooped up with the idea to bury or burn wastes, specialists in other countries are promoting more eco-friendly waste management solutions that effectively reduce total waste, enhance resource recovery, and achieve a minimal impact on the environment. One of them is “reduce, reuse, and recycle”.

This is a phase that most children in Europe and the USA hear in elementary schools. Basically, the little chant encourages people to consider all waste as a resource and focus on incorporating recovery, recycling and reuse in everything they do.

Recycling doesn’t just save materials: it saves energy too. Manufacturing things uses a lot of energy from power plants—and hungry power plants generally make global warming worse. We can save a surprising amount of energy by recycling. If you recycle a single aluminum, you can reportedly save about 95 percent of the energy it would take to make a brand new one. That’s enough energy saved to power your television for about 3 hours. Over half the trash we throw away can be recycled. Just imagine if everyone were recycling most of their garbage: together, we’d be making a tremendous reduction in the amount of raw materials and energy we use—and doing a lot of good for the planet.

Recycling is said to have been a common practice for most of human history, with advocates recorded as far back as Plato in 400 BC. So why aren’t Mongolians enforcing this waste management solution like so many countries across the world?

Based on observations, I would say that rather than people choosing not to recycle, they simply are unable to do so.

In Mongolia, you can find a trash bin just about every 20 steps and practically all of them are labeled with recycling and non-recycling signs. Given the obvious sign, you would think that people would notice it and throw away their trash into the correct bin. But that’s not the case in Mongolia.

Most people don’t separate their waste before throwing away because they know that the people who collect the garbage will not take recyclable and non-recyclable wastes separately. They usually dump everything into a garbage truck as fast as they can and hurry to their next destination. Moreover, apartments and organizations don’t have different dumpsters for each type of waste, making it pointless for people to sort out their trash.

However, the biggest reason Mongolians don’t recycle is the lack of awareness and knowledge about recycling. Schools in Mongolia hardly teach about waste management so naturally, children grow up without knowing the significance of recycling. Also, the government and public and private organizations don’t promote “reduce, reuse and recycle” as much as they need to. If the public and private sector carried out recycling campaigns and took measures that encourage children and adults to recycle, Mongolia might have converted to a more advanced and less harmful technology for waste disposal.

According to statistics, more than 1.4 million tons of waste is disposed in Ulaanbaatar each year and only 24 percent, or 3360,000 tons of waste, is recycled. However, experts affirmed that up to 85 percent of these wastes can be recycled.

If we look at it in detail, around 319,000 tons of glass, 69,000 tons of plastic, 304,000 tons of food waste, 134,000 tons of metal items, 104,000 tons of paper and cardboard paper, 72,000 tons of wastes of animal origin, 86,000 tons of hazardous and radioactive waste, and 485,000 tons of other wastes are thrown away every year on average.

Experts underlined that this is a considerably large volume of waste in comparison to the population and stressed the need to improve recycling.

Residents in ger area dispose an average of 81,000 tons of waste a year and nearly half of it is recyclable waste, reported D.Oyunkhorol, the Minister of Environment, Green Energy and Tourism.

But not all hope is lost. There are 23 waste services companies operating in Mongolia and the ministry announced in July that it will provide more support to their operations.

The Law on Waste Management was also revised on July 3, 2017 to reflect regulations about waste disposal and recycling, a reward system for collected recyclable wastes, and an accountability system for individuals and organizations that violate waste disposal regulations.

The Mongolian National Waste Recycling Association is carrying out Eco-Park project to resolve waste management related challenges. The project is aimed to build a comprehensive factory near Narangiin Enger and Tsagaan Davaa landfills for processing wastes based on international standards. The association reported that 246 billion MNT will be spent on the project and that more than 900 jobs will become available once the factory opens.

“Sorting wastes and recycling them into new products is significant for reducing landfills,” a spokesperson said.

Overall, this is a topic that we all should think seriously because Mongolia is in a dire need for a new sustainable approach to managing its wastes. Recycling can be simple and convenient if right process and tools are used. Not only does it prevent landfills from overflowing, it cuts back on global warming, makes us more energy-efficient, improves the quality of groundwater, and reduces air pollution. With the right system, recycling doesn’t have to be a chore. Recycling benefits everybody and takes only a little trash-sorting and the right tools to put into effect.

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