“Mos hidhni mbeturina.” This phrase is spray painted and written all over the city. It translates to “Don’t throw your trash here.”
Trash is a huge problem in Albania because the country has yet to figure out how to organize and operate a national trash pick-up service. Yes, that’s right. There are no organized garbage men in Albania. There aren’t even trash cans scattered about the streets like you are used to seeing in every city in America. We have these dumpsters on a few different streets that people from our local government come and empty…lord knows where, because there are no landfills in Albania.
Interestingly enough, the government pays people 5 leke for every piece of glass or metal that they turn in. It’s sort of their take on recycling incentives. Mostly it just became a great way for the Roma population and the poor people of Albania to scrape by and make a living. That’s why you see them digging through trash cans and walking down the street with big bags of scraps screaming “Hekura! Hekura!” (which means “metal! metal!”)…so that people who want to save them the trouble of digging through the trash and don’t want to collect the 5 leke for themselves, can walk outside and hand over their scrap metal.
So what happens to all the garbage? It’s dumped in the rivers, lakes, off of mountains cliffs, anywhere that people don’t live.
Albania is known for its untouched natural beauty but it won’t be that way for long if this continues. As a hopelessly inspired and motivated Peace Corps Volunteer in this wonderful country, I have taken it upon myself not to leave a American sized carbon footprint in Shkodër.
All of the vegetable and fruit stands in this country have big stacks of plastic bags that they use to divide each kind of produce separately when you buy them. Each item has a different price so of course they need to be weighed separately. That makes sense. At first I was completely overwhelmed by all the plastic bags I’d accrued. Especially since there is no place to recycle them. Seriously, this is what the cabinet under my sink looks like.
So instead of fighting the system by refusing the plastic bags, I simply save my bags and bring the same ones back each time. Now, the first time I did this, the lady selling produce gave me the strangest look. As she watched me pull the bags out of my purse she scowled and came over to me. “What are you doing? I have plenty of bags! Take one, take one, take one!” I didn’t mean to insult her, so I simply explained that I was recycling to save plastic and help the environment. I’m not quite sure she understood but she let me do my thing.
For the last few months I have been doing this every week when I go buy vegetables from her. Yesterday when I showed up and was about to start my usual routine of pulling plastic bags from my purse and choosing vegetables, I heard her whisper to the other customers “Watch this girl! She brings her own bags! Every time! She’s such a good girl. She’s saving the environment.” I laughed to myself and looked up from what I was doing to see her giving me a huge smile. Social change, success.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”