“Trash Houses” – Woman in Pakistan Builds Houses Using the City’s Garbage

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Recycling is not a new concept. Developed nations have proper systems in place for recycling waste in order to save their environment from the effects of pollution. Waste is inevitable. Wherever humans inhabit the world, there will be by-products of our daily use.

True, in old times pollution was not a big issue because there wasn’t as much consumerism. We relied on nature more than on man-made products. There weren’t as many industries. With advancement in technology and the industrial revolution, our environment has been adversely affected. The good comes with the bad. But this situation can be controlled if not curtailed entirely.

Recycling allows for waste to be used in a productive manner rather than negatively affecting the environment. Almost all developed countries have incorporated recycling into their daily lives, although some are keener on the matter and have more advanced systems than others.

Sweden, for example, is one such country where waste is used so efficiently that the country has run out of rubbish and has to import rubbish from other countries to run its recycling plants. Apart from national ventures, there are people everywhere who are recycling rubbish in various capacities and converting it into useful items.

One such venture is being run by a woman in Pakistan. Nargis Latif, a resident of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest metropolitan, creates homes and furniture out of the city’s garbage. The city is drowning in the garbage but the city administration has not taken any concrete measures to curb the issue. Therefore, this woman has made it her mission to recycle and reuse industrial waste to make low-cost shelters and furniture for people who cannot afford a proper house.

The benefits of this project and her mission are two-pronged. It not only uses up waste and contributes to waste management of the city, although in a very small manner, but also helps poor families to be able to have access to low-cost accommodation.

Her project goes by the name of ‘Gul Bahao’ which means flow the flowers. She along with her team of environmentalists collect plastic, vegetables and fruit peels and use them to create shelters, reservoirs, furniture, and even mobile toilets. The project mainly transforms plastic materials rejected by factories into bricks that can be made into low-cost shelters, furniture and pretty much anything else.

The project is not only aimed at cleaning up garbage but also at reducing its output and prevent it from going up in smoke, which is the common practice of burning garbage.

Nargis Latif has always had a mind for research and innovation since an early age. She wants her city to be clean and also wants to help people. Karachi produces approximately 12,000 tons of waste a day! Treated properly, this waste can be used for many recycling projects but the Government has so far failed to do anything about it. Thus, mounds and mounds of garbage are slowly piling up everywhere in the city.

So far, she has spent around $90,000 on the project. She once had a team of 70 people. Now there are only 7 left. She has faced many obstacles in her journey to fulfill her dream of ridding the city of garbage. Lack of funding and support is one problem, people’s perception of recycled goods is another.

Many people have rejected her products thinking they are made of garbage and must not be suitable for use due to hygiene issues. She dispels these concerns and says there is a proper technique to use ‘clean’ garbage items for her project and that garbage is not simply packed inside but treated and then used to make the bricks that are then used further for making different items.

Latif chronicles her journey of two decades and the chronic search for funds to run the project and its research. She says it has never been easy to get support and funds. She considers her project an ‘environmentalist’s dream’ and says she will keep on working on her project despite all odds. She believes her project “will revolutionize the world, just like the steam engine and the mobile phone”.

Her project also aims at helping Pakistan’s nomadic community which is spread in various parts of the country especially in Pakistan’s Tharparkar district. Latif states, “Those families, instead of living in mud houses, can benefit from these shelters. Once the water runs out, they can easily pack up and move with their livestock to a place with water and farming facilities. They won’t need to construct their mud houses from scratch. This would also reduce infections and diseases that spread because of dirt and mud.”

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