Monday July 23, 2018

Garbologists find roots of modern waste by digging through Victorian-Era garbage

In the Victorian Era, the civilization made a permanent shift towards a throwaway society, and the production of waste only began to increase from this point in the timeline

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Victorian era Mineral bottles. Image source: Tom Licence
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  • Garbology is the “study of a culture or community by analysis of its waste”
  • The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, West London boasts a collection of 12,000 unique items like cartons, boxes, paper cups tins etc
  • The Victorian era also marked the rise of the packaging industry

East Anglia, a rural area north of London, became a place of historical interest for Tom Licence and his research team, What East Anglia Threw Away, early 2016, when a scavenging streak for Victorian Era trash gripped their minds. “We’re aware that there’s a dump close to the cottage, and that’s part of our interest, but also we’ve set up a little history group, and we’ve been working on the history of Castle Rising ever since”, says Sylvia Cooke, who came to East Anglia about 14 years ago.

“We are pioneering garbologists”, says Tom Licence with a friendly laugh. Garbology is the “study of a culture or community by analysis of its waste”. The Victorian Era, which spanned through the years of 1837 till 1901, witnessed a crucial shift of consumer patterns – with an increase in wealth and the Industrial Revolution, the civilization shifted from making things at home to buying them at grocery markets and shops. This era also marked the rise of the packaging industry.

As people began to gain awareness about germs and hygiene, they became distrustful of local vendors and grocers,some of whom added spurious ingredients to increase the weight of the product. A packaged product guaranteed it hadn’t been tampered with, and hence more trustworthy. Moreover, it also ensured that the manufacturers were able to design and control their own brand. The means of packaging then involved bottles and tins, or small containers which couldn’t be reused and hence found their way into what is now called as Victorian Era trash.

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The importance of collecting and preserving garbage from those olden days was cleverly identified by Robert Opie, a social historian, who founded the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, West London. The museum boasts a collection of 12,000 unique items like cartons, boxes, paper cups tins etc. which documents the progression of brands of some of the world’s most popular companies like Cadbury. The museum assumed a larger space recently to accommodate the growing interest. The colour on these packaging materials dim as war years are approached, The Guardian reports. “It’s a portal into your own past”, Robert Opie says.

Victorian Era
Dundee Marmalade tin containers. Image courtesy: Tom Licence

In the Victorian Era, the civilization made a permanent shift towards a throwaway society, and the production of waste only began to increase from this point in the timeline. Before this time, humans produced next to no waste at all. In large cities like London, there was a systematic disposal of waste, but in the rural areas like East Anglia, it wasn’t economical to supply ash carts to every household, so the people here would dig up pits in nearby areas and bury their waste there. This is one of the primary reasons why Tom Licence and his local volunteers targeted East Anglia.

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Tom Licence also has knowledge of similar findings all over the world. There have been people from California and India who show an interest in Garbology. A worker digging up the Earth for the construction of the Olympic Stadium in Brazil found packaging products that originated all the way from England. Licence believes this was the time when trade flourished, and the human carbon footprint made its stamp on the face of the Earth for the first time in history.

Discoveries made by garbologists in England have helped them analyse the living patterns of the civilizations in the British subcontinent, dating all the way back to the Victorian Era. If similar expeditions were to be carried out in all places over the world, it would help us comprehend a much better understanding of how humans led their lives in respective countries, and that would indeed be interesting to the historian palette.

-by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter:@saurabhbodas96

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  • I coined the word garbology to mean the study of the garbage of the rich and famous but you folks are doing a great job in retro-garbological pioneering. Congratulations!

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Most Terrible Water Crisis Ever In History Leaves Millions Of Indians Thirsty

6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water.

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A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017.
A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017. VOA

Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India, but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most. It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.

“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tubewell.

“Now things are better. But earlier … the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.

India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.

From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people – nearly half India’s population – face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.

Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching.

On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.

“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.

“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.”

Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70 percent of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds – and eventually gets into the groundwater.

“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.
Loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, unchecked extraction by farmers and wealthy residents has caused groundwater levels to plunge to record lows, says the report.

It predicts that 21 major cities, including New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The head of WaterAid India VK Madhavan said the country’s groundwater was now heavily contaminated.

“We are grappling with issues, with areas that have arsenic contamination, fluoride contamination, with salinity, with nitrates,” he said, listing chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Arsenic and fluoride occur naturally in the groundwater, but become more concentrated as the water becomes scarcer, while nitrates come from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste that has seeped into the supply.

The level of chemicals in the water was so high, he said, that bacterial contamination – the source of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid – “is in the second order of problems”.

“Poor quality of water – that is loss of livelihood. You fall ill because you don’t have access to safe drinking water, because your water is contaminated.”

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.
Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater. pixabay

“The burden of not having access to safe drinking water, that burden is greatest on the poor and the price is paid by them.”

Frothy lakes and rivers

Crippling water problems could shave 6 percent off India’s gross domestic product, according to the report by the government think-tank, Niti Aayog.

“This 6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water. Our industry, our food security, everything will be at stake,” said Mishra.

“It is a finite resource. It is not infinite. One day it can (become) extinct,” he said, warning that by 2030 India’s water supply will be half of the demand.

To tackle this crisis, which is predicted to get worse, the government has urged states – responsible for supplying clean water to residents – to prioritise treating waste water to bridge the supply and demand gap and to save lives.

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.

Every year, Bengaluru and New Delhi make global headlines as their heavily polluted water bodies emit clouds of white toxic froth due to a mix of industrial effluents and domestic garbage dumped into them.

In Bengaluru – once known as the “city of lakes” and now doomed to go dry – the Bellandur Lake bursts into flames often, sending plumes of black smoke into sky.

The Yamuna river that flows through New Delhi can be seen covered under a thick, detergent-like foam on some days.

On other days, faeces, chemicals and ashes from human cremations float on top, forcing passers-by to cover their mouths and noses against the stench.

That does not stop 10-year-old Gauri, who lives in a nearby slum, from jumping in every day.

With no access to water, it is the only way to cool herself down during India’s scorching summers, when temperatures soar to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“There usually is not enough water for us to take a shower, so we come here,” said Gauri, who only gave her first name, as she and her brother splashed around in the filthy river.

Also read: India’s bulging water crisis: Is it too late for us to do something?

“It makes us itchy and sick, but only for some time. We are happy to have this, everyone can use it.” (VOA)