Recycling

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No rest for the weary . . . the old lady working during Nadaam by picking up bottles in the Central Stadium after the opening ceremony.

The idea of recycling hasn’t reached Mongolia- at least not paper.  This factors into the high levels of litter in UB.  On the other hand, they have a unique incentive system to collect and recycle plastic bottles.  It’s even more fool proof than the American individual system where only environmentally conscious people recycle, and although the green movement is picking up steam in America, it is no match for UB’s high incentive program.  What solution has UB used to create a recycling force that works 24/7, including holidays?  They use the homeless people.  There are homeless people that carry bags the size of my body and spend all day and night collecting plastic bottles from trash heaps and every imaginable place people litter.  They take these bottles to a recycling center and collect a little cash for their trouble.  It is a meager way of life, but it sustains them.  Even during Nadaam, when the entire city is off for the holiday, the homeless are still vigorously collecting plastic bottles because this way of life leaves no room for holidays.

I usually carry a reusable water bottle, but in UB, I buy a new drink every time because I know someone will need that bottle to see tomorrow.  It is a harsh reality for them.  I was walking down the street near the State Department store, where items cost hundreds of thousands of MNT, too much for 95 percent of Mongolians, and a homeless man stops to help his fellow man, another homeless man whose limbs have been amputated.  He carries the torso and head to a new location so that different people passing by will give him some money to survive on.  There are a surprisingly large number of amputated homeless people on the streets with their small cardboard box begging for money to buy some food.

I wonder how they survive, but my guess is that homeless people work together like office workers in their cubicles, to survive.  How do they make it through Mongolia’s harsh winters when temperatures drop to -40 Celsius?  The harsh reality is that there will always be homeless and desperate people in the world.  I don’t believe poverty could ever be completely eradicated, but it is a worthy goal to attempt to achieve.  Some people are lazy and fall into poverty, but then their life becomes a life lesson on perseverance and working hard until they can conquer the poverty plague.  Some people have bad luck and fall into poverty, but no matter what the situation, people have an enduring spirit that I’ve seen in many Mongolians.  I’ve meet Mongolians who were born and raised in a ger, but are going to graduate from college and find a good job.  America may have coined the rags to riches story, but it is possible in far-flung places like Mongolia too.

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