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Lecturer 'talks trash' at Penn State DuBois

David Brown, Associate Professor for the Centre for the Environment at Brock University in Ontario
5/11/2006 —

David Brown, Associate Professor for the Centre for the Environment at Brock University in Ontario, was the annual Robert E. Umbaugh guest lecturer at Penn State DuBois this semester. Brown, who holds a doctorate in ecology and renewable resources from McGill University in Montreal, presented "Garbage Cans to Gigabytes: Appropriate Technology for Taming Trash in Thailand," focusing on the strategies and a case study in implementing technological solutions for third-world country problems.

A grant from the Canadian International Development Agency brought Brown to Thailand in the mid-1990s to study and subsequently implement changes in municipal waste management. The east coast area suffered from numerous adverse side effects related to trash as a result of rapid industrialization, including contaminated waters, consuming landfill with recyclable material, work hazards, toxicity, and cost issues. Brown's research team worked to identify means to "reduce, reuse and recycle," to minimize costs, save landfill space, and identify potential revenue sources to underwrite added costs. Initially, the group thought to implement some of the waste management technologies used successfully in the United States and Canada.

According to Brown, the Canadian research team learned quickly that what's a good idea in North America doesn't necessary equate to a good idea in Southeast Asia. Garbage can't be held for weekly pickup due to the humid weather and presence of vermin, so city workers ran daily pickups of community waste barrels. Secondly, "waste pickers" abound – people who pick through garbage and remove anything that could command a price; this occurs curbside, at the landfill and by municipal workers. Health issues then come into play because hazardous waste is commingled with municipal trash, and workers and pickers don't necessarily dress for safety. Efficiencies challenged the group since half of the garbage composition was determined to be organic by nature and consuming valuable landfill space.

Brown and his colleagues looked at the opportunities these issues presented: potential for composting, revenue possibilities, safety training, and more efficient collection methods.

Lessons learned from the research stay with Brown to this day. Change that results in improvements to waste management cannot always work from a top-down method of implementation, but from involving all stakeholders.

"We all have a collective stake in the future of our planet," Brown told the group. "We need to work through social and political issues, and with a lot of debate…and come up with some consensus building."

The Robert E. Umbaugh Lectureship at Penn State DuBois was endowed to the campus in 1997 and provides funds to support the costs of hosting quality public speakers in the fields of science and technology. While visiting DuBois, Brown also shared knowledge with students enrolled in Penn State DuBois' wildlife technology, forestry and biology programs as well as faculty and staff and local high school students.

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