Stories from the field

month June 2016

Sophia Mayen – Blog 3: An Education in Yokohama City’s Waste Resources and Recycling

I was lucky enough to have been taken on a tour of the waste resources and recycling facilities in Yokohama City to learn about the City’s process in waste disposal, recycling, and management. The site visit showed me that there is more to garbage than what I had initially thought. Previous to this I hadn’t put much thought into how we treat our garbage and whether it could be viewed as an important resource. However, I had always known that we collectively consume more than is needed and produce far too much waste, which has in turn contributed to much broader issues (environmental degradation, environmental contamination, economic disparity, and climate change just to name a few– but we won’t get too deep into that for now). I realized that growing up I was never taught about our garbage system in its entirety, only that we must recycle and compost; but never about exactly where my garbage goes, what happens to my garbage if it isn’t recycled, what happens when it is, where does my compost go, who uses my compost, or how long will the landfill last? These seemingly simple questions were all answered during my day visit to 3 waste resource facilities in Yokohama.

Group shot with Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office Workers and CYO Staff

 Group photo of the Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office workers with CITYNET staff

Our site visit began at the Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office. Here we were given a brief introduction to waste collection and waste resources in the area.  A lot of what they do in terms of garbage separation seemed familiar to me. However, unlike the recycling, compost, and garbage separations we usually make in Victoria, there are 10 categories in the sorting process of Yokohama: burnables; dry-cell batteries; spray cans; non-burnables; plastic containers/packaging; cans, bottles, and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles; small metal items; paper; used cloth; and oversized garbage. Not only are they very specific about garbage separation, they are also strict, giving warnings and fines to those who don’t separate their garbage properly. Following along a garbage truck to observe how the workers collect garbage, we noticed their due diligence to ensure proper separation was satisfied– even placing a yellow warning sticker on a bag that had burnables and plastics mixed together. 

Workers collecting waste from a collection site

At home we don’t get warnings for our garbage separation; if I throw a plastic bottle into my garbage it gets taken away without question (Don’t worry, I don’t! Save your gasp). We use bins to separate garbage and place them at our curbside, while in Yokohama everyone places their plastic bags into the community’s garbage collecting site, organized by garbage type until it’s time for collection. If there is a problem with the garbage it is the community at fault and not just the careless individual.


Me and the other intern, Tabatha from George Mason University (left) standing in front of a very cute garbage truck   

Photo above: Two collection workers demonstrate waste pickup at a collection site. Photo Below: Intern Tabatha from George Mason University and I standing in front of a very cute garbage truck

Next, we paid a visit to the Resources Separation and Recycling Facilities in Midori. All of the materials that are taken to the facilities are metals, plastics, and glass. Separation commences with machinery that tears the plastic garbage bags open, separates cans from plastics and glass, and even separates large pieces of glass by colour. The rest is done by workers standing at conveyor belts, efficiently sorting their assigned material. 

workers at a conveyor belt separating glass by colour

Three workers at a conveyor belt sorting glass by colour

Then, plastics and metals are compressed into transportable squares and taken to be recycled or sold raw to private companies (in this case mostly in China).

 CITYNET Staff pose with Midori recycling facility and Tsuzuki facility staff in front of compressed blocks of plastic  CITYNET staff, Tsuzuki Resource and Waste Collection Office staff, and Midori Separation and Recycling Facilities staff in front of compressed pastic blocks.

Our final visit was to the Tsuzuki Incineration Plant. This is where the rest of the garbage that couldn’t be recycled or reused is taken. 

Standing outside of the incinerator control room while Mr. Kuroda explains the process

Mr. Kuroda shows the control room and explains the incineration process

We learned that in the 1960s Japan faced a huge waste problem due to the increase in development and industrialization; because of this incineration plants were introduced to reduce the shear volume of waste being put into the landfill. By the early 2000s they introduced the G30 Plan (which promotes the separation of garbage) and as a result reduced the amount of waste by over 42%. This caused 3 of the 7 incineration plants in Yokohama to close down and has elongated the lifespan of the landfill. Plans to reduce garbage even further have begun in 2010, which emphasises on the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and has targeted reduction to more than 10% by 2025. This particular incinerator not only reduces the volume of waste, it also heats the nearby swimming pool and produces energy for a portion of the city while selling surplus energy to electric power companies. Hearing I was going to an incineration plant I had the connotation it was going to be encased in a dark grey cloud of pollution and smell putrid. I was shocked when we arrived– no smell, and no smoke! The garbage is dumped into a giant enclosed pit and is mixed constantly by giant mechanical claws. 

The giant garbage pit

View from the mixing claw machinery room down to the garbage pit

The incineration process is done on a conveyor belt that gets blasted with air taken from the garbage pit and heated to around 900 degrees Celsius. The air is filtered by a variety of high-performance filters to extract toxins (such as dioxins and NOx emissions), soot, and smoke. The remaining ash then gets placed into trucks and transported to the landfill located along the coast.

Me and Tabatha posing in front of the incinerator stack

Myself (left) and Tabatha (right) pose in front of the incinerator stack

One of the main takeaways for me was how much expertise and knowledge the staff members displayed throughout the site visits. The head of the recycling facility mentioned that he has noticed an increase in how involved workers are in recycling and waste resource education, something he hadn’t seen before. They fully understood the role and impact these facilities have in their city and are passionate to share it. School children get taught about these initiatives and facilities early on, even taking part in tours as part of class curriculum. From what I have observed, Yokohama is very transparent and clear about how you should dispose of your waste and what happens to it. From day one of arriving I was given multiple sheets of information about proper garbage disposal, and told about the culture around garbage disposal. I never received an in-depth education on our garbage system growing up; just bits and pieces that I have acquired through my parents, the internet, school, and city government. Perhaps this has been changing, or maybe other schools received better information on their home’s waste and waste facilities. In Victoria I consider us to be “eco-friendly” or “green”, but I believe there is a lot of room for improvement.

The tours of all the facilities left me thinking about how we can lessen our burden on the environment and each other. Decreasing our waste from what we are consuming seems to be the most crucial part from this point going forward, and something I think Yokohama and Victoria are working on. I am very happy to have been given the chance to visit these facilities, and given an education on Yokohama’s process to this extent. Now to have the same for my home; that is now on my list of things to do when I get back.

Kenda Chang-Swanson – Blog 2: Beginnings and Reflections

Hello, Kenda here from New Delhi, India where I am interning with PRIA as a program assistant through CAPI. Here’s a podcast after my first month here with a little introduction to PRIA, the two projects I am working on and a few othe reflections from the beginning of my time here! 

Elena Lopez – Blog 2: Mega Games and Labour Migration

In June 2016, I began my stay with the organization Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) in their regional Asia & Pacific office located in Malaysia. In this blog, I introduce BWI’s mega games campaign. International sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup depend on the construction sector, and often involve migrant workers coming to the host countries to build infrastructure. These mega games provide an opportunity to organize workers and put pressure on the host countries to respect labour rights. 


Emma De Vynck – Blog 3: “Humble” – Exploring language and its resonances


A lot has transpired since my last blog post! There are many things to explore. I’ve chosen to discuss “humble” and its complexities at this point in my journey. 

Leanne Dixon Perera – Blog 6: Sample Brief on Labour Recruitment for MFA

In February 2016, I was afforded the opportunity to conduct research with MFA’s members and partners in Bangladesh surrounding migrant labour recruitment between Bangladesh and Malaysia. During my stay, both governments signed a “Government-to-Government-Plus” or “G2G+” agreement, expected to recruit 3 million migrant workers from Bangladesh to Malaysia over 3 years. This is a draft copy I wrote for MFA of the initial findings from that research, which highlight civil society perspective on the ground during the negotiations, as well as uncertainty in light of a “freeze” on intake of all migrant labour in Malaysia, announced only one day after the G2G+ agreement was signed. 

Jesse Baltutis – Blog 4: Water in the Sky: An Exploration of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2

This is the final in-country blog I will write from my field research in Southern Africa. The blog is a reflection of the field research I conducted in Lesotho – a land-locked mountaneous country set entirely within the borders of South Africa. Known as the Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho’s vast mountains and sweeping valleys are breathtaking in their beauty and isolation. Yet, the country faces incredible developmental challenges, including one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. My blog looks at the next iternation of the multi-year, multi-billion dollar international water transfer project known as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the largest of its kind in the world.  

Danae Zachari – Blog 1: Privilege and What Laws Mean to Different Individuals

My socio-economic privilege and the fact that I hold a Canadian passport give me the freedom of mobility that the majority of the world’s population may not have. Many are using their life earnings to take on this journey in hope for a better future, while I have the freedom and privilege to be planning trips for personal pleasure. When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the border control officer asked how long I intended to stay and was not even concerned about the purpose of my trip, as it was likely assumed that I was a tourist. The process was quick and easy, but I am aware this is not the case for everyone. If I was holding a different passport, it is likely the officer could assume that I intended to stay  longer than I was permitted, and would thus demand more information.

A few days after arriving, I once again became aware of my own privilege. Claire, my fellow intern, and I were returning home in a taxi and the police signalled the car to pull over at a road security checkpoint. They asked to see our passports, but we didn’t have them with us. Instead, we had taken a photocopy of the ID page, which we showed to the officers.

“Not good enough. Where are your passports?” asked the officer.

“We left them in a safe place where we are staying, but we do have a photocopy and other identification on us,” we replied.

“Not my problem. You have five minutes to get someone to bring them”, said the police officer.

We convinced them to let one of us go home and return with the passports, while the other stayed at the checkpoint. This experience was yet another reminder of my social advantage. A checkpoint for an asylum seeker who is considered “illegal” could mean detention or deportation. The police often stop refugees to check theirdocumentation, which can result in assault and robbery. When these people’s rights are violated and it is difficult to impossible for them to access the legal system to report such incidents; a right I take for granted. 

The Malaysian visa policy has no negative impact on me as I can easily exit and re-enter the country.  For others, however, this is not the case. After their three-month entry visa expires, even if these people have managed to retain their passports, which are often held or confiscated by smugglers, they are considered “illegal” under the law. One could argue that being able to receive a visa upon arrival is a positive thing because it gives people the opportunity to go to Malaysia on a plane and not to have to travel by boat or on foot (which in fact still happens, as there are many using such means to reach Malaysia). I have come to understand that unfortunately, the truth is that refugees traveling by plane still rely on illicit networks to issue passports and arrange travel. From Afghanistan, for example, an individual must be twenty-one years old to exit the country. This means that in order to leave the country many minors must purchase fake passports that state they are over twenty-one.

The reality is that many people are drowning in the sea trying to reach a safe destination; many are abducted between borders, trafficked, and forced into unlawful contracts, which demand repayment to their smugglers, who are working under the guise of helping them, while in fact they are exploiting them. The picture that circulated on social media of the young child that died in the Aegean Sea made me think, like many others; what if the Turkish and Greek government, for example, were to run a commercial ferry line to allow individuals and families to safely travel? I do understand that this has happened to some degree, however, it does not give justice to the thousands who have and continue to lose their lives and all those who experience yet another trauma, other than the distress of having to abandon their homes and at the moment, for many, warzones. This leads me to question the banal reality of conflict and war. 

The focus of the media in the past couple of years has been on the refugee crisis that Europe is facing with thousands of people trying to enter that space, as well as, on the fear that there may be terrorists among the refugees. What about the terror that is forcing people to leave everything behind and take on an unsafe, unknown and unpredictable journey? Of course many are discussing this, educating people like myself, and challenging the underlying structures such as capitalism and patriarchy, which produce these systemic inequalities, in order to bring social change. I am not trying to say that the relocation of people is not a required apparatus and a significant part of the solution. If I believed this, I would not be here interning with an organization that is dedicated to supporting refugees in their new environment and in their process of being granted refugee status and hopefully, resettled. Instead, I am briefly stating that it is important to address the roots of the problem, to discuss issues such as the role of colonialism, of external intervention, of climate change, of the capitalist ideology and of political interests that are destroying people’s livelihoods.

Laws affect different individuals in a variety of ways, and I realize how ignorant I can sometimes be of what a policy or legal process means for somebody else. Although I can make assumptions about the prevalence of police violence, for example, I can never truly understand the complexity of the issues the way someone who has to live the experience every day can. I have the opportunity to discuss such issues on platforms like this one, while those living under these oppressive systems most often do not have the chance to make their voices heard. This leaves me with the responsibility to be mindful of myposition and how I express what I am learning, and furthermore, how laws impact me in comparison to others.

Claire Horwood – Blog 2: Lost in Translation: An Introduction to the Malaysian Social Research Institute

It is late Friday afternoon when I climb the stairs in the medical services and community support building for the Sahabat Support Centre (SSC).The building itself is unmarked, with a run of the mill business underneath which diverts attention away from what happens on the 2nd and 3rd floors. My feet are heavy in the narrow stairwell, as beads of sweat congregate at my temples, along my hairline, streaking salt into my eyes. Sunlight dapples in, through grimy windows, and voices carry into the echo of the vast space.

I am nervous. 

“I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to throw you right into the deep end”, says Gloria, the operating manager of the SSC.

She is conducting an “open day”, where refugees book appointments to discuss medical claims, appeal for support (monetary and in kind) and pursue claims with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

When we enter the small and stuffy room on the top floor, the first candidate, an old man, his face heavily etched with dark creases, is hunched over an unsturdy looking table, surrounded by metal fold out chairs. Gloria motions for Danae and I to sit down, and a young Afghan man joins us, quite unexpectedly.

“Hello. My name is Gloria,” says Gloria, “do you mind if my interns sit in with us today?”

The young Afghan man begins to speak to the elderly man in what I assume to be Farsi. I understand, then, that he is an interpreter. And that interpreters are the lifeblood of this organization.

An excerpt from my personal blog – Caught in the Deluge – “Open House Friday at the Sahabat”

As the passage above suggests, one of the things that has become blaringly apparent to me in the few short weeks that I have spent at the Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI) is the importance of language when it comes to meaningful service provision for urban refugees. While I intend to introduce a narrative, much like the excerpt from my personal blog, to explore the themes of language, belonging and identity in my future blog posts, this first post will be a little bit more technical, because I feel it is important to outline the basic program infrastructure and language demographic at the centre.

Currently, at MSRI, there are a number of programs being offered to minority refugees living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. These are broken down by major activity below.

The number of people (and populations) accessing these services fluctuates, but the average demographic is outlined below, in a very professional looking graph.


When it comes to language, the diversity of the people coming through the doors at MSRI can make things a little bit sticky! Oftentimes, individuals hailing from the countries listed above not only speak different languages, but different dialects of the same language (for example, many refugees from Afghanistan speak Dari, while those from Iran speak Farsi, which are both variations of the same language).

And then you add in the written components.

Symbols for consonants. Graphemes that represent phonemes (or basic units of sound). Back vowels. Linear alphabets. And the list goes on and on.

Add all of this to the fact that language is also tied to largely non-concrete concepts like identity and belonging. We use language to connect to one another – to express our inner thoughts and emotions, to make sense of complex and abstract thought, to fulfill our wants and needs, to establish rules and to maintain our culture.

So what happens, when all of a sudden, we are thrown into a new context, where our language is not understood, and we do not understand the language? Simply put, we cannot communicate effectively, which has implications across the board.

From a personal standpoint, language has already impacted my own ability to order food, arrange transportation and access affordable housing in KL. I don’t speak Malay, and this makes me an outsider in many contexts. I also don’t speak Arabic, Persian, Somali, Urdu or Uzbek, among other languages, makingit difficult to communicate with refugees when an interpreter is not present, which is most of the time, since interpreters cost money and there is not enough of that to go around by any means.

According to the “Ethnologue”, the most extensive catalog of the world’s languages, there are 7097 distinct languages being spoken in the world as of 2016. Currently, in the office and the refugee community at large, there are over 20 different languages spoken regularly.

I am a ____________ (insert one word from the table below to complete the sentence).


Where are you from?

Palestine. Pyālēsṭā’inamā. Bālèsītǎn. Palestyna. Phalasatīna. Palleseutain.

I don’t know what my country is called in your language.

What brought you here?

War. Famine. Violence. Drought.

There are hundreds of different words for these things too.

What I’m getting at, with all of this, is that language is complicated.

And language, in turn, complicates. 

My goal during my internship is to examine the many ways that language, with all of its nuances and all of its layers, impacts the people who work at MSRI and the refugees who access essential services. My hope is that this information will help to shine some light on one of the most prominent invisible barriers that refugees and service providers face, both in facilitating integration into host countries, and during the re-settlement process.

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