Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGM staff
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGM staff

She sees trash as a precious commodity

‘Our trash doesn’t disappear, it goes somewhere’—and in a circular economy, it could be a valuable resource, says this environmentalist.

This story appears in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Banana peels and plastic straws are little more than garbage in most of the world. To environmental educator Lillygol Sedaghat, they’re precious commodities. For the past two years, the 27-year-old National Geographic explorer has traveled the globe to advocate for the untapped potential of trash. The linear economy, where resources are turned into disposable products, “is no longer sustainable,” Sedaghat says. She aims to promote a circular economy, in which “you maximize your resources and minimize your waste.” Since 2017 Sedaghat has researched one of the world’s most efficient waste management systems: Taiwan recycles nearly half its municipal waste and has reduced the amount sent to landfills to less than one percent—turning plastic waste into cell phone cases and food scraps into fertilizer. To Sedaghat, it’s a prime example of how a zero-waste economy can work. Her goal? For people “to realize a) they are a part of a waste system, b) they could make a difference and live a more sustainable lifestyle, [and] c) that our trash doesn’t disappear, it goes somewhere and affects someone.”

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