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 travelled 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 maximise your resources and minimise 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 per cent—turning plastic waste into cell phone cases and food scraps into fertiliser. To Sedaghat, it’s a prime example of how a zero-waste economy can work. Her goal? For people “to realise 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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LEAD PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF