Before I arrived in India there were several things I expected to see on its dusty, crowded streets: cows, tuk tuks and a lot of stinky waste. From plastic water bottles, discarded food and shredded clothes, to human excrement of all varieties; India’s public spaces are a breeding ground for illness, yet a source of shelter and food for the many stray dogs, goats, cows and humans who rely on them.
In large built up areas such as Delhi, or even small deprived towns like Pathankot, you can almost become accustomed to the sheer scale of rubbish; envisioning the infrastructure needed to keep on top of such an overwhelming demand. But what’s surprised me the most is the street side trash in the stunningly serene pine tree foothills of Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh areas in the North. Here, you’re surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful mountains, cheeky wild monkeys swinging from the trees and acres of discarded crisp packets!
India is known for its contrast, and this is never more present in its attitudes to its environment. Revered waterfalls and sacred shrines are not exempt, and are full of litter in the absence of public bins and a wider waste management structure. Add to this the fact that less than 30% of India’s sewage is treated, and up to 80% finding its way into rivers and lakes, India’s government is becoming increasingly pressured to find a solution for the country’s waste management.
But it’s not all doom and gloom here in one of the most naturally beautiful parts of the Earth. I’ve also spotted campaigns and organisations fighting to raise awareness and encourage a public responsibility for waste management in India. Though this alone will not solve the problem of a rising population and a general world decline in fresh water supplies, it’s certainly a step forward in the right direction. Indeed, there are also some zero waste ideas that we could adopt elsewhere in the world, such as the use of old newspaper to wrap street food or carry groceries in, and a frugal attitude to material goods (at least in the more poorer areas of India!)