Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Indians Desensitized to Trash?

One of the hardest things for me to manage while I was in Amritsar was the amount of trash thrown into the streets. Not just side streets or back roads but even on the major roads around town. Here are some pictures of what I saw there:

This road is actually where trash is sorted and recyclables are removed, etc. This was after that had been done but before they brought in a new shipment.

This is circle road right outside of the old walled city. This is only a small section right next to the main market area where a large part of the city purchases their fruits and vegetables.

This is immediately in front of the cantt.

This is in front of one of the research institutes.

This one is down near the courts, government offices and some other criminal justice facilities.

All 5 of these pictures were taken in different places around the city. Some were near prominent neighborhoods. NONE were near the poor areas of town. Those areas were actually cleaner.

I think one of the things that astonished me the most about living in Amritsar was the trash piled up against the outer wall of the prevailing MLA's home. Here was this multi-million dollar home with a trash pile literally 3 foot high and 5 or 6 foot wide against one wall. It wasn't his trash! I would have gotten pictures but hubby asked me not to.

Trash is a big issue in Amritsar. It is causing health problems for both people and animals. There are serious hygiene issues associated with the trash. If you have the time to watch this video, I think you will find it just as disturbing as I did to see how big of an issue the trash has become.

In the past year several initiatives have been started to try to clean up Amritsar. I blogged about them first in this post and was warned that they may not last. I'm writing to you happily today to let you know that they are still going strong and it would seem they are indeed gaining support. I've been watching two particular initiatives for a while now and I'm starting to see a trend in their obstacles. They're having a hard time getting some people to realize that it's not okay to just throw trash out into the streets.

So that got me to thinking about how easily desensitized people can become to their environment. People have been throwing out trash for so long they've forgotten why they shouldn't do it. I'm sure that 5-10 generations ago the trash wasn't thrown out in this manner. How can I be sure? Well it's quite simple, Indians still revere the land and the cows highly just as they always have but 10 generations ago, plastic hadn't been invented.

The trash their ancestors threw out was predominantly organic. They had terra cotta (clay) pots and whole foods (pesticide free). When they threw out the scraps, it literally benefited both the cows and the land. Their children in turn threw out the scraps and taught their kids the same behaviors. Then man-made products started becoming more popular and plastic bags became all the rage. Now India is bursting at the seams with plastic waste.

Earlier this year the government banned thin plastic bags because they had become such a problem. Then they started charging for every plastic bag you got from the stores. (Very smart move IMO.) I think because of how long this issue of throwing out the scraps has been going on, many from the older generations do not yet realize the effects they are having on their own environment.

These initiatives I mentioned are seeking to educate everyone around the city on the importance of keeping it clean. In the meantime, why don't you help out, show your support and help keep these initiatives alive and thriving.

Amritsar Tourism Office - follow local media for times and events
Alpha One - Amritsar Sparkling
Voice of Amritsar

And finally, I leave you with an article that I think discusses and highlights the issues with trash in India and how it is being addressed.

Trash Planet: India


  1. I'd like to share another link.They are a anonymous group from Bangalore who have taken up the initiative to volunteer and clean around the city.

    Recently my society has signed up for the Dry Waste program where we separate things like glass, plastic, paper or cardboard from the rest of garbage and every Sunday they come and collect it.For those of you who live in India you can find batteries recycling bins in the Central Malls (at least here in Bangalore).I'm very happy because at first it was hard not being able to recycle like I did in Europe :).

  2. You are most probably aware the group "The ugly Indian" in bangalore who are doing a good job tackling similar issues. If not, here is a link

  3. Thanks for sharing. Yes I had heard of them and seen some of their efforts. I really think groups like this are great at spreading awareness and helping to educate this and future generations about the issue.

  4. What a great initiative your society has. I hope more societies start them. I don't remember seeing any battery recycling receptacles in Amritsar, not even at the mall but I would think there has to be a way to recycle them. After all, Indians do seem to be the best at recycling just about everything.

  5. Great topic. It's very hard for foreign tourists to grasp the amount of trash everywhere. When asked about it, we're told "someone will come by and pick it up." Really? It looks like they took a few years off.

    Thrilled to learn of the initiatives. I especially enjoyed your comment about organic waste being thrown out generations ago. Silly enough I'd never thought about it that way. It truly was providing for the earth and animals.

  6. Curious - when I was growing up in India, we had kabbadiwaalas come around to pick up the recyclables and pay some cash to my mom for the glass, paper and cardboard that she separated and kept for them. Does that not happen anymore?

  7. This post pretty much sums up the state of almost every city, big or small, in India. Indians in general are people who have very clean houses but when it comes to public cleaning I think nobody cares.
    So it will not be uncommon to see Indians cleaning their houses and then throwing the trash on the roadside or clean toilets in houses and pathetic public loos. I think this happens because of many reasons:
    1. India as such has no solid waste management policy.
    2. I know a lot of people(actually most of the people would do this) who would like to throw trash at a proper place or help in recycling but they don't know how to go about it.
    3. A lot of cities have those huge metallic dust bins(such as the one in this pic: When these bins are placed in neighborhoods people initially throw their trash in it but nobody disposes off the trash from these bins after some time and the trash keeps piling up. Finally people see no point in throwing in these bins.
    4. Even in cases where the trash is thrown in landfills the government/contractors don't plan and just dump it outside the city , generally near a small village.

    This problem has been compounded by the use of plastic. The trash is either burned or animals like cows eat the plastic along with the leftovers in it.

    Although this is a problem of monstrous proportions in India, given its size, population, ever increasing incomes and hence the purchasing\consuming of the people, I believe this issue can be solved with little effort and planning.
    People should be educated about the harmful effects not managing trash and the government should step up and plan solid waste management.

    Like you, even I think that charging for plastic bags is a very smart idea. I remember as a kid my mom( and everyone else in the neighborhood) used to buy vegetables and other stuff in a jute bag. I don't see any reason why people cannot do it now.

    Finally, I think the developed countries should help countries like
    India in waste management. In most places in the developing world
    plastic goods are used without recycling and the resulting trash is
    burnt polluting atmosphere for the entire world. Well, actually in
    India's case we don't need help and can pay for any new technology but i
    guess this lies way down the to-do list of policy makers.

  8. Yeah the trash is hard to grasp. As for the history of throwing trash, that is just my thoughts based on what I've heard and been told. I know some of the trash still thrown out today is done to feed the animals. Families in our area threw out leftovers and organic waste for the dogs specifically.

  9. I know someone comes and pays for the newspapers in our area and we also have someone who comes and takes our trash. We saved our plastic bottles for a man down the street who recycled them (we gifted them to him). Other than that I am not aware of any recycling efforts in our area. I did see the men going through trash and sorting it, etc. on that road in the first picture almost daily.

    It's possible the kabbadiwaalas you speak of are still there but I am not aware of them.

  10. As usual, an insightful comment. Love the email you entered btw.

    I did notice the homes were cleaned and the trash thrown into the streets around Amritsar. I only remember a few of the dustbins but there was rarely anything in them. I have a picture I took in front of one at Ram Bagh where the dustbin was empty with trash all around it. I would have posted that but it's on my laptop in India and I can't access it right now.

    I hope that these initiatives help to develop a waste disposal plan. I know they are small now but it seems they are growing in number and with India becoming more in the spotlight lately I think it's possible that they will. This could very well create jobs for Indians as well. It will be interesting to watch.

    While I was in India I used cloth shopping bags. I took them with me when I left the US. I prefer them because plastic is harder to hold. Riding on the back of a motorcycle with plastic bags was no fun when I had to do it. The cloth bags hold much more than the plastic ones as well.

  11. 9 years of living in India, things haven't changed much, in residential areas people clean their home, then dump the trash in the gutter right outside their home despite there being a garbage collecting system in place, then the same people will blame the governement for their lack of action! Civism is a completely foreign concept in India and that baffles me, because if EVERYBODY did their bit this would be a much cleaner place, but it seems ego, status and all kind of crap comes in between, people somehow think they are above doing what's right...sigh!
    In Mumbai it's Juhu beach that sadens me the most, the water is filthy, there are plastic bottles and bags and unmentionnables everywhere, and nobody seem to care. And NO crowd is not an excuse, mediteranean beaches are much more crowded during the Summer, The beaches in Chennai are as crowded as Juhu, but they are clean. Juhu is a posh suburb, many actors live there, Amitab Bacchan being one of the most famous resident.The mariott hotel is there, and yet it's garbage galore on the sand, and no one thought of putting dustbins around, no education is made, and the affluent will blame the poor uneducated masses, but I haven't seen many litter the place, on the other hand, designer jeans clad brats throwing their coke bottles around...yup seen more than one! These are the educated lot people, they just have an ego to match the content of their wallet and god forbid they go out of their way to find a place to dispose of their trash...sigh!

  12. Hi srcgreen01, kabbadiwaalas do exist still but I've never seen them inside the societies(maybe they aren't allowed?). There are some small business, like a "corporate type of kabbadiwaalas" that do the same, pay for recyclables.

  13. Looks a bit like London. The ugly indian seems to be the urban counterpart of apna desh.

  14. It is quite sad how people do not think twice before throwing their litter on the road! So glad that the two initiatives are going strong! I think there is a gradual awareness of what can be done, which is quite heartening!

  15. Yes, everyone needs to do their part. India can change a lot once they get more people to realize this. Trash is an issue in some places in the US but, we are teaching children to clean up and take better care of the areas. We have some great initiatives here as well so I know they can work. India just needs to keep working on these things so it can be better for future generations.

  16. Yes just the other day I bought some chocolate for Ishi and once she was done she handed me the wrapper because she knows I hate when she does throw it on the ground, we then head to the playground only for her to point to TWO discarded chocolate wrappers identical to the one she had, they were in the bushes, the playground is inside my residential complex, there is a huge trash can for people to use, the can is emptied everyday by the cleaning staff, and we live in a well off society. I guess some brats don't care, but I cared and I picked it up from the bush and into the trash can it went, other people at the playgrounds looked at me wierd though, but I don't care, this is what civism is all about people!

  17. They are becoming picky, they were coming in my old neighbourhood in Bangalore but refuse to take plastic bottles, soda cans, and cardboard, only glass, and newspaper.
    In Mumbai they aren't allowed inside my housing complex, my maid takes everything, she was trying to get money from my diet coke cans at first but gave up, because very few seem to take these in domestic amount, they are probably taken out of the dump at the landfil, but no individual seem to be able to seel these to a kabbadiwala

  18. Yes I'm glad they are going strong too. I really hoped these initiatives would do well and it looks like they are. I hope to see more events planned and more citizens involved in the future. Thanks for your comment.

  19. What a great teaching opportunity. This is how the future of India will change - one child at a time.

  20. I also wanted to share this site.Many people have started using it.It's a kambha (composter)

  21. Yes, Woodsy Owl, "Give a hoot and don't pollute". And Smokey Bear too. Pollution started to become a big problem in America (consumer culture) in the 1960s and by the 1970s public service announcements, children's education programs, fines for litter, recycling programs and so on were created to address the problem. Yes, civic duty, education and GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE!

  22. Thanks Mary, I remember growing up with those programs. In our area we also have street sweepers that come along and clean the streets daily to make sure even the dirt doesn't build up. I think all of these programs have done wonders toward getting the general public to do their part in keeping it clean. (Not everyone, but most of them.)

  23. yeah trash everywhere Evan educated people do it .its sad thing and it need to get change .hope someday it can happens !!

  24. I think it will happen. The younger generation seem determined to make it happen and I support them.