India has the largest population of any country in the world other than China, housing 17.4 percent of the Earth’s population, and it’s expected to soon overtake the land of the panda. It grows ever more powerful, along with the other BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). One small problem is that, in the words of Sunita Narain, director of the non-governmental Centre for Science and Environment, “We are drowning in our excreta.” India is rapidly transforming itself into the largest rubbish dump in the world.
Richer countries generate a great deal more waste than those that are poorer, with every Indian generating 1.01 pounds a day in 1999, compared to the 11.2 pounds of each resident of Hong Kong. Every rise in income of INR1,000, however, leads to another 2.2 pounds of waste, which is more toxic and less biodegradable, containing as it does more plastic and electronic waste. The Energy and Resources Institute estimated that waste generation in the cities of India will increase five-fold by 2047. India is on its way to becoming the largest producer of rubbish in all the world, as was reported in the November, 2013 edition of Nature. It would also be the largest rubbish dump in the world.
Rubbish and Indian trains
Railways in India cover almost 40,000 miles and convey 20 million passengers each day. Trains generally lack sanitation facilities. Without rubbish bins, people throw their detritus away. One young worker who served food on a train explained, “That is just how it is done. If we throw it outside, someone will eventually pick it up or burn the rubbish … What do we do with it if not?” That’s how to become the largest rubbish dump in the world.
Journeys can take days. The toilets of trains release waste directly onto the tracks, affecting not only hygiene but also rail safety, as rails and other hardware get corroded, which government estimated to cost $67 million a year. Greener toilets are planned. Toilets are a great problem for India in general. A report by Professor M N Murty and Surender Kumar, who wrote a book about the environment in India, stated that around 70 percent of sewage goes untreated. India’s Central Pollution Control Board warned that this had caused a major drop in groundwater quality.
Rubbish and the River Ganges
The River Ganges, more than 1,500 miles long, is considered sacred by Hindus. Yet, as would be expected of the largest rubbish dump in the world, it’s one of the most polluted rivers around, with people throwing their rubbish, washing clothes and utensils and defecating in it. People are cremated along the Ganges’ banks and their ashes sprinkled onto the water. A recent study by the National Cancer Registry Programme at the behest of the Indian Council of Medical Research demonstrated that the rate of cancer among people living nearby was the highest in the country.
The World Bank instituted the USD1.6/GBP0.9/EUR1.1 million National Ganga River Basin Project in 2011 and revealed that earlier cleaning efforts were unsuccessful due to the lack of public participation, with both industry and communities failing to appreciate the need to change their habits and not be the largest rubbish dump in the world.
Rubbish in Mumbai
Mumbai produces more rubbish than any other Indian city. Almost 500,000 people reside near rubbish landfills, leaving little doubt that this is the largest rubbish dump in the world. These have been sprayed with perfume in the face of complaints from those living nearby. Every year in India, 20,000 people die from rabies contracted from the bites of stray dogs. In Mumbai, there has been an explosion of the population of not only stray dogs but also leopards, which stray from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park into built-up areas and maul or even kill slum-dwellers. Trash fires account for around 20 percent of the air pollution in the city.
Plastic bags, a leading source of rubbish
Banning plastic bags can be a good idea, but India has experienced problems since accomplishing this in 2011. Infringement of the ban can lead to a prison sentence of as much as five years or a fine of up to INR100,000 (USD1,619/GBP980/EUR1,174) but nevertheless, plastic bags are ubiquitous. The owner of a Delhi clothes shop complained that plastic bags were essential to his business, and questioned who would check.
What can be done
There could be wealth in the largest rubbish dump in the world. There are plans to construct waste-to-energy plants, for instance in Ghazipur in the Northern Province – Uttar Pradesh. Garbage can also be transformed into packaging material. City governments, however, shy away from raising property taxes.
Perhaps the most light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of scavengers. Much of garbage disposal in the largest rubbish dump in the world is antiquated. Ragpickers take economically-useful items from rubbish dumps. The United Nations estimated that between a half and all rubbish in developing countries is handled thusly. In India, they’ve been nationalised, issued with uniforms that include gloves and pushcarts and given modest health insurance and a regular income of INR36 (USD0.58/GBP0.35/EUR0.42) a month. They retain income from those items they sell. Earnings have doubled and sometimes tripled. All the children of one cooperative now go to school. When pickers sort the rubbish near where it’s collected, where previously it often went unsorted, money is saved.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”