Sustainable Development in Northern India
This ain’t Kansas, Toto. And it sure isn’t Norway either, which is where I’ve spent most of my life. A place where 25°C is regarded as a very hot day, where people don’t shout in the streets or talk to strangers (unless drunk), and car horns are used so rarely that you’ll immediately get everyone’s attention when you do use it. A place that’s neat and organized, with reliable infrastructure and lots of space. Both physical space and personal space. India covers an area about 9 times the size of Norway, but is inhabitated by 236 times as many people. Things are different here, with the noisy and crowded streets, and the strangers that approach you to ask questions out of curiosity or to invite you to their home for a chai. Temperatures regularly creep up towards 40°C, and water and/or power outages are a normal part of the day.
Adapting to a different lifestyle was however surprisingly easy. But one of the things that is still confounding me is what to do with the solid waste, or trash. In my flat in Norway I had five bins: cardboard/paper, plastics, glass&metals, hazardous waste and burnable rubbish. When a bin was full I’d take it to one of the trash collection points located within three blocks from my building and empty it in the appropriate container. At regular intervals the trash collection company will empty the containers and take the cardboard/paper, plastics, glass and metals to the recycling facility and the burnables to the waste-to-energy plant that provides heating for many of the households in the city. The hazardous waste is brought in for further sorting before the various components are shipped off to government approved facilities for recycling, neutralization or destruction. People dumping trash at the side of the road, or even dropping their candy wrappers in the street, is a rare sight. There are garbage bins on every street corner and people use them.
In the Dharamsala area there are no garbage bins along the streets. There are no household guidelines for what to do with the trash, no waste management companies that collect it all and take it to the appropriate facilities for processing. Walking along the road you’ll see heaps of trash lying in the roadside ditches. There are however forces at work to change this. By coincidence I recently met a representative from an NGO that is currently working to develop a solid waste management program in Himachal Pradesh in collaboration with local panchayats. Waste management is also one of the areas EduCARE is working with, albeit on a smaller scale. And there’s been a governmental ban on plastic carry bags in Himachal Pradesh since 2004, which is very good. Unfortunately this hasn’t led to people bringing reusable shopping bags with them when they go to the store, so most shops pack the goods in paper bags instead which results in a lot of paper trash.
In the Maiti intern house we do our best to manage our waste responsibly, so we have bins for sorting our trash into food waste, cardboard/paper, soft plastics, recyclables (plastic bottles, glass and metal) and rubbish. The food waste we feed to the house owners’ cows. We take the recyclables to the migrant camps EduCARE is working with in Rajhol, which takes us about 20 minutes by bus/jeep plus an additional 30 minutes walk. The cardboard and paper we burn behind the house. The rubbish we should take to the dump in Dharamsala (30 minutes by bus), and the soft plastics we should take to Naddi (another 30 minutes by a second bus from Dharamsala). This hasn’t happened yet.
So dealing with the trash here poses quite a contrast for someone who’s grown up with a pretty well-functioning system in place, where trash is being collected, recycled, utilized. You sort it, put it in the correct container nearby, and it’s gone. And I sincerely think this is a good thing. I am very happy that my country has a system in place that functions and handles the trash. But at the same time living in India has made me even more aware of the trash we generate. Because here it is a very visible problem. It is accumulating in my home, and I don’t have a practical and easy solution for getting rid of it. At the beginning I couldn’t understand how people here could just carelessly discard their wrappers in the street, empty their dhaba’s rubbish bin on the side of the road, or bury old jars and tin cans behind the house. Now I watch the growing mound of soft plastics in the corner of our kitchen and I’m starting to get it.
– Mali Maerk, Norway
– Alternative energy project manager