From zero (waste) to hero! Drowning into the story of waste crisis in India


I must confess something. Recently I got truly inspired by Life less throwaway book (Tara Button) and first chapter you can actually read/download here. Honestly, I got almost completely brainwashed towards environmental sustainability and believe me, such cold-water bucket poured on my head is definitely not to write now lectures about slogans that pop up almost everywhere like zero waste, less waste, going zero waste, going green and any other motto related to negative impact on Earth. Yes, that’s obviously there but most importantly, the book opened my eyes how technology and advanced techniques are used by corporations, big companies to turn up the shopping pace, to spin up consumerism, to make us unconsciously follow what others want us to think and do, what we should follow by setting up trends that keep changing and how to make us feel guilty when we are not into this. And how all this lead to massive waste growth. And waste crisis, in India – the place I live now – as well. A more than 1 billion population country that creates enormous amounts of waste.

Today’s blog is about spreading a word of awareness how we all fall into shopping madness, owing-more madness and mass overproduction that pushes us to possess things we do not actually need (but looks like we are somehow induced subconsciously to want them) and its consequences – growing landfills and poor waste management. About things we get and that take control of our minds giving us short term happiness of possessing something new and then leaving us with greed and guilt feelings to have more unloved things and replace (buy versions of same products) them easily with upgraded versions of stuff that is still in good working condition. Tonnes of plastic, paper, bottles, food peels, electronic devices and more accumulate every day almost everywhere in India, on the side of the roads, in front of houses, behind malls. Quite scary? Sorry, it’s just daily Indian life.

Indian frugality versus modern consumerism

Did you know that India generates 142870 tonnes of waste per day (according to India environment Portal, link to report)? Can you imagine – with a growing population of almost 1.5 billion, India that is already facing massive waste management challenges will face it even more if not taken care properly. Inefficient and insufficient waste infrastructure, no planning, financial problems, population growth and increasing rate of solid waste generation will make it difficult to manage later on. “Never in history have so many people had so much to throw away and so little space to throw it as the people of India in the second decade of the twenty-first century,” Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey, professors at the Australian National University, the authors of The Waste of a Nation (Harvard University Press) say. All these factors seem to break generation to generation cultivated Indian culture of frugality and reusing things. The trend today, like almost everywhere in the world, is to buy and consume mostly disposable goods, which makes it difficult for India to handle waste on large scale.

Personally, I was always impressed by how third world countries manage to reuse things. I saw it many times in different states in India, especially in poorer or rural areas. I would say people over there mastered upcycling stuff, repairing it, reusing raw materials. Let’s take an example of using cow’s dung as kindling, as floor component, using wooden pallets as furniture, toys… Sometimes I think only imagination is limit here… How resourceful and fugal it is! How beautiful it would be to buy things that can be used for years or reused for some other reason when they are still in working condition? It sounds simple, but in such an industrialized world, in fact, reducing waste production is more complicated than it sounds. First, we need to answer the questions of why we produce so much garbage.

waste crisis in india
waste crisis in India

Carrot or stick approach?

In an age of multiple and massive innovations, obsolescence becomes the major obsession.

Marshall McLuhan

Can anyone of you recall the moment when the most expensive part in your washing machine or dishwasher is used exactly after two years, can’t you? Or just after the warranty expires, the phone battery breaks down. Unfortunately, it is integrated with the camera, so you cannot replace it itself and you have to buy a new phone. Once or twice it can happen but when it comes as a device breaking routine, no one can call it bad luck anymore. That’s what actually I got to know from Life less throwaway book. It’s the deliberate action of producers whose business depends on our buying patterns, on our “desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary…” And so it comes, planned obsolescence In full picture. A policy of planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time. This is about buying new things, although the old ones should still – in theory – work. Either you cannot fix them, or the cost of replacing parts reaches the price of new equipment.

A product that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business (1928)

Industrial revolution and automation of production processes meant that producers, especially large corporations, struggled with the excess of manufactured goods. Production was in full swing, more products were coming down from the production tapes, but their sales were not moving forward. From that point, it was deliberately decided to manipulate the planned aging of products to make products break down faster than originally produced and make us replace them with new ones. What we all will do with broken ones? Repair? It’s not what corporations want (that still will indeed slow down selling new items), so they provide parts that easily get broken down in higher prices that in the end we end up buying a new product and throw the broken one.

It is not worth repairing, better to buy new.

What happens next? Such a cycle makes us feel relaxed (and little lazy) that anytime we can replace the old product with a newer, upgraded version of the same. The older one lands in landfill generating mountains of electro garbage. Why is this all happening?

To be quite honest, I do not think manufacturers are actually seriously responsible for the warranty and recycling of their products, which is indeed complicated and expensive. They do not have the motivation to improve the quality of devices. Responsibility for the environment or for the consumer is their least concern. This would force manufacturers to redesign the production and equipment and take care of its higher quality. Where will it take us? World, where are you taking us?

Buy me once approach

Myself, I have never been an extraordinary supporter of recycling, it uses energy and materials again, making it double work to get another item. Yes, it is saving space for storage, it is reducing the number of harmful of hardly decomposing waste, yes, it is reducing the consumption of natural raw material. But to be honest, I do recycle item only when I know it is the last approach, the last action I should take – when I know I am not able to repair a broken item, nor buy a broken part and replace just this not-working part, or I really cannot reuse it anywhere else. I do not much believe in a world with recycling everything approach. I believe in the world that produces good quality, long term, long lifespan products that we can use for many, many years without replacing them. I believe in less throwaway life and less garbage production place. Who is with me?

My first hope is that we will minimize using plastic in our everyday lives. Such a small thing like plastic straws for our drinks or juices are a gateway into a larger conversation! As large as India ? This sub-continent is definitely characterized by its diversity – I would love to have this country as trendsetter for reducing waste production and proper waste management. So ask yourself question next time standing in front of the counter, whether you really need the products in your basket? Will they make you happy? Will they be still loved by you after one month, one year, 10 years with the same feeling as the one during the shopping moment?

Of all living things, we – humans have the most impact on their environment. The economic growth and technological advancement bring with them pollution as well. All in all, it will not only affect our health but the health of the next generations.

The journey to zero waste starts with you

Is there any solution that can be started? Anyone can start at the domestic level, anyone can actually participate in waste reduction practices, it’s just to what degree you people can (and want). You can see how I actually started. Going less plastic, segregate garbage, buy things with long term lifespan, question producers if something is breaking before warranty, or just after its completion. Question ourselves if we really need all these things that are cluttered in our lives. Small steps will push further actions as we all know not all changes will happen on a large scale immediately. Cities and villages in India need sewers to keep control of urine and excrement in places where there are no sewers provided. There should be maintained large scale education about hygiene and waste management that also requires well-trained and well-paid staff. The movement starts slowly and steadily – you can check the example of a national campaign in India that aims to clean up the streets, roads, and infrastructure of India’s cities, smaller towns, and rural areas Swachh Bharat. Let’s hope for more, let’s see what the future brings.

Going less waste (or perfectly zero waste!) is totally possible but I know there’s also a lot of changes that need to happen, to make people believe in the use of non-toxic, non-plastic and more sustainable products. It’s worth taking care of the environment – but wisely!

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.

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I would love to hear your comments on this! How about you? What are your buying habits? Would you consider buying less, starting a life less throwaway or investing in the experiences rather than things? Do you have any more suggestions or a question that I haven’t answered? Thank you very much for reading this article. I am curious if you have/had any experience of yours? Any comments? – please share your experience. And if you liked the article – share it, click “Like it” and subscribe to my newsletter.