Indian Recycling

One of the most shocking things about India is the juxtaposition between the intense beauty of the landscape and the trash littering everything. And I mean everything. It is impossible to find a path of land not befouled in some way with refuse. Coke bottles, paper, food wrappers, the works. Now, this is obviously my American sensibilities talking, but it is actually quite distressing to see such loveliness marred with debris.

Then I attended the Indian Independence Day celebrations a few weeks ago. Part of the festivities was a fair of cuisine from around India. It was heavenly. And one of my favorite dishes was Masala Tea served in earthenware clay pots. Just thinking about it made me happy. We had seen these clay pots around before, as they are used by the vendors in the bazaar when you buy hot drinks in the street.

Anyway, after a time, and a great many Masala teas, I went to find a place to leave my clay pot. So I went up to the server and asked where he wanted me to leave the cup. He stared at me. I sensed language difficulty, so I tried again, this time with pantomime. “Where do you want me to leave the cup?” Stares. And then, “Toss is over the cliff.” “What?” I responded. “Throw it on the ground.” I am, apparently, a big idiot for not knowing this. A colleague then explained. The pots were clay, mud. You used them, you tossed them out, you made more pots. It was just dirt after all.

Then I started paying attention a little more. I noticed that lots of things were thrown out, and many of them were biodegradable. And it clicked. The litter is the remnants of colliding cultures. A society that is still very used to using organic and mineral products for almost any task imaginable, and then throwing those products aside to recombine with the earth, is not used to Western packaging, where litter has a shelf life of ten thousand years. They do what they have always done, tossed the refuse aside, except now, the refuse stays.

I am not sure I have some grand epiphany about this revelation, although it helps ease my mind a little bit to put the littering into a social context that makes it a little more palatable. The main concern I have now is what other cultural garbage, unseen to the naked eye, has been left to litter the countryside?

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About the Author

I moved to India. I mean, why the hell not, right?