…turning trash back into treasure

Lessons from India: The Value of a Container

Indian nightfall greeted me along with my statuesque brother whom I now call “Indiana Calone”.   He kindly offered to grab me a cab but I was feeling mighty brave after my 20 hour commute so I hopped on his scooter with my backpack and we took off.

As we rode through the towns to my new home on the seashore of Kovalam, India, the first thing I noticed was the striking similarity this area had to Puerto Rico, a location on a similar latitude but mirroring longitude.  While riding along smiling, beside myself, I was then hit with the distinct smell of sludge!  Immediately my curiosity was triggered as the first  environmental problem presented itself in the darkness…”How did they treat their waste?”

One answer came as we drove through a haze cloud…”Ah, I recognize that smell: the noxious fumes of burning plastic!”  Another answer appeared by flashlight as we  walked through our natural pathway to our home:  it was laced with litter.

Throughout the trip I observed that the waste produced from basic daily functions was simply put in a pile.  I suspected our housekeeper was putting our waste under palm leaves right off of our walkway because of the distinct smell of baby diaper that grew over our stay.  (We had 3 small children with us.)


At first I was horrified by the thought of mini-landfills surrounding the homes and the impact of the open burning of the waste.  However, as the days went on I recognized that overall, the people efficiently used their surrounding resources and did not produce that much waste.

We, as American tourists, were far greater offenders of unconscionable waste production compared to our native neighbors.  We overfilled our 5 liter can daily while the natives drank the tap water, ate their meals on banana leaves, scooped their food with bread, used loosely woven towels instead of paper towels, water from a spray hose instead of toilet paper, potty trained their children at a young age…the list goes on.

So, imagine for a moment that Americans participated in an ‘experiment’:  Do not use your garbage containers for a week.  In that week, each household would keep their waste on-site in their own private landfill instead of putting it in containers that gets carted away, disappearing from thought and care.

Initial I suspect the piles would be enormous for our disposable society but within a simple week each household would be forced to face the reality of their own enormous waste production and the question, “What do I do about it?”  I suspect some people would insist that it is somehow the governments fault they produced so much waste therefore the government should take care of it while others may seek to actually reduce their waste even at risk of being falsely called a communist.  Oops, but I digress.

My simple point is this: when given the means to cart waste away, more waste is in turn encouraged to be produced.  The environmental impact of a container is therefore, by its indulgent nature, immense.




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