Lifestyle Travel

What does India’s rubbish problem say about Britain’s hidden waste piles?

When I visited Palolem Beach in Goa, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of rubbish, especially compared to the rest of India where you can clearly see a rubbish problem. Once I started travelling around, I saw that people drove it to the road and threw it there. The cleanliness is an illusion created by houseproud people who would never have litter in their backyard.

It struck me that the same is true in the UK, the only difference is that someone comes to collect our rubbish, so we don’t do it ourselves. We’re still dumping rubbish, we’re just paying the council to take it away for us. Whether the rubbish is in a tip or by the side of the road, there is still no ‘away’. Dumping rubbish does make it much more difficult to process, so it does show that rubbish collection is important to avoid fly-tipping.

Plastic waste is a problem around the world and it is in no way specific to the UK or to India for that matter. India does have a lot of rubbish because there are a lot of people, less disposal facilities like bins and little money to spend on it. In 2017, Bhalswa landfill caught fire as it expanded 30 metres beyond the height boundary that it was given. Landfills pollute both groundwater and the air so if when they’re not on fire, they are bad news for humanity.

While it won’t be to the same degree, if we can’t export our rubbish, we will be facing the same problems, we just don’t know it yet. China won’t take our rubbish any more and while we still have options, if they run out, our landfills will get a whole lot busier. NIMBY culture is strong in the UK and good waste disposal sites aren’t that easy to find.

The UK has exported rubbish to India, as well as China and now our rubbish goes to places like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is a highly unethical practise as these facilities cannot process this extra rubbish and a portion of it ends up in the ocean, as well as polluting the countries themselves. Vietnam is one of the top offenders in the world for releasing waste into the sea so why are we adding to that problem? More plastic pollution would impact their important tourist industry just like it has in Goa.

Our waste should be our problem, but if it’s out of sight then it’s out of mind. We are in need of a wake-up call and dealing with our own waste will make us realise the extent of the problem that we have on our hands. The fact that our politicians ‘haven’t thought’ about how to deal with our trash is an issue, especially as it’s something that we all consider when we do our recycling.

I feel guilty about the amount that I have to throw away, even when I’ve done my best to avoid plastics. If there’s no pressure on companies to provide alternatives, or for supermarkets to stop requiring plastic packaging then nothing will change. It took an embarrassing amount of time for the plastic bag ban to happen so when will we get more robust legislation? It is a complex problem and it would be naive to think that it could change overnight as it affects so many of our areas of industry. Regardless, those wheels need to be set in motion for our future wellbeing.

In India, I am forced to confront the trash I generate as there is not always somewhere for it to go. This means that I’m constantly aware of reducing my impact. Nobody wants to create litter and there’s several factors that need to change. If we all reduced our consumption of products wrapped in plastics, if the government create legislation to cut down on packaging and if retailers offer us plastic-free alternatives then we’re on our way. Once this comes into place, we can look at what to do with existing litter and then we can stop sending our trash abroad on ships which is carbon-heavy, expensive and unnecessary. Let’s dream of a day when bin day means having our food waste made into compost. Soil is another thing we’re losing, but that’s another story.

India thinks about its waste problem and so should we, burying our heads in the sand and paying for our waste to pollute another country is not a viable long-term solution. Let’s deal with this before its thirty metres high and on fire.

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