On Litter

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"A thorough analysis of the problem will help in better, long-lasting solutions"

Bangalore is a city of contrasts. On the one hand, we have multi-billion dollar MNCs and have common litter problems on the other. Primarily, there are two sorts of waste issues in Bangalore. The first is the garbage problem and the second is litter.

I find the litter issue to be easier to manage. I was travelling by bus the other day when I happened to look at the ground at a bus stop. I noticed quite a bit of litter. On looking at the individual pieces of litter, I saw a pattern emerge. The bus began to move, and I started observing litter along the way in all subsequent bus stops. It was interesting to note that most of the litter belong to the following categories:

  • Gutka and Pan Masala (Pan Parag) wrappers
  • Cigarette boxes and match boxes
  • Paper cups
  • Plastic water bottles

From this, we can conclude a few things. Customers can procure most of these items from the same shop. Most people who consume these products belong to a group.

For example, small vendors who sell cigarettes, also sell match boxes, gutka, pan masala as well as tea in tiny paper cups. One could argue that we must force such vendors to have dustbins near their shops. However, these vendors usually have a small bin near their kiosks. The problem is that the patrons are not using the trashcans. It brings us to the second problem - the group of people who purchase these items.

In my experience, people from an upper class (generally educated) purchase cigarettes and water bottles, people from a lower strata (generally uneducated) purchase pan masala and gutka, and the consumption of tea is common to both.

Is it possible to effect a significant behavioural change across people of all strata? Should the strategy be uniform or targeted? Or should we think about alternate plans? For example, certain countries like Germany have included an additional charge in the cost of bottles. Customers who have completed consuming their drink can walk over to recycling machines and deposit them which refunds the money. Methods like this work because the customer has something to lose if he tosses the bottle away. It is similar to supermarkets that require customers to insert a coin to unlock a shopping cart. The cart refunds the money only if the customer deposits it back to the stand. This method disincentivises customers from leaving carts in random locations.

In my opinion, the gutka and pan masala wrappers are the easiest predicaments to solve. The wrappers today are made up of plastic, and we are aware of the problem with this material. These companies should switch over to more eco-friendly solutions like paper or other biodegradable alternatives.

Cigarette companies should realise that people are more likely going to purchase individual cigarettes rather than boxes of ten. They should, instead, make larger boxes of 50 and allow the sale of single cigarettes. It will make it economical for cigarette companies and reduce waste.

The government can eliminate the problem of bottled water. Many parts of the city already have water dispenser systems (Parishudhdha Jala) that provide 25 litres of water at just Rs 5. I get water from one such centre, and I have been highly pleased with the quality. Bottled water, on the other hand, is incredibly pricy compared to these rates. The government should introduce more such centres. They could consider providing glasses made of leaves (like areca, which is used to make plates). Tea vendors can use the same sort of glasses.

As citizens, we should be more conscious and avoid littering. The government should invest more in analysing the nature of litter and help cut it down. Bangalore has been a beautiful city, and it is disheartening to see it become dirty.

The garbage problem in Bangalore, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether and requires a radically different approach. What are your thoughts on the litter problem? Can you think of better solutions? What has your experience been like? Do let me know your thoughts.

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