Tuesday, May 31

Mystery Solved

There is an incredible amount of garbage on all the streets and alleys of India, but the real mystery is why is there not more? Without dumpsters, or regular trash can distribution, I've learnt to go 'Full Indian' and drop my garbage as I walk or throw it out windows of buses and trains. I've heard that on long trains, children will make a game of it and compete to throw the trash as far as they can, picking up whatever they can find that there mother deems is trash. She may even dig through her purse to contribute to the collection of trackside and roadside litter.

After 3 months traveling India, I have solved where the trash goes in order to prevent astronomical accumulation that would quickly fill the entire country.

In our village, Setrawa, the food is made from raw ingredients and goats eat the humanly inedible portions, but some garbage was produced (namely my 20-20 biscuit wrappers). For the longest time I was searching for a garbage pick up service, formal or informal, but then one smoky day I discovered that a fire was burning a secret garbage pile outside the empowerment centre which, by the effort of the children under Mool Singh's instruction, had collected all our dead felt pens and packaging for weeks. 

In Mumbai, and I imagine it's the same for other cities, it is a much more elaborate process, beginning with 'rag pickers.' They are doubled-over women and children with large sacks, who salvage plastic garbage from the streets and sell it per kilo to recycling stations in the slums. There, an orderly process of sorting and grinding takes place, followed by washing, drying, and melting. The final products are enormous bags of small plastic pellets that get sold to manufacturing companies for a profit. There is also a selection of garbage that gets reused. One, which constantly troubles travelers is water bottles. 

Jen and I have so far avoided contamination from bad water, but on more than one occasion we falsely suspected the vendors of reconstituting bottles, all because Indian water companies are generous. When we bought our first water bottles, we thought they were too full. We were accustomed to having our bottles 95% full as is standard back home. It is, of course, the Indian way to give an extra 50mL with each bottle and it unfortunately often the way of the traveler to be skeptical of genuine generosity.

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