You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make. – Jane Goodall
I am not a big fan of waste.
No one is, I’m sure, but there is a difference between wanting things to be clean and tidy and not wanting to create waste in the first place.
The reason why this concerns me is that I, like many others, have family living in places where the waste management systems are failing to deal with what’s generated.
This leads to a worse quality of life – and to disease.
If you live in the West then it is hard to remember to wake up every day and be grateful for having clean air, clean water and clean streets.
In many of the pictures I draw as I think through concepts the landscapes are clean, fresh – showing the countryside and nature as it should be.
We perhaps don’t think too often of what the opposite might be – and how impotent you might feel as an individual, however motivated, to deal with the mess in front of you.
So, what do people do and is there some hope?
Well, it turns out that there is.
First of all, as the old Yorkshire saying goes, “where there’s muck, there’s brass.”
There’s money in waste, especially as you transition from dumping the stuff in big holes in the ground to processing and treating it instead.
You need certain things, including infrastructure, trained people and a growth in awareness.
I think that’s happening. The last time I visited Mumbai, for example, there was a marked improvement in the streets due to the policies of the government.
But really, it’s about individuals as well.
For example, I came across Almitra Patel while doing research for this post.
She was the first Indian woman engineer to graduate from MIT in 1959.
She spent thirty years working in industry.
And then, in the nineties, she led citizen-based activism programmes to compel municipalities to separate waste at the home before collection.
The thing you have to recognise about change is that it takes time.
It takes decades to build up the expertise and capability to deal with large, systemic problems.
And somebody has to be willing to invest and fund such efforts – it comes from governments and charities – but it has to come from somewhere.
For people like me who have moved between cultures, we feel a responsibility to give back as well – and examples like Almitra are ones that we can use to understand how that might be possible.
But, it’s also important to remember that we don’t just have to build systems to manage waste – we can avoid creating it in the first place.
India, if the figures are to be believed, generates 135,000 tons a day of solid waste.
That’s around 50 million tons a year.
Total waste in the UK is over 200 million tons a year.
I’m not sure if this is a like for like figure but the UK deposits 52.3 million tons of waste in landfill – which probably counts as solid waste.
In other words, the UK with 60 million people creates more waste than India, with over a billion.
That should make some people pause and think.
I think when you first look at a problem like how to deal with waste the immensity of the challenge can overwhelm you.
But, as you look into it deeper the problems do seem solvable – perhaps even profitable.
After all, how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.