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India has a Three-Body Problem

Steven Deobald
Feb 1, 2019 · 10 min read



What is garbage?

It may seem like a silly question but all sorts of variations have been asked of me over the years. “Why does garbage stink?” “Why can’t we just focus more attention on reuse?” and “Where do the costs of sanitation come from?” come to mind. If you’ve ever thrown something in the trash bin without asking yourself just where is this going to end up? you don’t really know what garbage is. The answer to this question changes with almost every piece of trash, with almost every bin, and definitely with every city.


Back in Canada, we don’t know what garbage is

One difficulty with living in a rich country backed by a huge resource economy is that it’s pretty easy to get self-righteous about how people in that country live, even if that way of life is far from perfect. It wasn’t that long ago that the garbage dump outside my hometown still burnt most of its garbage in open fires. (No one in southwest Saskatchewan bothers with that “landfill” euphemism.) It was on one of my many trips back and forth between India and Canada that it struck me how poorly we deal with waste in Canada.


Garbage is a small riddle

As an individual human being, there are only two steps to understanding our garbage. First, we need to deconstruct it. Second, we need to identify each component.

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The Three-Body Problem

This is where India gets stuck. There are many different methods of deconstruction and most of them don’t work. Any system which acknowledges the importance of our first two categories (organic and plastic) inherently creates a third: Everything Else.

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A garbage lorry in Jaipur

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Confusing your citizens in two easy steps!

On our way back from Jaipur to Chennai, we flew through Bangalore and it gave us a chance to see three different cities’ broken waste segregation messages.

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Bangalore’s useless airport segregation completely flies in the face of the actual state guidelines

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Chennai airport has real waste segregation but the city has zero

India can lead. India must lead.

It is the perfect time for Indian states to unify on their understanding of the top three categories of waste. Whether we choose to label them wet, dry, and reject or organic, recyclable, and mixed or green, blue, and red or any other three titles, unity from the top will help us pick away at the many difficulties plaguing India’s streets and water bodies.


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Siggu

Writing about a deep dive into Vipassana meditation

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