Waste of a Nation

Assa Doron and Sanchaita Gajapati in conversation with Robin Jeffrey
Presented by Aga Khan Foundation

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; but in India, waste has implications for more than just frugality and hygiene. History, inequality, and classism all tie into waste management, all of which we already put little thought into. With so many factors linked to each other so inextricably, what will it take to solve the country’s waste problem? An insightful conversation between Waste of a Nation co-authors Assa Doran and Robin Jeffrey, and Sanchaita Gajapati, Managing Trustee of SANA, set out to explore just that.

Doran first grasped the extent of India’s waste problem when he was researching his book Cell Phone Nation. “A billion dead mobile phones, where do they go?” This was the question that set him on a journey of exploring the state of waste generation and disposal in the country. There, he discovered that the bulk of India’s waste springs from construction, demolition, and industrial activities, despite it being attributed to domestic and household waste. While this may not directly affect each of us, Doran notes that the people that have to deal with this suffer from social stigma, along with risk of injury and ill health: “At the bottom of the waste chain are those people that are locked into dealing with it.”

It’s only natural, then, that the approach to solutions should be bottom-up as well as at a policy level. Gajapati called for action that deploys ordinary people to become a part of the solution instead of the problem. “If it’s not a grassroots movement, it doesn’t work,” she explained.

While there are many different ways to look at the waste problem, the panelists all agreed that a decentralised local approach was the most effective. In fact, both Jeffrey and Doran applauded initiatives that local governments in India have taken. “You can’t have one solution for the whole country,” Doran said, praising localised efforts that had been undertaken by village panchayats. One thing that each of the participants did advocate for was rewarding and recognising the local heroes that are leading the charge on the ground.

Waste is something that affects every aspect of our lives, and this discussion shone a light on multiple issues surrounding waste that are often ignored. It’s safe to say, as Gajapati joked, that though they discussed the Waste of a Nation, the panel certainly wasn’t a “waste of a session.”

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