In Bishanpur, India, Trash Disposal Is a Huge Problem: How Would You Solve It

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I am currently on a gap semester interning for the educational NGO Pratham in Bishanpur, a large village of roughly 3,000 people in the northwest corner of the state of Bihar, India.  Bishanpur is surrounded by a number of small, rural, satellite villages, from which people come to the Bishanpur market. Due to the larger population and higher traffic from peripheral villages, the town generates a significant amount of municipal waste: plastic bags, wrappers, and bottles, old shoes and clothes, Styrofoam, newspaper, and food waste. 

In order to solve the problem of excess municipal waste, I am turning to the PolicyMic community to help me develop innovative, creative solutions, or to suggest new ways of thinking about or assessing the issues at hand.

There is no formal system for disposing of the trash in Bishanpur. Itoccupies street corners, and open, public spaces that end up unusable as a result. A number of villagers have mentioned to me that they feel that this waste and dirtiness is one of the largest problems facing Bishanpur, but they have not been able to find a solution. I talked to a local waste picker, and he told me the only goods that are of any value or use are glass bottles, which fetch one rupee per bottle, and certain types of flammable, paper waste, which he collects as cooking fuel.

Here are a few photos to give you a sense of the scope of the problem.

There are a number of reasons for why this waste is piling up, namely: a lack of formal institutions dedicated to cleaning up the trash, the difficulty of collective action, and inertia.  Without institutions devoted to picking up waste, there is currently no system through which households and businesses can conveniently discard their waste. Yet the problem is more complex than that. 

In theory, since people find a cleaner environment to be desirable, they could work together to try and come up with a solution. But, as I have been told, that has not happened. There are a variety of reasons for why such a meeting has not taken place. For one, the cost of one individual throwing their trash on the ground is quite low, much lower than the time cost of organizing a meeting and deliberating creative solutions to this refuse. Additionally, even if a system of waste disposal were to be set up here, it is unlikely that this organization alone would lead to the type of dramatic reduction in waste that people here would hope for. behavior change is extremely difficult, and inertia is hard to overcome. People would likely unconsciously continue to litter.

Given the community’s demand for a cleaner environment, I have been trying to think of creative solutions to municipal waste. I know that accomplishing anything will require a mixture of organizational structures and a marketing campaign dedicated to reducing waste. This marketing push would focus less on civic responsibility, and more on pride in one’s community, as this has been shown to be successful. 

I have considered holding a social business competition, in which the best plan would be awarded with seed funding for a potential solution. Although this idea sounds good in theory, most of the villagers I have mentioned it to have said they would not have the time to draft such a proposal. 

I have considered creating art out of trash, and displaying it in a public place, reminding people that these materials can be used in a variety of ways. I have also mulled over the possibility of educating children to lead the movement, and educate others on why the village needs to be more conscious of the waste problem. These last two solutions, though, are unlikely to work in the absence of a simple means of disposing, collecting, and reusing waste. 

In order to find a means of creating structures to deal with waste and behavior change, I want to tap the wisdom of the crowd. What kinds of solutions have you seen, or are you engaged in? What do you think might work in a resource-strapped town like Bishanpur? 

I have a budget of roughly $2,000 that I will look to deploy towards dealing with this waste. (Though if great solutions emerge that cost more, I will fundraise additional resources.) I will take the most mic’d comments and suggestions to the community to see if they are interested in taking these solutions forward. 

So please comment, share your ideas, and help us clean up Bishanpur!