An Uncomfortable Truth

This past weekend Mat and I went camping at the lovely farm of two friends, and had a wonderful time.  I have a lot of really good things to say about our stay there, and I will share them all with you in tomorrow's post.  But first I have to talk about something heartbreaking and unpleasant. 

On Saturday our hosts took us into a national forest whose borders are close to their property.  They packed a lunch for us and we drove through beautiful jungle, filled with monkeys, wild boars, and foxes, and had a picnic on the bank of a river that runs through the park.  

NOT YOUR AVERAGE PICNIC

Let me preface this by saying that trash is literally EVERYWHERE in India.  You can never escape it.  Only a few times in the last year have I been in a place where there was not trash directly in my line of sight.  And I'm not talking trash in a bin, I'm talking litter on the ground.  In the road, in the park, on hiking trails, in canals, on beaches, IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREAKING EVERYWHERE.

I know this about India, and I'm sorry to say I've gotten used to it to some extent.  But on Saturday when the four of was walked down to the water, I was appalled by what I saw.  There must have been MILLIONS of plastic cups, paper plates coated in metal, tetra paks, clothes, crisp packets, you name it.  Every conceivable kind of garbage was there.  IN A NATIONAL FOREST.  Here we were in wilderness that is supposed to be protected by the government, and it felt like we had come to a landfill for our picnic.  

HOW IS EVERYONE OKAY WITH THIS?

I WANTED TO SCREAM.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to stop every person I saw walking along the water and say "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE THINKING?!" at the top of my lungs.  

Don't get me wrong, this is not the first time since I've been in India that I've beheld a scene like this.  Not by a long shot.  In fact a scene not unlike this is what inspired me to start this blog in the first place.  But I've never seen it this out of control, this extreme.  It was horrifying.  There's no other way to describe it.  

And I thought, "Why does every single person who has thrown their trash on the ground - and there had to have been THOUSANDS - why do they ALL think this is okay?  Why don't they understand that this stuff doesn't just disappear, it's going to be here for HUNDREDS OF YEARS.  Do they know?  Are they just alright with it?"  

Who would want to spend time in a place like this?  Who would so disrespectfully abuse such a naturally beautiful place?  Does no one care about the health of the wildlife that live here?  About the fish?  About the fact that most of this garbage is going to be swept down the river and wind up in the ocean?  

Is it me?  Is it because of my culture and upbringing that every fiber of my being revolts at the sight of this?  I have always assumed that it was an in-born human trait to want to keep the outdoors pristine and to keep trash where where it belongs, but looking at this mess, I thought, I must be wrong.  

WE ARE AN EVEN BIGGER PART OF THE PROBLEM

After my fuming anger died down a little bit and gave way to desperate sadness, I realized that this garbage dump represents only a fraction of the waste that humans create every single day.  And here was the most difficult part to swallow:  WHEN IT COMES TO VOLUME OF TRASH, INDIANS ARE NOT THE WORST OFFENDERS.  Not even close.  Where the average Indian creates 272 kg of waste per year, the average American creates 762 kg of waste per year.  Yep.  We've got them by 280%.  

Yeah, we put our trash were we can't see it.  We're way ahead of India on municipal trash collection.  But just because it's out of our homes and (mostly) out of our parks doesn't mean it's gone away.  THERE IS NO AWAY.  It's still there, and will be for the next 500 years or so.  So while it may be easier to relax by a river or on a beach and not be sitting in our own garbage in the good old US of A, make no mistake, that garbage is still sitting somewhere else. 

Look, I'm not saying I'm some sort of zero waste saint.  I only really truly opened my eyes to the problem a few months ago when I started this blog.  It's much easier to be ignorant of the problem than to look it in the face, even though there is evidence of the problem all around us if we're willing to see it.  AND IT'S A BIG FUCKING PROBLEM.  I'll readily admit that it sometimes seems insurmountable.  

But we have a choice.  We can do nothing, and keep living our lives in oblivion, which yes, is much easier and more pleasant.  Or we can choose to quit participating in the cycle of buying disposable stuff.  Because at some point, we are going to run out of room for all this waste we're creating, and we'll have no choice but to have our picnics amongst our own garbage, just like we did on the banks of that river.