The problem of global waste as a problem is matched closely in magnitude by the problem of climate change. As global living standards and urban populations continue to rise, so do the mountains of trash we produce. Household waste is set to soar from its current 1.3 billion tons to 2.2 billion by 2025.
Indians are known to not keep the environment clean. We dirty our streets and beaches much faster than they can be cleaned. Throwing garbage on the road and the overall littering standard in the country is pathetic compared to standards in other countries.
In the report to the Lok Sabha only 17.6% of urban solid-waste (garbage) was processed as of March 2016, against a target of 30%, set last year under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
So it does seem that open-defecation is not the only problem that India faces as a country.
The Mission’s door-to-door trash collection, did better: 42.3% of urban India’s garbage was being collected from homes as of March 2016, against a target of 50%.
Dan Hoornweg, who retired from the World Bank in 2012 once said that it is ultimately a local problem and “for any government initiatives to work, the public has to be involved.” So while the government is trying very hard to do its bit through the Swachh Bharat Mission, the program needs the help of the public and that ultimately means its people. And the most difficult barrier we end up facing is how we change the habits in urban and rural areas.
The problem of changing a deeply entrenched behaviour
And now we seem to have come up with a great answer. When John Milton wrote ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness' in Paradise Lost, he spoke about a universal truth. Who ever thought that a few hundred years later, it might become a brilliant insight for a Swachh Bharat Campaign in India? Paradise Lost incidentally portrayed the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen Angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose was to justify the ways of God to men. And if cleanliness is the way of the Gods so it must be for Men.
India's 3 main hot buttons have been an inspiration for most marketers - Bollywood, Cricket and Religion. This is not the first time that we have used religion to change an obstinate and entrenched behaviour. Sometime ago, people thought of painting walls with Gods and Goddesses to prevent people from urinating on them. The same insight has been re-used beautifully in a film which promotes the spirit of a Swachh Bharat.
Such is the extreme veneration that we hold for the Hindu pantheon of Gods, the film beautifully uses a metaphor 'if you don't keep your environment clean, it may send your favourite deity laxmi away'. Using well known faces, Amitabh Bachan and Kangana Ranaut playing Laxmi, the film makes its point very well.
The publishers note says 'You would never have thought this way about Swachh Bharat. An important lesson on why keeping our country clean should be a personal goal. Featuring the queen of Bollywood - Kangana Ranaut, the legendary voice of Amitabh Bachchan, and Bollywood celebrities Isha Kopikar, Omkar Kapoor, and Ravi Kishan."
It is a powerful way of instilling fear and obedience and making people think of "Swachh" at the very moment when they are thinking of littering or urinating or defecating, all the laudable objective of Swachh Bharat. But great behaviour, changing communication coupled with infrastructure of building toilets needs tough legislation.
For the Swachh Bharat program to be a success, we need in parallel, stronger legislation and stiffer fines to change the existing habits of the Indians, coupled with policing to ensure that there is a fear inducted into the India psyche to stop littering and defecating in the open.