Insight from India: Using a Global Lens to Understand Canada’s Waste Problem

Author: Chelsea Southern

Before travelling to India, I hoped to learn something from my experience that would be useful to bring into my future classrooms. Upon returning home and reflecting, I was surprised that I could learn and gain so much from a short three-week period. This blog post will cover the topic of waste, and how my experience in India gave me insight into my future units on climate change.

One of the best things about travelling to another country is experientially learning about other cultures. Sometimes you discover a tension between norms abroad and norms back home. One such tension I noticed was between pollution and beauty. For all the beauty I saw in the Himalayas, the colourful Buildings, and the landmarks, there was a lot of garbage, too. Often, the beauty and the waste were side-by-side, which created an odd contradiction.

Unlike Canada, in Northern India, littering is normalized. I found myself at a strange crossroads, where the littering was uncomfortable to watch, yet the locals did not have a lot of options for dealing with garbage. In fact, I rarely saw a garbage can. A lot of garbage is simply swept into a pile and burned or left on the side of the road. Masala chip bags are casually tossed out of vehicles. Essentially, people’s only options are burning the waste or leaving it on the ground.

When you do not see piles of garbage on the road every day, it can be jarring to see so much litter. I started asking questions, like “How can I reduce my own waste?” and “Where exactly does Canada’s waste go?” These are great discussion points for the classroom that can stem into an entire science unit, then expand into multiple subjects.

I do not mean to cut down Northern India for its garbage issue or single it out. After all, waste is not just their issue, but a worldwide problem. I want to make this clear to my future students, especially when we research what happens to Canada’s waste. Secondly, just because Northern India has a lot of litter on the ground, does not mean they are doing everything wrong when it comes to waste disposal. Canadians can learn from Indians, for example, in the ways they reuse and repair their household items. When something breaks, it is often fixed. There are many shops that will repair your housewares for a small fee. In comparison, it is normalized in Canada to buy new when something breaks. Perhaps, part of the reason for this normalization is that our waste simply “disappears.” It is often shipped away, so we have the privilege of not witnessing garbage infiltrate the landscape.

I will not forget the tension I felt in India between beauty and pollution. I saw waterfalls cascading down mountains that swept through empty Limeca bottles and candy wrappers before flowing into small swimming pools full of tourists. It is so strange to see clean water immediately contaminated by litter. Yet, for how wrong it looks, the falls are still stunning. This contradiction was not always present. I put my feet in the chilly, holy waters of the Ganges River, and it was incredibly beautiful and serene. I was there during the prayer at sunset, and the river coupled with the music was so calming and surreal that I teared up.

Because I travelled to India, I have a concrete visual reminder of Earth’s waste problem, and I can consider it from a more global lens. This is what is truly great about travelling—finding those tensions, exploring them, then learning from them. If you are interested in learning and experiencing new things, then consider travelling internationally through VIU. If you are interested in teaching, then reflect on your travels, and incorporate your experiences into your lessons. You will experience personal growth from your travels, and your students will benefit from your experience, too.


Chelsea Southern
BA English, Bachelor of Education
India 2019: Faculty of Education Field School
Sainji, Uttarakhand, India

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