I have a lot to say

|Author: Amber|

These first few weeks here in Bangalore have almost felt like a vacation. We are learning everyday by seeing and doing, but it is not the conventional setting we are subjected to when we take classes in Seattle. Here when we are discussing as a group, we sit with our chairs configured in a horseshoe-type semicircle to share engagement--we don’t even have desks to structure our agenda. We have been learning, as Aruna likes to say, organically.

This vacation mindset had been going smoothly so far, with the exception of some minor indigestion, until reality was thrust upon us yesterday morning. Starting off with blog readings as we do every weekday at 8am in the canteen, there was a change in the atmosphere as the reflections were not sugar-coated, but rather raw and heavy.

Yes, it’s true these blogs are supposed to reflect generally positive things about our study abroad experience and the University of Washington, but life isn’t sugar coated, and neither are the Grand Challenges we are facing here in India.

Following such sentiments, we began discussing the site visits from the previous day with Hasiru Dala. We were taken to 3 locations: a compost education park, a material separation center, and the Hasiru Dala office. We were asked to comment on things that we noticed and/or surprised us from these site visits. The conversation began slowly and delicately—the general positive enamor that ensues as we drowsily awake with idly and coconut chutney—but soon enough, I was prompted to respond to my experience taking the Solid Waste Management course offered at UW. Solid waste has been a large part of my life since interning for Waste Management (WM) in Kirkland 3 summers ago, so naturally, I had a lot to say about it.

It’s crazy to think that some cities just 45 minutes from Seattle are not required to recycle…people still don’t know how to properly sort their waste, nor are they passionate enough to care about their impact on the environment…without systematic changes in industries, there is no way to fight planned obsolescence…electronic waste is the largest growing issue in solid waste management, yet tech companies are doing little to stop it…this is overwhelming….

At WM, I was trained as a “recycling expert” and performed outreach and education to multi-family homes and commercial businesses in efforts to improve their waste management behaviors. At UW, I led a team of students for 2 years doing cost-benefit analyses of waste diversion in the Greek system. I have worked on solid waste projects for classes and for engineering internships. I have chosen to discontinue a local business due to the waste generation and lack of transparency in our supply chain. And now, I am here in Bangalore working for Hasiru Dala—the epicenter of solid waste management in India. You could say this isn’t my first rodeo. However, I still see solid waste management as a completely overwhelming Grand Challenge.

It feels like nearly everything I do is related to waste management, even when I don’t necessarily want it to be. I am constantly inundated in trash-talk and find myself getting so caught up in debates that the heat in my chest makes my hands shake and my eyes cry. What scares me the most is that every time I try to approach a problem, I can never succeed—fail forward, am I right? It seems like every solution to one problem simultaneously creates another, and this vicious cycle continuously strips us of our resiliency. This global devastation is exactly that—so massive that even grass roots efforts are short-lived. While I encourage and advocate for change at a local level, I cannot help lacking enthusiasm about the future of our planet.

Despite my efforts to expand my career path, I cannot seem to escape this industry. Whether I focus on water, agriculture, or air pollution, solid waste management is always a close second if not at the forefront. As my former boss said, “once you enter the solid waste industry, you cannot get out,” so I might as well accept my fate.

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