In early 2014, I arrived in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, which just two years before had been paralyzed by a garbage-worker strike and a severe shortage of landfill space. The municipal government had responded to public anger over uncollected trash with decrees on waste segregation and composting that went unenforced, and by the time I showed up, not much had changed. In the city that bills itself as India’s Silicon Valley, there are still putrid piles of garbage all around town. Bangaloreans accept open dumps in their neighborhoods as a fixture of the landscape, to be seen but somehow ignored.

As I walked around town and saw Bangalore’s colossal chain of manufacturing, consuming, and discarding, I began to think about my own consumption habits. I’m a professor of environmental law and consider myself ecologically conscious, yet I live at the top of the global pyramid of consumption. Like most Americans, I easily consume more goods and services in one year than most Indians consume in a lifetime (33 percent of Indians earn less than $1.25 per day). As I eyed the piles of trash in Bangalore’s streets, I began to wonder: Who really has the garbage crisis? Is it India, or the United States?

Document Type


Publication Date