I’ve had quite an interesting experience related to littering years ago when I was on a train going from Delhi to my hometown Lakshminagar (muzaffarnagar) in Western Uttar Pradesh.
The compartment was occupied by young students who were coming back after, apparently, appearing in some sort of competitive exam. It was winter time. A peanut seller boy boarded the train and most of the passengers including myself bought some.
I was sitting in the single chair along the window. I have a thing to generally keep myself and my surroundings clean. So I transferred all the peanuts from the paper carry bag to the right pocket of my jacket and kept the carry bag in my lap.
I started munching the peanuts and throwing the peels the bag. Most of the boys in the compartment were amused watching me. They were staring at me as if I were some alien.
And I can understand why. Because I was the only one NOT throwing the peels on the floor. Everyone else was busy munching and littering.
Sounds of peeling. Crunching. And the musical notes of peels hitting the floor – it was nothing short of an orchestra.
I recall 3 boys sitting on the right-hand side berth getting confused at my ‘strange’ behavior. One of them was trying to figure out what was happening. But he couldn’t. And finally, asked me jokingly, “Brother, what would you do with those peels?”
I replied, “Well, I’ll throw them where they belong – in the dustbin.” Hearing this – for almost 10 seconds – everybody’s hands stopped. I don’t know why but there was kind of a pin drop silence.
But as I said, it was for about 10 seconds only. The peeling, the eating and the musical notes of peels hitting the floor continued. I figured my answer embarrassed them. I could see the guilt on their faces. They continued littering but with guilt.
And guilt is the most dangerous thing in life. Guilt can harm you beyond imagination.
Now, my question to you is – Do you litter? And do you feel guilty about it sometimes? Do you? Don’t.
Why? Because guilt takes you nowhere. Understanding does.
The habit of littering was not something you were born with. Ram Ji didn’t say, “OK. I am sending you to Earth. Here’s the habit of littering. Keep it with you. It’s a bit nasty but it’ll make you feel connected with fellow human beings.”
No. You were not born with it. You acquired it – from your surroundings, from the friends you have, from (maybe) your parents.
I recall having an argument with my mother over peanuts peels. It was a chilly winter evening.
My parents along with I were eating peanuts. She was insisting that it’s OK to litter. Why? Because she was going to clean the room in the morning anyway. And I was trying to make her understand that if the waste is to be cleaned anyway, why not keep the peels in a bowl? Why waste time and energy on something you can avoid in the first place?
But you know what? Littering is just a habit. And habits can be changed if you’re willing to.
That’s where the ‘understanding’ part comes in. You don’t need to beat yourself up for littering around. No need for that. You just need to realize that if you think you’re ready to grow as a responsible young citizen, then you can do it. All you need to do is to start living your life with mindfulness.
Does the word ‘Mindfulness’ sound too fancy? It’s not. It’s simply a way of saying that from now on you’ll not let life pass by. Rather, you’ll live consciously and hold yourself accountable for the cleanliness of your body and surroundings.
So if you feel it’s time to change the habit from littering to keeping clean, here are my top tips to help you get started.
1. Realize littering is just a habit (and habits can be changed)
Oops! Did I just repeat myself? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you need to realize that littering is just a habit. There’s no need to criticize yourself for being a litterer up till now.
Now that you’ve understood the reality, you can surely change it. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Yes, at times the old habit of littering may surface but with practice, it’s bound to disappear.
2. Start carrying a poly bag
I know poly bags are the biggest contributor to land pollution and sewage blockages. And if burned they can make the air dirty and unfit for breathing.
But I didn’t ask you to dump them. You just need to carry them so you can keep the wastage ( plastic wrappers of chocolates and biscuits, banana peels, peanut peels etc.) in them. They come in handy when there’s no dustbin in sight. You can keep the polybag in your laptop bag or your handbag and once you’re home – dump the wastage in your home dustbin. Nice idea. Huh?
3. Don’t ask others to give up littering
“But shouldn’t I encourage others to follow my footsteps? Shouldn’t I be making others aware of this nasty habit?”
I know you’re feeling supercharged to keep the surroundings clean and you also want others to do the same. But take my word. Don’t.
Do you remember you also used to litter? How would you’ve felt if I met you on the street and asked you not to litter? You would’ve hated me.
Nobody likes to get orders from strangers or even friends. If you want others to stop littering – lead by example. Don’t say it. Do it. And some people someday might start doing the same.
But it’s not for you to decide who does. It’s not your duty.
Your duty is towards yourself only.