I’ve had quite an exciting 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 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 habit of keeping my surroundings clean. So I transferred all the peanuts from the paper carry bag to the right pocket of my jacket and held 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 could understand why – because I was the only one NOT dropping 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.
The ‘Littering’ Boys Were Amused
I recall three boys sitting on the right-hand side berth getting confused by my ‘strange behaviour.’ 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.”
And almost instantly – for nearly 10 seconds – everybody’s hands froze – there was 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, but they continued littering.
You know what, guilt is the most dangerous thing as it 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.
Littering is Not Dangerous, Guilt Is
Guilt does not transform. Understanding does.
You were not born with the littering habit ingrained in your brain. Ram Ji didn’t say, “OK. I am sending you to Earth. Here’s the littering habit. 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 arguing with my mother over peanuts peels on a chilly winter evening.
She was insisting that it’s OK to litter the peels in the room.
Well, she was going to clean the room in the morning anyway.
And there I was – trying to make her understand that if she had to clean the waste, 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. Instead, realise that you’re ready to grow as a responsible young citizen – simply start living your life with mindfulness.
Yeah, I know – the word ‘Mindfulness’ sound too fancy but it’s not difficult – it’s simply a way of deciding that from now on you’ll live consciously. Start holding 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.
Realise that Littering is Just a Habit (And Habits Can be Changed)
Oops! Did I repeat myself?
(What does it matter?)
You need to realise that littering is just a habit. There’s no need to criticise 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 littering habit may surface, but with practice, it’s bound to disappear.
Carry a Polybag
I know poly bags are the most prominent 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. You need to carry the polybag to keep the wastage (plastic wrappers of chocolates and biscuits, banana peels, peanut peels etc.)
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?
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? 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.