A spectre is haunting Europe.
—Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
It’s not a spectre that is haunting India. It’s a tangible, evil-smelling, health-impairing, socially divisive reality: waste. India’s battle with “waste”, now led by the dashing sowarsof Swachh Bharat, faces two formidable obstacles unique to India. The first is magnitude. No other country in the world (excluding islands and city-states) has so great a population density, coupled with the capacity to produce so much discarded “stuff”.
True, China has more people, but China is larger than India. Population density in China is about 150 people to the square kilometre; in India, it is closer to 450. The United States produces more waste—250 million metric tonnes a year, according to one estimate. This greatly exceeds estimates of India’s annual production of 65 million tonnes. But the US has more room to dump it: only 35 people to the sq km. Bangladesh has a greater population...