India's capital Delhi was ranked the most polluted city in the world in 2014, and three years later its rubbish problem is still out of control. The authorities are often blamed for poor rubbish management, but two Indians decided to travel across the country by bike to explain to citizens how they, too, can do their part.


Sanjeeta Singh Naruka Negi, 51, and Piyush Shah, 58, cycled more than 1000km from Gandhi Ashram to Delhi in order to meet locals along the way and share tips and advice on how to deal with pollution. They completed their journey, which took ten days in total, at the end of January.



"We've given presentations in schools, businesses, and town halls"

Sanjeeta Singh Negi works as a consultant in organic farming, promoting farming to villages in the Gujarat region in the northeast of the country. She had the original idea for the trip, and her friend Piyush Shah decided to come along for the ride.

In India, there is rubbish everywhere. The population is continuing to grow, there is less and less space available, and consumption habits are changing. Products come with too much packaging, for example. These changes are normal and happen everywhere — but the problem is not being able to adapt to these changes. Lots of people blame the authorities but don't think to change their own habits. Every day rubbish continues to build up.

Sanjeeta Singh Naruka Negi and Piyush Shah with locals. Photo sent by our Observer.

"Some people in the villages were surprised to see a woman doing so much cycling!"
 
I planned this trip as a way to hand out advice to locals on how to create less rubbish. We cycled for ten days, stopping along the way to give presentations in schools, organisations, businesses and town halls. Sometimes we went to tiny, isolated villages, sometimes to big towns, in order to see as many people as possible. The project came entirely out of our own pockets. We had no financing. In total, we crossed four different regions: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.

Meeting in a business. Photo sent by our Observer.

We wanted to make the trip by bicycle as a way of promoting eco-friendly forms of  transport. Today, because of all of the traffic in towns and the poor state of the roads, not many Indians actually want to use a bike.

The people we saw along the way were impressed by our determination. The goal was also to show that there's no age limit for action and changing one's lifestyle. My friend and I are both older than 50, but that didn't stop us travelling 1000km on bikes! Some people living in the villages were shocked to see a woman cycling so much.

"We had a partnership with a town hall"

In any given household, 98% of rubbish isn't really rubbish and can be used in other ways. But recycling is not at all easy in India. Composting has been around for a long time, but no one really does it any more in towns. People who live in small houses don't want to keep rubbish around for a long time because it smells bad. However, we can compost without it smelling, thanks to earthenware pots.


A composting bin. Photo sent by our Observer.

We also explained that they shouldn't throw rubbish on the ground, because cows, which are a sacred animal, could end up eating it and it's very bad for them. [Often, cows are left to wander in the roads in India.] These are simple things, but we don't talk about them enough in India.

Presentation in a school. Photo sent by our Observer.

We were welcomed by the town hall in the town of Himmatnagar, which proves that authorities are starting to become aware of the problem. Often, locals will throw their rubbish on the ground, then the authorities will come by to pick it all up — only to throw it on the ground again a little bit further on. After our meeting with this town hall, we were able to work together to develop some other projects to fight against pollution. 

The project won't stop here. We're already getting ready for our next trip in another part of the country, for which we're going to launch a fundraiser.


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Article written with
Maëva Poulet

Maëva Poulet