Where our Environment Education MISERABLY fails!

Adithi Muralidhar

Mumbai, 1830hrs, CST station….

I was traveling at peak hour, hordes of people making their way to their respective platforms. It was terribly hot and humid and the fans in our coach were not working. I was lucky to get a window seat in the first class ladies compartment. Fourteen of us adjusted ourselves in the mini coach as the train started to move. Finally some fresh air….

Atleast 6 ladies were munching something …a common sight to see… I too was hungry, my stomach was growling. I pictured my mom’s home cooked meal hot and ready in the house for me, and suddenly I was smiling. The hunger subsided a bit. The lady sitting right opposite to me was enjoying her vada pav with chutney and green chillies.

vp      Photo Credit: Prerna Singh/ Indian Simmer

She finished it under a minute and crumbled the newspaper and wiped her fingers in it one by one. I held my breath. Instantly I could make out, she was a litterer. My senses have become highly tuned to serial litters and I can sense one by just observing their body language. And sure enough, as we reached Reay Road Station, I leaned forward, and within a second, I saw her hand stretch to the window. Within a swift move, I caught the crumbled paper and left over food that left her hands, and kept in the waste pouch of my bag pack. She was surprised. She asked- why are you keeping it?

I replied- it’s better than it being thrown away.

She says- Oh ok, but why are you keeping, give it to me.

That was easy, I thought as she took the paper from me and kept it in her bag. But here is where she threw a googly after googly.

“Its organic, that’s why I threw it, I know that its is organic”

“eh…That is really not the point…”

“No it is.. I don’t throw plastic and all… I know… This will just become mush, it has food inside, it is all organic…”

Very politely I said- “Aunty, according to me, throwing even an apple is not acceptable, so…”

(Note: I was smiling all the time, as I did not want to intimidate her. She seemed like the loud screaming kind of aunty).

“see, I know newspaper is made of cellulose, it is all organic so please don’t tell me this, even I am part of this Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ok and..”

“oh …and you still do this”

“See I know this is organic ok…”


“Also, this would have not gone in the platform, it would have gone in the track ok”

[Wait a minute, did she think I had an objection JUST about the fact that she was littering on the platform?!!! ]

“How does that matter? Platform or tracks?”, I asked.

“no, but when rain comes, all this will go…it washes the tracks I know..”

“aunty but newspapers don’t decompose overnight…”

“see this is organic I know ok..”


I could have told her that newspapers can take up to 4 weeks to decompose…I could have told her newspapers sometimes also have lignin which breaks down slowly thus increasing the decomposition time for them… I could have told her that newspaper inks can be toxic in nature (if they are petroleum based) and that it was an environmental hazard…I could tell her littering (even newspapers with left-over food) is a threat to public health, a health hazard, since it attracts vermin and rats, not to forget provides a breeding place for pathogens… the kachra stuck in the tracks could lead to technical glitches…I could tell her that her littering is responsible for hazardous occupations like this!


Photo Credit: Adithi Muralidhar

It should have ideally sufficed if I told her littering is disgusting and it makes my city look bad. The worst part is Litter attracts Litter. When a person litters, you are indirectly sending out a message that it’s ok to do so and it’s acceptable to litter. That is example we set for the younger generation.

I was thinking all of this, but all I said was – OK

I put on my earphones because I realised you cannot convince a person who uses the words “I know” so frequently, in a span of a minute, and who is justifying littering.

I continued to smile and looked away, gazing out of the window. My smile widened and I couldn’t hide it because two stations later, SPAT! I saw her spit out the window. It was not to spite me surely; it was very instinctive, like a habit.

Wow! I thought to myself. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan indeed!

At Vadala station, she occupied the seat next to me so that she could get fresh air too. I kept quiet throughout and finally it was time for me to leave as my station had arrived. I could not help it. I turned to her and said with the utmost sincerity and politeness- Aunty, I have a sincere request, please do not throw even organic trash out.

And she replied with the most soft voice, drenched with sarcasm and insolence- you should not worry about all these small things [don’t be such a nit-picker], you should take care of yourself first [stop telling people not to throw organic trash].

I said OK, and walked out.

I thought what a miserable failure of our environment education. The woman was educated, was economically well off, was aware of organic and inorganic trash, claimed to know what her trash was made of, was aware of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and YET justified littering. Her behaviour told me that she passed her environment education “theory” but failed her “practicals”.

Environment Education failed because it didn’t instil the “value” of the being environmentally conscious. Knowing facts about the environment will only help you, at the most, put up a poor defense for your actions. If your facts are not grounded with a true environmental value, and these values don’t reflect in your actions, then knowing all that you know makes no sense. And if she thought that it’s JUST a piece of litter, it’s no big deal, too small to matter- then well – she probably wasn’t taught that it is drops of water that make an ocean.


Nita Jatar Kulkarni

Photo Credit: Nita Jatar Kulkarni/ http://www.stockpicturesforeveryone.com

10 thoughts on “Where our Environment Education MISERABLY fails!

  1. Well written Aditi. I stopped littering since 11th grade and somehow thought that we were new generation and everyone after us would be more responsible. But now I see college student litter the city. It’s shocking and shameful.
    However as my part of job I ask everyone in my capacity to not litter. And I do get its organic part too. LOL. Ofcourse I don’t explain them about the parts you mentioned for it being hazardous because I didn’t know about it until i read this story. But all I tell them is that till the time it doesn’t decompose it stays and it looks ugly.
    Great story!

    • Yes Navin, it is most hurting when we see youngsters doing something like that. But as you see, the elders don’t seem to be setting a good example either!
      As for the woman, I TOO, DID NOT explain to her all of that, I could sense it was useless.
      Thanks for your comment and wonderful to hear that you have been a non-litterer since 11th std!!!! Kudos to you!

  2. Very well written.

    What irks the most is that these literate (but ill-educated) senior citizens pass on such bullshit arguments to the young ones around them.

    The lady must have boasted the incident to everyone around her and glorified the whole thing. Something like, “Oh there was this smartass girl in the train today, she tried to stop me when I was trying to throw a paper out of the window. Come on now, Isn’t Paper going to decompose? It’s organic! You should have seen the look on her face when I scientifically explained her that there is no harm in throwing organic stuff, not one bit!”

  3. Thanks Adithi. Well captured 🙂 Next time you can also make the point that the railway corridor has 20 to 30 lakh people traveling along it and if even one percent threw just paper everyday that would be a hell of a lot paper landing on the tracks. You can also remind them that the Railways employs cleaners irrespective of whether trash is organic or inorganic and her behaviour only brings misery to their lives, having to deal with the squishy half decomposed paper, which might also be carrying ‘organic’ spit from somebody who has chosen to spit out of the window.

    All this can be said in a manner which can make the person feel that he/she can stand out from the 2-3 million and be the one making a difference 🙂

    This is where the role of mass media comes in and this kind of messaging needs to be disseminated widely and intelligently.

  4. I exactly know how the situation must have been like, Adithi. I faced a similar situation on twitter which I wrote about here: http://devyanisingh.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/a-cracker-of-a-tweet/ Except that here you were one on one and was one against 50.
    And i agree it’s all thanks to the shoddy state of environmental education in the country. EVS is a subject which is studied as a formality and there is no seriousness about it at all. So everyone who has a school level knowledge of EVS is an expert because that all that they see to it. It has missed the mark completely.
    There are a few things I’d like to discuss with you, will be dropping in an email soon.

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