“I’d like to dissect a dead cow,” I asked.
“You can’t dissect a cow in India. It’s illegal,” she said.
“But I’ve seen hundreds of cows living on landfills, don’t the die?” I replied.
“You’re an American coming to India, and you want to point out that our holy animal is eating plastic bags?” she countered, adding, “that’s not going to happen.” She paused for a minute, “but I can get you a goat.”
In the Nizamuddin district of Delhi, India, we walked through narrow paths weaving through the dense neighborhood, like the slot canyons of Utah. Narrow streets lined with tiny shops, and one butcher on the corner of a tiny intersection. My contact at the American Embassy School has arranged for this meeting. The butcher’s shop is as big as my kitchen table, with the owner sitting on the counter and the man with the knife barefoot on the tiny floor with the goat. The butcher agreed to wait till I arrive to slaughter two goats. According to muslim law they must kill the animal quickly. “Allah hu Akbar” he yelled, and the sharp knife went through the throat to the bone.
I’ve learned that cows are consuming trash and harboring it in their gut, which can become a massive rotting blob of plastic bags. This isn’t new information to the people of India, but there are few organizations working to tackle the problem. The organization “Karuna Society” advocates for the rights of animals not to die from eating plastic waste. There’s a documentary film out there called, “The Plastic Cow”. That’s worth viewing if you want to see a belly full of bags.
I’m most interested in what is being done to stop the problem in the first place. Bag Bans – that’s what’s being done. The people in India that collect plastic waste don’t touch plastic bags, so they pollute the entire country. The waste pickers of India say there’s not enough plastic in a plastic bag to make it worth their time to pick it up. “Either design them a whole lot thicker or get rid of them all together,” one waste picker said to me. The solution in Delhi has been to eliminate thin polyethylene bags in favor of a thicker woven polypropylene bag.
The butcher pointed to me with his knife, suggesting that I could look in the stomach now, which was in a bucket. I took the knife and opened the gut. Grain poured out, followed by a piece of chain, a bit of plastic string, and the hem of a pair of pants.
“This goat is a farm goat,” he said, adding “You want a city goat next time.”
“Actually, I’m okay,” I replied, not sure what else to say.
In a few days we’ll be on top of the world’s largest landfill in the northern outskirts of Delhi. On that landfill, towering 10 stories above the surrounding neighborhood and more than a square kilometer in area, is where hundreds of cows forage. I’ll let you know what I find.
5 gyres, marine debris, plastic pollution