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Using Kaleidoscopic Mirrors to Fight India's Littering Problem

India is far from the world's largest producer of municipal waste – first-world countries like the United States and Russia vie for that distinction – but you might think it is after visiting any major Indian city.

Sticky plastic bottles, food scrapings and packages, animal dung and a foul rainbow of assorted rubbish paint the streets like a coat of toxic algae. Littering is rampant in India despite laws to control it; some go so far as to say it's a socially accepted way to dispose of trash.

Two Indian designers, however, are out to change this throw-away behavior, favoring the carrot approach over the stick of anti-littering laws. Faced with scenes like this:

Cows grazing on a field of trash in Rishikesh, from Liz Highleyman on Flickr.

They were inspired to create this, the "Cleanoscope":

Yes, that is a mirrored trash bin that is pretending to be a kaleidoscope. Nishant Jethi and Aalap Deasi intend the Cleanoscope to lure in litterers with its mesmerizing, endless vistas of reflected garbage. The designers, who work at the "Influence & Behavioural Change" marketing agency DDB Mudra, explain:

Littering is a hard-to-change habit. So, the challenge was to make people throw waste in the trash can. We turned to the kaleidoscope for inspiration. And designed our can just like one. So whenever you throw trash in it, it creates a beautiful pattern. We made throwing trash fun.

So far, the receptacle seems up to the task of eating India's heaping servings of trash. The typical Indian public garbage collects about 180 pounds a week, Jethi says, while the inaugural Cleanoscope, mounted in a children's playground in Mumbai, took in nearly 290 pounds of refuse in the same time. More of the shiny bins are planned for different targeted places in Mumbai and other Indian cities.

The Cleanoscope is not without its detractors. Here's a twofer criticism from Kurt K., a commenter on Design Boom:

Just a few thoughts before everyone gets carried away... Two things become immediately apparent:
1. Most trash cans I have seen and used have been filled to the brim the vast majority of the time, rendering this idea useless.
2. If the trash can was to be emptied on a frequent basis, then the remaining dried liquid stains would cloud the mirrors further minimizing the kaleidoscopic effect.
This reminds me of those 'fun' initiatives from VW a few years ago. When applied to long-term, everyday use, fatal flaws quickly form in the logic and undermine any value provided by the added gimmick.

Still, it's a neat concept and one with its heart in the right place. Take a look at the hypnotizing patterns of trash it produces, which seem to mesmerize pedestrians like a work of sublime art:





All images used with permission from Nishant Jethi.

Keywords: Design, Mumbai, Delhi, Trash, Litter

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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