The Price We Pay India's Real Imports under the Global Waste Trade

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In flagrant disregard for the spirit of environmental justice, western nations outsource the disposal of hazardous waste to poorer countries, most of which have ill-equipped or absent environment protection bodies and law enforcement. Massively polluting industries such as petrochemicals, smelting, electronics, and textiles have all found new homes in various locations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This results in most of the world’s coloured population being subjected to environmental racism at the hands of wealthier, greedier nations.

My homeland, India, is one of the few countries not turning away waste-filled containers coming our way from the west. Taking on more garbage increases pressure on existing landfill sites, and the inevitable incineration of said garbage releases more carcinogens and toxins into the air than can be handled by the public. Considering how severely burdened we already are with our own waste management problems, it’s incomprehensible that we take on this trouble without having the means to deal with it.

Internalised racism and the remnants of a colonial hangover still compel a large section of the Indian population to equate foreign items or things bought ‘abroad’ with a sense of much-desired exclusivity. At present, the Indian market desperately lacks the awareness of exactly how much this fetishization of imported goods costs: not only are we crippling our own domestic industries, but we are also paying for this greed with the very air we breathe.

The processes of dealing with the ‘recycled’ waste sent our way and the subsequent toxic byproducts released pose the biggest threat to the Indian population. With this poster series, the objective was to create alarm, curiosity and distress by juxtaposing glamourous imported items with life-threatening imported waste from each of the countries on display, thereby speculating on what India really imports – commodities, garbage and diseases combined.


This project was conceptualised as a response to the Right to Breathe submission brief by RSA Student Design Awards. I chose to explore the extent of air pollution in my home country India where the PM2.5 concentration in the air is currently 11.6 times above the WHO annual air quality guideline value. On researching the different sources causing low quality breathable air, the various waste landfills near habitable areas in Indian cities were flagged, allowing me to redirect my focus on the waste disposal issues in my country, and more importantly, the Global Waste Trade, a leading cause of waste pollution in India.  

Taking trade as the grounding theme, I highlighted the top 8 countries exporting their waste to India, and found their corresponding official commodity exports to the country. From India's point of view, I co-related the waste import and the official import from each of these countries and decided to blend them visually in 3D animated models, as stylized representations of the realities of India's imports.  

The final artworks of import models are accompanied by textual elements stating all the imports from each country – the official item, the form of waste, the effect on landfills, and finally the effect on the respiratory functions of the human body as a by product of the pollution trade.  

These artworks exist as digital posters accompanied with a barcode that directs viewers to a website containing sources, links and articles to the topics of Global Waste Trade, Waste in India, Waste Effects and Waste Management for a better understanding of this grave issue. 


Kanishka Gupta is a graphic designer and artist based in London and Mumbai, and is currently studying Art Direction at the University of the Arts London. Under her brand Kaamdhandaa, she creates mixed media artwork, incorporating both traditional and technology-based elements. She draws inspiration from her Indian culture, the people around her and the little things in everyday life. 

To see more of Kanishka Gupta’s work visit:
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