I live in India. As far as I know, littering is not much of a problem in other countries, but India has always been a place where even the adults teach their children: "Beta, yahin pe phek do, sabhi karte hain". (Go ahead and throw it here, as everyone else does it too.)

It has often been the case that a person has just thrown an empty plastic packet of chips on to the road, and I asked them to pick it up and throw it into a nearby dustbin. Most often, I have been replied to with an open refusal, or an angry face. In fact, the people considered it an insult to them when I asked them to the above-mentioned. They feel as if the road belongs to each and everyone of them, as they "pay taxes on time", and they treat it as their dustbin/toilet/road. (As in, people even urinate on it.)

I am not insulting anyone here, but I want to know how I can get people to at least pick up their own trash.

What should I say to them so that they don't take offense, but still do what's needed? I'm doing this as I want a cleaner city. The city I live in, Bengaluru/Bangalore used to be known as the Garden City, but now, the newspapers depict it as The Garbage City. There's trash lining every road, and the cows eat out of trash piles (yes, we still have cows on our roads). There aren't any bins for huge road stretches, so even a person who actually cared can't do anything. There's an unhygienic environment everywhere, and nobody cares about it, except when it comes to complaining about the government not doing its job properly, when in reality, it is they who dirty it in the first place.

What I've already tried:

  1. Picked up the trash and put it into a bin myself
  2. Asked them if they dropped something valuable
  3. Pushed it back into their hand, and shamed them
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    I don't suppose writing a hit Bollywood-style music video as an anti-litter campaign is an option?
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 16:16
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    @Catija while that is a great idea, I would like to let you know that India already has a government-endorsed campaign, for which they also levy tax, called the Swachch Bharat campaign. It airs commercials like that even on TV, but no one takes anything seriously. That is the real problem
    – Abhigyan
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 16:26
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    Always happy to amuse. :D On a serious note, it seems like there have been campaigns to increase awareness about littering. I know you've asked for "polite" ways, but I find that, sometimes, light-hearted public shaming can be a better option... but I'm not Indian, so I don't know that I can speak for the culture.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 16:28
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    I don't see how this can be accomplished without them taking offense. Sure, some would not mind you reminding them, but I don't think there's a guaranteed method to effectively remind them and not offend them at the same time.
    – Vylix
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 18:43
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    Even after the edit to the question, a slight quibble with your title. It's very easy to politely ask someone to pick up their litter: "Please sir/madam, would you pick up your litter?", suitably translated and with the correct form of address. What you're looking for is a polite way to coerce them into actually doing what you want, which is a whole different ballgame. Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 9:42

6 Answers 6


For one, many Indians have no room for hygiene or discipline in their lives. They have this attitude: "Meh, it's already dirty here." and throw away things onto the streets.

I probably would've turned out to be like them - who knows.

However, I grew up in the Middle East and only go to India for vacations. Here in Dubai, there's actually an AED 1,000/- fine if caught spitting or littering on the street or public areas.

When I did come across some such careless people in India, I had tried mentioning to them about a nearby trash bin, expecting them to go, "Oh, sorry, I'll use that, thanks".

Sometimes it works - if they're grown ups, people hanging out with their families and some.

Sometimes, I pick up the paper (or something) they threw onto the walkway and toss it into the bin myself, and I make sure they notice that. At least, by that, I expect them to think about what they just did.

Sometimes, I don't blame them. It's all they have seen, all their lives. We cannot change them just like that. We can however teach our kids to grow up to be better people in this regard. So, if I see kids littering, I'd inform them of a better way. Kids are the future. Good kids today - good citizens tomorrow.

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    '"Meh, it's already dirty here." and throw away things onto the streets.' does this mean if they went to a clean place/the streets were clean, they wouldn't litter the place? Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:57
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    @marcellothearcane Yeah. There's a psychological explanation for that. If you see that a place is very clean, you would think twice before littering there. You probably wouldn't want to be the first one to spoil the place. A lot of the streets in India are already dirty. There's no denying that.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 18:37
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    @marcellothearcane, I've heard it as a version of the broken windows theory.
    – Celos
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 8:35
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    @marcellothearcane - indeed, if you see litter everywhere you're thinking that it's considered socially acceptable to throw litter here.
    – komodosp
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 9:28

From my understanding of the history this used to be a big problem in the US as well. What really made the difference was people taking it up with their local representatives.

The best thing to do if you really want to effect real change in your community is to start showing up to local government meetings. It helps if you're loud and consistent.

Basically start pushing your local government to do something about the litter problem. If you frame it as "we should either pay city workers to clean the streets, or start fining people for littering" they're very likely to lean towards fining people. Money in is usually easier than money out when it comes to government and few politicians shy away from new revenue sources.

It probably won't be too hard to drum up support from local businesses who would prefer the streets in front of their shops​ to look clean and inviting. The more people you can bring to support your cause the better.

It'll take some time and effort, but in the long run it will be much more effective than hassling random people on the street.

  • The government spent a lot of money to run advertisements to promote cleaner habits. They crying Indian youtube.com/watch?v=j7OHG7tHrNM and the "Don't mess with Texas" litter campaigns were especially effective. I'm not sure if something similar can be launched in India, but without informing the public it is an issue, it won't become an issue.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 18:14

People's behaviors are outside your control. None of those people, even if they choose to listen to you and dispose of their litter properly at the moment, will become non-litterers by your efforts. You could, I guess, become a crusader for non-littering and indeed change some people, but I assume this career path is not something you wish to explore.

Be the change you want to see in the world says an old adage, becoming attached to behaviors of other people (that your emotional state depends on the behavior of strangers on the street) will bring you a world of unhappiness. If India needs to be cleaned, how would it be accomplished? By the virtue of all its own people, it's not only by not littering, but by making a habit of picking up litter.

You don't pick up litter because you want to make a lesson out of it, you do it because the world is your home and it is your habit to put things in order. It is what comes naturally to you, and it feels good and correct to do it. You are a pattern of the universe, how wonderful! Be grateful that you understand the lesson, and carry on humbly, making places better by your simple presence.

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    I really liked your answer... People like you are the absolute need of the hour, @Duopixel...
    – Abhigyan
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 6:50

It is not just India. I live in a suburb of Washington DC and two or three times a year, I pick up roadside litter on my road (1.5 miles each side). There is small stuff only -- e.g., cans, plastic bags, bottles. I've posted about this on The Great Outdoors SE. See https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/10541/is-there-any-evidence-one-way-or-the-other-that-adopt-a-highway-programs-red

From comments there, it seems that Canada too has littering problem, but that Germany does not because of a "general strong preference for neatness and orderliness".

On almost every litter-pick up trip, someone in a car passing by will shout ridicule at me. Two or three times, in 30 years of doing the pickup, someone in a passing car has thanked me.

But this doesn't answer your question. I think all you can do is set an example, and hope that someone will notice and modify his/her behavior. The only thing I ever say is something like:

Excuse me, but I think you dropped your Coke can

That is, I frame my remark as doing them a favor -- that they have dropped something valuable.

Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

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    In Germany, it's not because of "general strong preference and orderliness". I think Indians would like their streets clean as well. But in Germany, they don't mind shouting "pick that up, you filthy swine" if they see you littering.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 9:11
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    The worst part is some of that litter was actually put somewhere appropriate but escaped. Lightweight items like plastic bags are particularly notorious for escaping from landfills (not to mention from trash cans with lids that don't secure and open garbage trucks). Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 15:18

I haven't been to India; the Indians I have met in western Europe were pretty friendly folks.

That said, the way you describe it I see no point in you asking them. They view you as an agressor, and defend themselves against your advance. Nothing good will usually come from something like that.

Shaming them is probably your best route. By that I do not mean to talk to them, but just pointedly pick it up and dispose of it properly for them. Either they get the point (good) or they do not; in the latter case at least there is one piece of litter less, on the street.


I've found that behavior change is easier when people don't feel they're threatened or told they're wrong, at which point one's ego comes into play, and provokes a reaction of "Who are you to tell me?" So, say it with a smile, using polite language and with a polite tone of voice.

If they refuse, pick up the trash and throw it in the dust bin. Setting an example works better than finger-pointing. At times, I've felt ashamed for my behavior and changed it. Whenever I've been confronted, I retaliated.

BTW, I don't think it's a question of the people ("Indians make a mess") as much as the surroundings. When we see places that are clean, we keep them so. But when there's dirt and trash and in general a poor level of upkeep, a little more can't hurt much, can it? In other words, it's the broken windows theory.

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