Category Archives: Environment

A Small story about a Small Action creating Small Change

One nice thing about the location about my flat is that it is 2 min walking distance away from a MORE grocery store. This is very convenient when I randomly remember that I need something.

I generally go to MORE from home, so I take bags with me, which which I can bring home my groceries or if its small enough, stuff the things into my fairly large purse (whose size I actually chose for this purpose).

When you go to MORE, like any other grocery store, the cashier or his assistance automatically starts to put things in plastic bag. The first few times, I got strange looks and had to repeat myself when I would ask that they not put my groceries in plastic bags (and I don’t think that was because they didn’t understand my Gujarati accent). Over the course of a couple trips, I kept getting the same cashier, who asked me the third time he rang up my bill why I didn’t take their bags. I quickly explained how plastic bags are bad for the environment, cause cancer and cow deaths and he seemed to appreciate the information. When I was about to leave, he stops me and asks, “Mam, can you fill out our comment form?”

I look and the form and am about to tell him that I needed to go, when he interjects my thoughts and adds, “I think you should share why you didn’t want to take a plastic carrying bag.”

I look at the form and again, my mind tells me that there is no point. But then figure what the heck, there is no harm. I quickly fill out the form stating that MORE should discourage stop providing plastic bags or encourage customers to bring their own bag (by potentially providing a financial incentive like stores in N. America do) as that will show that the company cares about environment, which is good for the company’s image (I had to pitch it in corporate terms). I had the cashier the form and proceed home.

After that day, whenever the cashier rang up by bill, he never gave me a plastic bag. Through my small action, one other person learnt about the dangers of plastic bags.

An even bigger surprise came a month or two later. I walked into MORE after a long time and noticed a new sign on their announcement board behind the cashier and near the vegetables. It read:
PLEASE MINIMIZE THE USE OF PLASTIC BAGS.

MORE has not stopped giving plastic bags, but it atleast had taken one step in the right direction. Who said that you can’t be the change?

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Going Green in India Pt 2

Transportation
Getting produce is also less fuel consumptive because produce sellers visit all residential areas on a daily basis, so if your local vegetable or fruit person tends to carry good quality produce, then there is no need to drive to get them. Supermarkets only arrived in India after I arrived, so I have also been seeing this dynamic change. Supermarkets means lower prices and more variety, and day long availability, so the practice of getting produce from the shak bhaji wali is diminishing. At the same time, these supermarkets have opened up on every other corner, so they are a minimal distance away to travel to.

I don’t have a vehicle, so my primary mode of transportation is walking and rickshaws (buses are not available on my daily travel paths). Rickshaws in Ahmedabad are run on natural gas, so they are more friendly than petrol vehicles. When we were choosing where I would live, my primary concern was geographic location, so even rickshaw usage is minimal.

Water consumption
The dishwasher and laundry machine are two very large consumers of water. Dishwashers have yet to create a strong presence in the residential sector and laundry machines have only been making headway in the last 2 – 3 years. So thats another plus. While people use laundry machine, clothes dryers are still not heard of. Machine washed or hand washed, clothing is dried on a clothing line.

Also because I get a tiffin for my meals, I don’t actually create a lot of dirty dishes. The wonderful woman who makes my food does not need to use extra pots/pans to make food for one more person, so my water consumption with respect to dishwashing is also lower than before.

When I was living at the ashram, 1 bucket baths were the norm. Now its a mix of showers and bucket baths, but most definitely the limited capacity of my geyser serves as a friendly reminder to end a shower sooner rather than later, particularly in the winter.

One area where there is more water consumption is mopping. Mopping has to be done much more regularly in India due to the high level of dust.

Electricity
In India, perhaps due to the high voltage, all electric sockets have switches to turn them on and off. So as long as you remember to turn off the switch when not in use, you don’t have to worry about stand by electric consumption that occurs in phone chargers, etc.

Clothing Recycling/ Reuse
Clothing should be reused, especially if it is gently used. It takes even less effort to have clothing reused in India. You can easily find people to give gently used clothing to. Usually families tend to give them to their hired help (people who clean, cook, drivers, etc). Also because getting clothing stitched is so common, clothing can be easily altered. My mom found a great tailor/ designer who created “new” saris that follow today’s trends from saris she has had for over 10 – 20 years. He uses dyes, embellishments, borders, etc to create beautiful new pieces. There is no need to buy new saris from stores as these old ones are reincarnated so well. I have found myself really enjoying the idea of reusing material to make new things. Worn out t-shirts, etc can always be torn up and used as mops and cloths to clean windows and dry dishes.

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Being Green in India – Part 1

For a while now, I have been trying to be more and more “green” in my day-to-day living. The topic keeps appearing with increasing regularity, so it is something that comes to mind often. I think it takes less effort to be green in India, particularly with regards to two major waste streams – trash and food.

Waste Disposal/ Recycling
For example, if you look at waste disposal, yes there are no official recycling systems, BUT there is a very large recycling system in place in the form of rag-pickers. (Note: I, by NO means, am supportive of the lifestyle and work of these women, but definitely have a lot of respect for them as I have met many rag-pickers and they are inspiring women.) For those uninitiated, in India, thousands of people, mainly women and children from what I seen, earn their daily income by sifting through landfills of trash, finding things (recyclables) that can be sold to a local middlemen. (Note: they are very underpaid and often exploited, but good news is that there are a lot of people and organizations working with ragpicking communities to improve their lives). Things such as high quality plastic, needles, metal, etc are collected by these women and then make their way through a series of middlemen before landing up somewhere where it is recycled. So trash that is thrown out is recycled at some level.

Even before the stage where trash get thrown out, there are people who regularly visit residential areas collecting old newspapers/cardboard, metal, etc and they will buy these off of you, so recycling comes to your door!

BUT that does not give free license to produce waste. The plastic bags on the streets of India are a huge problem. They clog drainage systems and can cause cancer in the cows who eat them. Unfortunately, many people put of food for dogs and cows to each in plastic bags.

Food Waste
In the West, for food waste, techniques such as composting are suggested. In India, there many options before that stage. If I buy excess fruit, before it goes bad, I can give it the many on the streets who don’t get regular meals. In my society, we also have a animal feeder outside the gate, where people put out food for the animals to eat. I keep my vegetable and fruit peel, etc in a container that I empty in the animal feeder, so even that things that humans won’t eat are consumed. One important thing to keep in mind though is again not placing the food in a plastic bag.

Eating Locally

Another way to be green is to eat locally and seasonally. Before I came to India, I had very limited knowledge about the seasons of produce because you could get everything all year round, but in India, that is not necessarily the case (though I have noticed this changing over the last three years). The lack of availability of non-seasonal items means that you eat whats in season. Living in a state with lots of agriculture also means that most of the produce is local. In addition, there is not a very high degree of produce import from what I have seen. I think this is because the normal diet is still very much Indian (vs eclectic mix abroad) which is based on locally available produce.

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The Yamuna and Ganga

Two of the holiest rivers in India. Upon the banks of one, Krishna played and the other washes away the sins of anyone that bathes in it (even the dead). The Yamuna and Ganga, respectively, hold great significance to the Hindu masses. My mother took bottles of Ganga jal back to Toronto so that she can give a few mL to families when one dies. Such is the power of the Ganga. Thousands upon thousand of dead bodies are placed in the Ganga each year because of the belief that She opens the doors to heaven. (In fact, the government recognizing that it cannot stop the practice, has placed flesh eating tortoise in the river to eat the dead bodies and reduce pollution – side enginerd fact =)

There are striking differences between the rivers and its valleys. The Yamuna is fairly clear and blue, while the Ganga even at its source is turbid and brown to large large volumes of dirt. It seems very surprising that the Ganga is so “dirty” until you notice the differences in the landscapes through which each river passes.

The Yamuna Valley (or valleys I should say)
Beautiful mountains all around, reaching up and touching the skies, the peaks only obscured by cotton candy clouds hung from the heaven against the backdrop of blue skies, while the sun shines brightly upon the scene. The valley reminds Yosemite, but there is one big difference- the habitation of the valleys. All along the sides of the mountains, terraces have been cut away (I can only imagine the effort it took). Each terrace slightly different in appearance due to the level of water and growth of different produce. From the valley floor to 4/5 of the way up, terraces line the mountains, like stairs for giants, interspersed with homes. Innovation in irrigation practices that have been developed long ago are what I was fortunate enough to see first hand. The river curves her way through the mountains and one can only marvel at how the river has shaped the valleys through which she passes. The river meanders and braids its way amidst the terraces and rocks. Sometimes gently, sometimes with great noise and vigour alluding to its power.

The Ganga Valley
The Ganga valley was striking and beautiful, but in a different form. While the mountainside was terraced, it was to a much lesser degree. Rockslides were much more prevalent. It was as if someone grabbed a piece of the mountain and tore it away from the rest, leaving a huge gap amidst the trees and greenery. Thus much more dirt and particulate matter makes its way into the river. At its source, the first 2-3 km of terrain are barren. The only life that can be found are beautiful purple flowers that grow amongst the dirt and rocks. Even the glacial from which the Ganga emerges is full of dirt and could be misinterpreted to be a mountain of dirt instead of ice. In the picture of the river, you cannot even distinguish between the river and land as the waves are still.

Both rivers and valley did not cease to amaze me. Nature has a way of humbling individuals through its grandeur and power. When one looks at nature and attempts to fathom on the landscape came into being, the events in our lifetime do not hold any significance to time the earth has existed. Yet, as a species, we have changed so much about the earth we live in (but that’s a topic for another day).

The mountains with its serenity and power are incredible. After being in the mountains (we stayed in motels in cities, but we didn’t explore the cities), coming back to hardiwar/rishikesh and the cities and crowd in general was overwhelming and left a desire for the serenity and power of nature. Maybe I won’t work in the slums and work in the villages only to be aware of the noise of the urban world. We’ll see.

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