Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Green

If you think my blog is suddenly looking like a preppie wardrobe, I won’t blame you. What with posts titled Pink and Green. Maybe I’ll write a few more posts titled Oxford Shirts and Martha’s Vineyard to complete the look. Jokes apart, over the last year, all said and done, I have come to appreciate the whole Green thing. I have in my own way, tried to be a little more responsible about environment while trying to say away from its faddish, Upper East avatars.

Thirty years ago, my mother would have laughed at the Green nonsense and dissed it as yet another Western fad. Recycle? Compost? People write and talk about this? She would have laughed and gone back to negotiate stainless steel dabbas with the bohareen in exchange for her eight sarees and three trousers. I did not know anybody who did not do this. It was a way of life. Fuelled by necessity. Growing up, we saved newspapers. At the end of each month, we sorted them neatly in two piles - English and Vernacular and took them to the raddiwallah. He weighed them carefully, calculated the rate – higher for English, lower for Vernacular and then gave us an option of either buying coconuts from him or settling the deal in cash. Although some haggling took pace occasionally over accuracy of the scales or the going rate or both, all parties were without doubt happy at the end of the deal. It was a win-win situation.

Paper towels were an ill afforded luxury as was aluminum foil and shrink wrap. People simply put small steel plates on steel bowls to cover leftovers in the fridge. Grocers wrapped daals and peanuts in neatly cut squares of newspaper (and nobody worried about lead in the printing ink). In smaller towns like the one I grew up in, even gray water was not wasted. In little washing spaces in the backyards, water from washing clothes and dishes was diverted to a small grove that grew luscious bananas, papayas and calocecia.

So when I arrived in United States nine years ago, it was a bit of a shock. The first thing I noticed was the abundant use of paper towels. My roommate used paper towels to catch crumbs from his toast, using it as a plate, and then crumpling it and throwing it away and ripping another sheet to clean the table afterwards. Disposable cups and plates, copier paper, single serve packs. Nobody gave it a second thought. And as I embraced the fast paced, go-getting, goal oriented lifestyle I embraced this cultural emblems too. Before I knew it I was buying packs of disposable plates and piles of paper towels. I was throwing away kitchen scraps but buying hummus and fertilizers. My grocery was brought home in throwaway plastic bags. I recycled religiously, used the grocery bags as trash-can liners but I was also wasting a lot without realizing it. And it dawned on me only last summer while growing strawberries and tomatoes and peppers that I could be more responsible and waste less. Waste not want not.

Over the past year, I have tried to minimize my environmental impact. I use less soap in the washing machine and my clothes turn out to be just as clean. I use reusable canvas bags to get grocery and other supplies. I compost. I had stopped using disposable plates not for environmental reasons initially, but simply because I thought it was tacky to feed people in paper plates unless it was a child’s birthday party. But I know people who will use disposables even if there are having only two dinner guests because its convenient (than what?? Loading the dishwasher with two more plates??) We have always kept heating lower. Our thermostat is set at 67F. We would much rather wear warm pants and a sweater than crank the heat up to 75F. We don’t drive SUVs or mini vans. Although I wanted one badly, I saw BigGeek’s reasoning. I would be driving it alone most of the time, so I would just be wasting gas.

I am living in a society that appreciates leaving a smaller environmental footprint. And all the little acts mentioned above have some societal validation. It’s hip to carry reusable bags and to compost. It’s not yet hip to buy smaller houses. People with one or two kids would still much rather live in a McMansion. And when both parents are work and the kids are in school, the energy consumed in simply heating or cooling a big empty house is tremendous. I wish builders had some other way of upping the status ante than just giving more square footage.

So, we still have a long way to go. Even a simple act of taking reusable grocery bags can be a hassle. I have forgotten it so many times when I was just starting out. Now its become second nature. As have a lot of other things. So, now its time to ask what more can I do? For instance, I can surely remind myself to take containers to restaurants to bring home leftovers instead of using the restaurant supplied plastic or foam containers. Or try making toys at home from things that would be thrown away. Use reusable gift wrapping or reusable cloth bags instead of paper. There are so many ways to reduce waste. All it needs is a little creativity.

33 comments:

The TAAMommy said...

On the dot !! Great post dotmom and everyone who is owning accounts everywhere and not using it, it is time to go delete all those so companies can save some database space - this is coming from a database consultant :)

rayshma said...

so with u on this one! we have to start, one of us at a time! i've started carrying reusable bags for grocery, AND wearing clothes at home. more clothes, i meant!. we also keep appliances unplugged when not in use. and it's been abt 7 years since i used a hair-dryer! trying to do more currently. waiting for it to become second nature, like it has to u!
and heyy, my folks still have d raddiwalla and steel plates to cover leftovers in d fridge! :D

Tharini said...

first comment! Yeeaay! Now I'll go read the first post and be back in a bit...

Tharini said...

U know. This was awesome. I am so clued in on this, and we do our best within our own house. I am going to take this up as a tag and post soon. Thanks!

DotMom said...

taamommy: thanks for THAT tip. Its easy to take DBs for granted :)

raysha: I hereby bow to you.. you are sooo further ahead in this. Kudos to you!

tharini: looking forward to your post!

RJ said...

Not related to this post, but I enjoy reading most of your posts. There's something about your writing - I don't know exactly what, but I am your fan.
comment on this post - how about using energy saving florescent bulbs?

noon said...

Great post. People often look at me weird when I invite a bunch of people and they say "Why don't we just use paper plates, so you won't have to clean up?" and I tell them I don't have any at home...I am not doing a lot of things I could be doing - cloth diapers for ex - but what I can easily do I would rather do...
A, avoiding the mini van and squeezing between car seats just as long as it is possible before I have to do car pools and such...
Wish there was better public transport here really!
So much can be done...but we can do at least the little things.

Thinking aloud said...

this was such a needed post...i too respect green, ever since my kids were born, i've started getting worried at their future and their kids', the environment which they will inherit...

if each do their bit....that would a big first step!

Gauri said...

True - very true. All it takes is a little creativity. The other day I was watching the streets of Naples on the news and it sure scared the daylights out of me. If people don't get more responsible in recycling stuff - the fate that awaits is a rather smelly one !!

While on teh issue of grocery bags, I have, for a long time now been using the canvas shoulder tote bags. But 95% of the local population still ask for plastic bags. In fact, the other day, one lady who was just ahead of me in the checkout queue asked the counter staff to put cheese in a small plastic bag, something else in another and something else in yet another and I was just passing by while she was waiting for the elevator and I heard her mention "when we are paying money why can't we ask for more plastic bags ?"

In many little little ways, we too are being more responsible with regard to recycling stuff.

But there's still room for a lot of improvement !!

Suki said...

Ah, lovely post, DotMom!

I'm getting into the leave-a-small-footprint thing too, and I guess being naturally thrifty as well as instinctive helps.
Post coming up, otherwise i'd be hogging your comment space.

Shobana said...

Yes, we are trying to do our part. But taking the canvas bag is still a challenge....but we are trying. It irks me to see people waste energy...for example, our neighbor. He has left his back porch light on day and night for 5days now, despite I telling them about it. I'll try again tomorrow.

the mad momma said...

oh yes. I did this some time back. damn. so i cant do it as a tag. you are right. fortunately living here in india, disposables havent really caught on like the US, but there is enough happening to make me feel sad. I separate my garbage and the garbage man promptly empties them both into the same big bag!

DotMom said...

rj: that's awfully nice of you to say and I am really flattered. :) We do use florescent bulbls. I can't understand people who don't like their tone. We have warm ones everywhere and its hard to tell the difference between them and regular incandescent.

noon: I used cloth diapers for Chip when I was home with my maternity leave.. but then it got too much, I would have loved to a diaper service, but there weren't any where I live.

Gauri: the story is a kepper.. do a post on it Gauri. The logic is impeccable :D

suki: there, you hit the nail on the head. I think we all need to be thrifty.

shobana: try the canvas bags.. its ok if you forget them.. it happens.. but six months later, it will become a habit. trust me.

mm: thanks god for that. the amount of trash each family generates here is humungous.

Kodi's Mom said...

thought-provoking post! It is true what you said abt this being a revolution here while growing up, the 'live minimal' concept was ingrained in everything we did. why don't we get paid here for recycling? isnt that a good initiative? (instead our garbage company charges us extra to take recycling - where is the motivation?)
I have to start composting soon - the potential smell and hassle of having one in a tiny yard has put me off so far...but I'm sure there's some creative way around that too.

DotMom said...

k's mom: exactly my point.. where is the incentive, really. The model back in India is better.. About compost.. you will be surprised about the lack of the smell. My mom and MIL kept telling me there isn't any real smell, but I had a hard time believeing. And You can compost in plastic bags. I have aone pile going on in a old paint bucket and have collected fall leaves (except Oak) in plastic bags and added a week's worth of kitchen scraps. I am in no hurry.. I expect it to be composted by next year. All you need to do is find a place that is fox/skunks/ferrett proof.

I love Lucy said...

In our apartment complex,they do not have a separate recycle bin which is such a nuisance since we have to drive all over town to get to one.
Hey DM,I needed your opinion on a coupe of things so was wondering if I could email you sometime?

Ananva said...

I just celebrated my daughter's first b'day and guess what she ate her meal on (or rather we the parents)-banana leaves. I wish they had patravali's (marathi term for plates made of leaves, sewn together to resemble plates) here. Nothing like recycling back in the good old days in India. That evening I said to my husband that I won't be surprised if glass and stainless steel make a comeback in the US.
Now, if only I could write as well as you do!! Sigh!!!

Preethi said...

A well thought out post!!! It has got me thinking.. we were such minimal-ists in India.. but I cant imagine a life without paper now.. paper towel, napkins, and so on.. I try my best to keep it minimal.. using hand kerchiefs and kitchen cloths... Also saving on electricity.. every time we step out of the house we turn down the heat... No extra lights at any time... and using bulbs of lesser wattage. I still have to start with the reusable bags... Next time I go grocery shopping I most definitely will.. Thanks so much for this post!! You have got me thinking!!

DotMom said...

ILL: Maybe you could start a drive :) my email it todotmom at gmail dot com

Ananva: I did buy those patravali bowls and snack plates the last time I visited India. I still have a few :) Where do you get banana leaves here??

Preethi: Life without paper doe seem hard... especially when we are such o-the-go people...but its great tht you are doing what you can!

Ananva said...

Some Indian stores carry them, but it is a hit and miss- I found them after asking 3 stores. Also, they are not whole leaves, just cut up segments, so the feeling is not the same, as eating out of a whole leaf.
Smart idea to buy the patravalis from India. Must do that when I go again.

Sue said...

I also reuse paperbags I get my dal, sugar etc. in from my local shop-around-the-corner.

Let's see, what else? We do use cloth towels and napkins rather than paper and we clean The Bhablet with water at a basin rather than use wipes. I take public transport when travelling alone.

I guess I'm not so green. :(

AA_Mom said...

Hey Dot Mom,
Have been lurking on your blog for a couple weeks now as I liked your writing style.

You touched a topic which is very close to my heart. Will do a post on it too sometime.

Will be back for more too :)

Vinita said...

wow now where did you girls find patravalis in pune? I didn't they had them around still.

Abundance brings more waste. Dotmom you will be surprised to see the amount of food being wasted in school cafeterias. You could feed an army. The kids pick up their tray of food and are busy talking. As soon as the bell rings , they are not supposed to take the food outside the cafeteria so the unopened milk cartons, fruits, bread, meat everything goes in the trash. If the line in the cafeteria is too long by the time some kids get their tray the bell goes and the kids dump the tray in the trash as soon as they pick it up. I have witnessed this on so many occassions.(hassava ka radava hech kalat nahi)

But being aware that we need to leave a cleaner planet for our kids is a start. Rest will follow.

Vinita

DotMom said...

Ananva: I ahve seen the smaller segments too once or twice but in S.Asian stores.

Sue: And you are not green???!!!!!

AA_Mom: Welcome to KC! Can't believe you actually enjoy my daily butchering of the Queen's language :) Do write an eco-post.. I would love to read it.

Vinita: Well said. I am shocked to hear about cafeterias. moola oopashi rahatat? This is ridiculous..Doesn't anybody monitor the length of queues and recess time??? kharach hasava ki radava kalat naahi!

bird's eye view said...

Good post. Actually, even now in India we follow so many environmentally friendly practices, but mostly out of habit, not consciousness, like selling newspapers to the raddiwalas and re-using jars and using cloth nappies and towels, not paper ones. sadly, as India gets richer, we are adopting the same wasteful practices the West is accustomed to.

Manchus said...

I came across your blog from Boo's blog. Amazing post. As you correctly pointed out that going green is becoming a hep thing now. But we had it in our roots while in India. Here, I used to use the Paper towels so much that my husband always chided me on how many trees I am killing being a vegetarian :) Finally, I got a bunch of cloth towels and I use them religiously. In our four years after purchasing our home, we never used the heater/Air conditioner that much. Guess I still prefer covering up myself or going for the traditional fan and keeping the windows open. I can't stand the smell of a closed home.

I use Newspaper very much here for the Poopy diapers (I know I know..should resort to cloth diapering with my next baby), as a cutting board and trashing vegetable waste. And of course we use the coupons :)
We try to compost too and I do add newspaper to it. Looking forward to more ideas.

DotMom said...

bird's eye view: but i think the awareness will catch sooner.. it has taken 20+ years of wasteful living to have the awareness catch on.

manchus: Welcome to my blog! If you are CA there are a lot of diapering services that will wash the diapers for you. We try to use less air conditioning as possible, but summers here can be brutal. But we rely on ceiling fans too most of the time. And it's impossible to live with some heating here as the temperarture dips below freezing for months. I am thinking of compiling ideas for being green in all walks of life! Maybe you should do a post too :)

dipali said...

Great post. As you say, in India recycling used to be a way of life.And not wasting anything. As a child I used to hate the way my father cut the toothpaste tube in half to extract the very last bit.
Segregating trash is something I'd like to do, but it needs to go down the chain. But of course plastic bottles and newspapers go to the raddi wallah. We still have a long way to go.

Rohini said...

Great post. I am in a similar position - started to do a little but not enough in my estimation. Have moved to canvas bags, use wiped for A only when traveling, put off lights in room we are not using even for 10-15 minutes, switch off appliances from the mains when not in use, sleep with thin cotton sheets instead of quilts to minimise the use of the AC. Next on my list is to put up some more clothes lines and stop using the dryer except in the monsoon....

Usha said...

enjoyed the post as well as the comments - I keep wondering what more I can do about this too. It is quite sad to see that in India we are giving up some of these good habits and going more plastic and less recycled. It seems a status issue to use 'use and throw' stuff. The other day I was at a wedding where they gave me a polybag for coconut and betel leaves- inside there were two plastic containers one for haldi and one for kumkum, hundreds of paper cups for water, a separate paper cup for the payasam during the meal. Very sad. And the invitation itself had an outer wrapper and an inner one and two cards inside - one for the wedding and one for the reception.
Why, please why?

choxbox said...

apart from the obvious environmental impact, eating off steel is healthier than plastic/paper. a friend who is recovering from cancer treatment was told strictly to use steel only an dnot plastic. i downloaded a whole pile of steel bartans on her as she didnt have any.

you're right - virtually everything was recycled when i was growing up, and the carbon footprint is very small in such a lifestyle. maybe we have progressed a bit to much for our good.

DotMom said...

dipali: Why do you say you have a long way to go?? I am sure when you were in the States you saw how wasteful the avarage American can be. We don't think twice about using disposable anything. And I still extract toothpaste to the last bit :)

rohini: I want to stop using the dryer too.. atleast in summer. I don't use the dryer to tumble dry sweaters. I line dry (in our washing room, not ourside, our Homeowners association does not allow line drying outside) as much as I can..except cottons which go into the dryer.

Usha: Weddings too? i had been to a concert on my last trip to India and they handed poly bags to put our footwear in when we entered the hall. Invites are another pet peeve. Here people send paper invites for birthdays too..I say use evite.

choxbox: I agree. I am phasing out all plastic containers in our house. The only problem remains the lunch box. But I can't agree with this - Maybe we have progressed a bit much for our own good. - I don't agree with this at all. We have better lives, we are longer living and healthier. This is all a learning process, I think...


ALL: A good guide on plastic safety. Please read the bit about baby bottles and sippy cups.
http://www.healthobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=77083

choxbox said...

hmm dotmom. good to see that not all folks have lost hope yet :)