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For a greener planet

Lalitha Subramanian, Jan 20, 2013 18:13 IST

Awareness

Walking along my neighbourhood early one morning, I marvelled at the clean, just-swept street, the unpolluted air… until I heard a ‘plop’, looked up ahead, and saw a woman on a balcony, retreating inwards, while a crow attempted to fish out bits of food from a loosely tied plastic bag that had hit the clean roadside.

I walked on, skirting the messy spot; soon the road would get messier as crows, stray dogs and thoughtless citizens did their bit.

Sometimes, I seriously wish for a Singapore-like regime that would include imposing fines on our littering-peeing citizens.

I fail to understand how, in this enlightened day and age, a householder can dare to throw out garbage from a balcony? Did she think she was feeding birds or what?
Our towns and cities are facing a monumental problem in the form of increasing garbage and decreasing spaces for waste disposal. Overflowing garbage bins, uncleared waste, rag-pickers and stray dogs jointly rummaging through collected waste — our urban landscape is a visual and sensory disgrace.

As homemakers, we need to do our bit to help fight this major issue, which often proves to be a health hazard.

I present here a few of my own lay efforts in this direction.

The other day, I found myself holding a cupful of spilt karthigai pori (balls of roasted flattened beaten rice or poha, held together with jaggery syrup), now unedible. Instead of dumping the lot in my dustbin, I simply spread it out on my small open balcony-terrace, adjacent to a tree, which is home to many crows. In minutes, the birds were pecking away at the pori, and soon it had all disappeared.

After a recent puja session, I faced the prospect of throwing away a basinful of flowers. There was no point in filling up my garbage bin with this organic waste. So, into my garden it went, spread out in a shallow pit under the neem tree.

The same technique can be for spinach bundles or some such leafy vegetables, which have soil still sticking to their roots. Why not just enrich and fertilise one’s
garden — outdoor, indoor, whatever available. The green waste can also be buried in the soil around the tree outside your home.

I must digress here and narrate a true story about my neighbour who nourished a gate-side pavement sapling with daily doses of organic kitchen waste and water. The end result that we have now is a big blessed shady tree.

To get back on track — rice, pulses and other edible consumables are now made available in half, one, two, five kilo packs, which are either fully made of plastic or foil-lined plastic. It makes sense to buy in bigger packs and cut down on long-term cost plus generation of waste. And the packets, of course, should not find their way to the dustbin. They need to be cleaned, dried, kept aside and reused as necessary. It involves a bit of time and effort, but this is a sure way of reducing your waste output.

Over 30 years, we certainly generated less waste in the course of our daily routine of buying and consuming. I remember my trips to a government-run supermarket in Trichy, with sturdy cloth bags in hand. Five kilos of rice or 10, as necessary, was bought ‘loose’— and the cloth bag held it fast.

Pulses were packed in newspaper cones. And in case you had not brought a big bag for the rice, a big cone solved the problem.

Initially, as a child, I remember being quite amused by these newspaper cones, so common to south Indian retail stores. I was more familiar with thongas (brown paper cartons) that were used by shopkeepers in my town, Jamshedpur. I also remember, how my parents would carefully unload the groceries, then flatten the brown papers neatly, for further use to cover school books and notebooks.

Now, that was recycling in a truly Indian style; easy on the purse and environment.
We all need to find innovative ways to lighten our daily trash output. We need to revisit the past, find our solutions from those simpler times.

Citizens need to act responsibly, in tandem with governments, to lighten our environmental overload.

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