Treading the green path


How best can one follow eco-friendly practices, especially in an urban set-up? Sindhu J has some answers.

Living in urban, concrete jungles shouldn’t deter one from thinking of making a difference to the environment. Most people I know fall squarely into two categories — the ‘chalta hai’ types and the eternal mourners. The former don’t give a damn about what is happening around them while the eternal mourners like to reminisce about the lovely misty garden-flower scented paradise that old Bangalore used to be, even as they toss cigarette stubs etc, into the nearest tree-basin or flower bed. 

The smallest thing an individual does of an ‘eco-friendly’ nature will make a difference in the long run. So here’s an account of some of the things I have managed to incorporate into my daily life. Of course, it’s a whole way of life that presupposes, among other things, a patch of earth to call one’s own in the city, and a willingness to be laughed at. Also, not all these ideas may be feasible to everyone, especially apartment-dwellers.

But the most uber-urban types might still like the idea, for example, of using inexpensive dried locally-made areca-calyx food plates when they have guests over to a meal; it means less dishwashing after the party, less use of water and detergent. The used plates compost easily, and make excellent manure. Apropos reusing water, my washing machine’s used water goes to hydrate a clump of banana trees in my garden patch, because they are almost the only plants that can tolerate so much soda.

Many uses of coconut

After my coconut tree registered its protest over this used water by shedding a large bunch of green nuts, I learnt to neutralise the soda by sweetening the soil with a chunk of lime.

Coconut trees yield so many riches that the eco-friendly possibilities are almost unlimited. The fibre makes an excellent scrubber, fallen fronds can also be used to make excellent brooms. I also use the shells, husk and fallen fronds as fuel for a woodstove which heats bathwater when power cuts make life hell, especially in winter.

The ash from the woodstove is used for scrubbing dishes, to deodorise dog-dirt, and to enrich my compost pit. Having found that commercially sold compost does more harm than good to my plants, I got a small pit dug up. The resident bandicoot turns over my compost every night. Coot burrows also help rainwater reach the water table.

I could go on forever about the virtues of the compost pit, but shall move on to other things of an eco-friendly nature one could try. Yes, we’ve learnt to carry reusable cloth shopping bags; our greeting cards are from CRY; we’ve learnt to climb the stairs in malls and avoid the escalators; we regularly take the newspapers, used books and paper to the local recycling unit, etc. But before we start feeling smug, let’s take a second look at some common ‘eco-unfriendly’ things that these self-same smug-faces do.

How many times, for instance, have I myself stopped to admire somebody’s lush lawn? Yes, no doubt it looks and feels great. But it is only by inhibiting the natural processes of the earth, by removing its topsoil and killing all the creatures that toiled to make it. Also, it’s only with the help of fume-spewing diesel lawn-mowers, chemical pesticides and noxious weedicides, that a lawn can be grown. I grow, in lieu of a fashionable lawn, an unsightly patch of wild grasses instead. When they start looking really unkempt, I’m tempted to cut and mow like everyone else, but the sight of a tiny moonia bird taking a blade of grass for its nest-building stops me right there. And there was a wood pigeon, peacefully strutting about, eating grass seeds. So I’ve let the grass patch be, complete with toppings of earthworm castings. Well-meaning friends advise me to pave the patch over with cement but I fiercely defend this patch of earth and the right of the mute creatures that lived in it long before humankind came along.

Not without problems

However, having a wild garden has its problems. Once I had an infestation of slugs (a kind of snail). Their slimy trails were all over, and I hoped it was just a passing phase. But things came to a head when I finally found a slug settled in my mixie jar, which for some reason, I’d left out the night before. Surfing the Internet frantically, I found that all solutions involved chemically treating the soil and essentially destroying its original composition. The remedy that finally worked was relatively eco-friendly— whenever I found the slimy creatures, I picked them up using a fallen leaf, and then poured table salt over them. This dehydrates them to death. The problem with salting them wherever they are on the soil is that one ends up ploughing one’s land with salt.

Yet another unforeseen misery was that my water-lily ponds had become mosquito-breeding factories. A Zoology professor suggested stocking guppies in the ponds, since they eat mosquito eggs and larvae. I tried it, and the next year I had both water-lilies and colourful guppies, but no more mosquito menace. And I don’t even have to feed my wet pets. They’ve plenty to eat in those open-air natural ponds.
Here’s the last bit. How about showering instead of the bathtub; switching off lights and fans when not in use; trying public transport; installing a half-flush device in the loo-tank; trying a mechanical pendulum clock that needs neither electricity nor battery; stopping to think whether you really need the object being advertised and resisting the culture of ‘Rush! Hurry! Grab!’ One can be, without joining any high-profile organisation, without spending large amounts of money, without wearing badges, raising slogans or climbing trees, a one-person clean-up squad. 

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