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July 21, 2011

Sometime I ask you things that I can easily find on the Internet. I ask you via the Internet on chat. I ask you things you previously told me via an online chat. When you are away or offline, I wait till you return. I never resort to looking for it on my own.

p.s: Don’t tell anyone where I work.


Composting in NYC

March 24, 2011

I thought before I gave my two cents on How to Compost, I’d direct those interested to easily available resources here in New York City. The go-to site is It gives easy to understand instructions about both indoor and outdoor composting. The Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC) runs the Manhattan Compost Project and you can find where composting workshops are held here. I attended mine last year for a mere $5. You can certainly make your own worm bin but they sell discounted worm bins either right after a workshop or give you a coupon for a discounted bin which you can pick up later at the Union Square greenmarket. The worm bins are very well made with built-in air vents and prevent odors. The LESEC also has a composting hotline at 212-477-3155 where you can call should you have pressing questions. Don’t laugh – I once spent a sleepless night wondering about the excessive condensation in my worm bin. Don’t get too excited though; they only answer questions Monday through Friday.

You can also buy a pound of worms (about a 1000) along with the bin for about $44. I remember the chilly Fall day I bought this and couldn’t find a cab so took the subway as usual. This is NY so you can never be too unconventional and no one is bothered enough to get curious but I reckon even the most blase New Yorker would’ve thrown a fit if they knew they had worms as co-passengers.

Reducing waste a thousand times over

March 13, 2011

In the last few months of deafening silence, I’ve had about a thousand silent guests in my home doing some very important work. Reducing waste that would go to landfills. You’ve guessed by now – I’m talking about worms. Oh, you didn’t guess?

Back tracking a little, I took a composting class in downtown NYC where some very capable instructors took us through the How-tos of composting. We walked through what can and cannot be composted, how to start and then finally, how to harvest the vermicompost. A fortnight later I was the proud owner of a worm bin and a pound of worms – which is about a thousand. Don’t balk – thousand is not much. They can only go through about 3 lbs of food scrap a week, way less than an average household that cooks produces. And we cook every day. Below in pictures are the step-by-step of how I went about setting the worm bin up.

  1. Shred newspapers into strips. Color is fine but stay away from glossy/ thick paper.
  2. Wet the newspaper in a bucket of water and wring it out completely.
  3. Get 1 year old daughter and cat to help with the project
  4. Fill up about 3/4th of the worm bin with these newspapers.
  5. Empty the worms in! red wiggler worms work well for indoor composting. If you are composting outdoors it means you have all sorts of great worms and bugs and you have enough space so I don’t want to talk to you.
  6. Start feeding your worms!

You can feed the worms everyday but like I mentioned earlier since they can only eat about 3 lbs a week, it’s easy to lose sight of how much you’re feeding them. Just like not feeding enough is dangerous, over feeding is also a no-no. so I feed them once a week, about 3 lbs worth and check on them. You can add additional newspaper bedding if it looks low.

My worms, I’m proud to say are a composting machine. They are translucent so you can actually watch the compost travel through them from top to bottom. Clearly you can I see I have lost all the initial queasineess I might have had around worms and such. And you should too. Composting has been going great and in fact I am really close to harvesting. Next up some troubleshooting and tips. Remember, trash talk but don’t trash!

A little green, a little grey

October 27, 2010

If I am so green, then why is everything so grey. And by that I don’t mean my mood or outlook, just that being green is not cut and dried. The more you read, the more you know, but the harder it is to take decisions. In some ways I wish the gurus would give me really exact advice like- use 32 plastic bags in a year because 1 more and it will cause a continental shift. Or don’t bother with worms and composting, food scraps are favorable to landfills (I think my family desperately wants me to believe this). For instance, cotton uses less resources to maintain over its lifetime but growing cotton takes tons of energy – then, what is the right choice – cotton or synthetic? Same goes for paper vs. plastic etc. It’s getting really hard to draw a line in the sand as to what works and what doesn’t. Or more importantly in trying to live practical, urban lives, what are the things we can let go off while diligently doing the others? I wrote here about how a lot of the little things don’t add up – morally, they work. They make us more conscientious and humane, so I’m not knocking them but they don’t scale. Here’s a site attempting to answer some of it: I think all moms will appreciate this.

Diapers: Cloth or Disposable?

In the grand scheme of things, the debate over the relative merits of cloth versus disposable diapers, like the one over paper versus plastic bags, tends to arouse passions out of proportion to its significance.
In 2005, the U.K Environmental Agency attempted to settle the question once and for all. The verdict? It doesn’t matter. No really, it doesn’t. Both manufacturers and parents could do more to reduce their ecological impact, but the choice between cloth and disposable is one of personal preference.


MM wrote about wanting to separate recycling but the garbage man thwarting her efforts. So MM, I am not entirely sure about Delhi but Bombay is the absolute epitome of recycling. One walk through Dharavi (which btw, calling it a slum is a giant misnomer) shows a thriving recycling industry. India has been recycling for eons before the word was coined or before it became fashionable. It was and is still done in a slightly inefficient way through rag pickers but the sheer volume available labour makes this surprisingly scalable. In Dharavi I saw bottle caps being color coded and separated, plastic beaten down and finally sourced to manufacturers. It is intuitive that historically poorer countries value their assets more and recycling came naturally. Little surprise, US and China are the biggest polluters and wasters. This doesn’t mean India shouldn’t up its ante – this article talks about the hazards of humans recycling dangerous trash and some new regulations for modernizing recycling.
But MM and Sue – keep me posted on how this develops and if you see changes that reach you. But also rest easy – our people don’t let much go to waste 🙂
Finally, I am trying to keep track of design innovations that help what you buy last longer. In a consumerist culture where the dollar is powerful and everything is replaceable, designing for use or even just for fun might be a clever way of elongating an object’s lifetime value. Take for instance a pizza box – it literally gets used and dumped within an hour. It’s a decent amount of cardboard that might not necessarily get recycled, especially because many states in the US don’t want you throwing greasy, food stained stuff in the recycle machine (food is a big contaminator and deterrent). Here’s an awesome pizza box that can be used for lunch the next day or serves as plates for you and your friends. And it stays in your fridge just a little longer and gets to the landfill just a little slower.

Talking Trash

September 13, 2010

The NY Times is especially adept at taking precisely 3 people who are inspired by the same idea and crafting a compelling agenda about how everyone is doing that or at least should be doing that. Lately, they have really been going at consumption. I’m not complaining – they usually get me and I feel like the last person in the know.  By now anyone who knows someone who knows someone else who reads their RSS feeds from has read this article – Tammy Stroble and her husband now live in a 400 sq ft apartment. They own 100 things total. TOTAL. Yes, counting their tooth-brush and dog leash. (do they count the dog?)

Couple that with the others articles and people/ blogs I follow like No Impact Man, Michael Pollen, Wasted Food (love this blog), our government and my own father-in-law who is a horticulturist and knowledgeable about all things composting (worms!), it’s hard not to feel like I am doing nothing. Going green is too ubiquitous and turning off lights and cranking down your tap doesn’t scale. It feels good but it doesn’t scale. Few things do. So in terms of scale in my own life, I did take one thing away. Make less trash.

And you know what, that is SO hard. SO SO hard. Even those of us that are passionate about REcycling and REusing don’t do one thing very well – REducing. I often hear the same people who recycle talk about being shopaholics. I’m not being judgy-wudgy. I get it – It’s because these dots don’t connect easily. We don’t connect consumption to going green. We just go buy more eco-friendly bags. We just conscientiously throw our print-outs in the recycle bin. Clearly it starts with buying, accumulating and then burdening the environment with the waste. It still takes energy to recycle, much more than it does to consume. I mean all consumption – food, energy, water, plastic, clothes. There are nuances of course: veggies versus meat, cotton versus nylon but consumption is a leveler. Consumption translates to impact on the environment; there’s no getting away from it.

So for my part I have some very non HD photos of my trash. The picturesque plastic bag holds my food scraps from cooking or leftovers. The 2 Whole Foods paper bags hold all that’s recyclable in my building – plastic, metal, glass and paper. The large trash can is well – empty.

Here’s my goal: Keep the large trash can empty. What goes in there is assumed to be the most impactful – there are a few culprits that are hard to recycle or get rid of (I’m looking at you STYROFOAM). Keep the trash to a minimum. Start composting with the biodegradable stuff (worms! a one year old!). And do a little empirical experiment of my own to see the patterns in my trash which of course will reveal my patterns of consumption. Then it comes to whether I will reveal that to you, or anyone. In some ways, isn’t our trash the most personal of all things? An eye into our life, our habits. You can look into my trash and see how much I cook, how much I order in. My bills and receipts. My birth control or lack thereof. How much I waste, how unsentimental I am and about what. Love letters and shredded pay checks.

This is an experiment in trash talk. Stay Tuned.


July 16, 2010

It made me smile yesterday when I saw a pretty girl with long legs wearing a very short skirt but holding down her hem ever so often. I thought – she should wear a short skirt, enjoy the attention and forget about it or not wear it at all. Then I thought about the times I show cleavage and fidget endlessly. Often the pervert constantly looking down my blouse is me.

It made me sad a few minutes later to see a elderly lady driving the roads of Manhattan with a spoon in her mouth. Only, it was a thermometer. She had a thermometer in her mouth, one hand on her forehead and the free hand on the steering wheel. I hope that she made a U-turn and went home to a cool house, warm tea and someone who whooped for joy to see her back.

Bollywood for Children

March 30, 2010

This is not necessarily in response to MM’s 90s songs post but certainly inspired by it. While for most people it brought back memories of a decade ago, for me it brought back one of a month ago. While in India on maternity we re-watched many “classics”, cringed through the yellow plastic earrings and perm hair. For my gora husband many of these were a firsttime watch, not reminisces. Imagine my surprise when he sings to Mishki…Twinkle Twinke Little Star …you’ll learn this soon enough when….you watch Maine Pyar Kiya!!!

Tell the truth now, how many of you instantly know what he’s referring to? Yes, it’s the background music everytime they flashback to a kiddie Salman asking for chocolate from his uncle Alok Nath and they replay it when Salman re-renters their life as his daughter’s beau.

MPK for all of us was many things – Salman’s dashing debut, one-hit wonder Bhagyashree, a pigeon with amazing sense of direction, a harbinger for Hum Apke Hain Kaun and family values, knowing that pretending to be a cripple is the most underhanded thing EVER…but it took a first-time watcher to make it a movie that introduces his infant to this most revered nursery rhyme.

Bollywood, your breadth knows no bounds. Salut!

You have to skip to 3:16 to get to the good part here, although Reema Lagoo giving her future bahu her choodis is also priceless.