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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.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2010 4:38 am

    No, our country doesn’t leave a lot to go to waste but it is all a matter of perspective. As a generation, we and I think our parents too, throw a lot away today that they would not consider disposable a decade ago. Likewise, they regularly buy things they would never have bought earlier, like garbage bags and bottled water, which end up adding to our trash. So, yeah, there is much to change. Behaviour which we simply wouldn’t see earlier is now the norm — say tearing the paper off a roll/wrap (you know the famous Calcutta kebab rolls?) and dropping the paper where you stand. Spitting all over the streets. People have always spitted but never so badly. They always ate rolls but they used to dispose of the paper in the bins. Wonder what they teach them in schools these days…

    Makes me sound such a granny. 🙂

    • December 26, 2010 12:07 am

      I don’t know about why people are spitting and littering more(!) but about the buying more and trashing more, it’s a sign of affluence or rather ease of availability. In the US the dollar goes far and everything is replaceable. So people don’t think twice about using something once and throwing it. We didn’t grow up that way but that has come to urban India too and my guess is, is contributing to the culture, no? Being green is hard because outside of the price of fuel environmental damage impacts us in a minimal way. I’d rather you a granny and feel this way than not 🙂

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