For Earth, Our Home

Most of us worry about the smallest leaks in the roofs of our homes and rush to fix the tiniest cracks in our walls. Does it make sense then that we should have screwed up our real home– this beautiful Earth– as badly as we have?

The evidence around us is breathtaking: greenhouse gases, global warming, radically changing weather patterns that have already wreaked havoc in parts of the world, including India and the United States.

While there’s not much we can do to fix past mistakes, there’s a lot we can do to change things now, both for us and for those millions and millions of beautiful creatures who played no part in creating these problems, but who pay the price for it more than we ever will.

If you read the newspapers or watch television, you know about the melting Arctic ice caps that are depriving the beautiful polar bears of their habitat. You know about the many species of animals, birds and fish that have been driven into extinction because of hunting or poaching or over-fishing. And you know, if you live and drive here in the United States, the price deer and squirrels and other wildlife pay when we choose to build McMansions and carve out highways in the woods they once called home. In fact, every time I read a story about the burgeoning deer population in the suburbs, and people complaining about the deer eating the plants in their yards or running out in front of cars on highways, as if it’s the deer’s fault, I want to tear my hair out and scream at their ignorance.

But in our world, no thanks to the media, going green has come to assume the sort of hip connotation that seems to naturally go with a huge price tag. Watch the green channels on television and they seem to be saying you need to buy some expensive gadget or the other to reduce your use of energy, solar panels that cost an arm and a leg to put up, and cars that are no doubt much better than your average gas-guzzler but which — let’s face it– don’t come cheap.

What no one seems to talk about, however, is how going green can actually save you money if you do it the old-fashioned way: by reducing waste and recycling everything you possibly can. The way the generations that preceded us did it. It goes without saying, of course, that the less we use, the less we strip the Earth of its resources which is a great way to help the environment.

I was raised in a family where my parents, like all other Indian middle-class folks of their day, were not particularly environment-conscious, but they were naturally frugal and conscientious about the stuff they bought and about reusing just about anything that could be reused.

Old, tattered clothes got recycled into rags for wiping the floors or windows or countertops or anything that needed wiping. The ones that were still wearable but not wanted any more were exchanged for steel pots and pans from a vendor who made his rounds ever so often.

Glass jars of jams and jellies and even metal canisters of shortening got recycled into containers to store food staples like rice and lentils and spices, and were used again and again for years.

Plastic milk bags were washed and newspapers were folded up and both sold to the raddi-wallah, raddi being the collective word for unwanted paper. The raddi-wallah would bring out a set of large weighing scales and weigh the newspapers and negotiate a price with the seller.

My mom would go to the market each evening with a sturdy and colorful woven basket. All the vegetables would go into the basket, and get sorted out once she got home. You had none of those plastic poly bags that, in later years, were to turn into lethal food for starving stray cows roaming Indian streets.

Looking back at those times, I think that even without all the awareness we possess, those folks did far better than we now do.

But we humans have this wonderful capacity to adapt and change, no matter what we already do or don’t do. This is Earth Month (Earth Day’s April 22), and it’s a great time to reflect on the many ways we can change our lives in small ways to make the world a better place for ourselves and for everyone who shares it with us.

Here are just a few small ways to get started:

Change that light bulb. Put in an energy-efficient CFL, which costs a bit more upfront but lasts years and years and makes back several times its cost in energy savings.

Equally important, remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

Find ways to reuse stuff. I make a lot of food from scratch, so I eliminate the use of convenience foods that are usually swaddled in tons of packaging. But when I buy those inevitable jars of peanut butter or jelly, I wash and reuse them to store stuff in my pantry. In fact, I haven’t bought a piece of tupperware in more than a decade. Donate clothes that are in good shape but which you don’t want any more to thrift stores, and if you have old cotton clothes that are beyond redemption, cut them up into rags. They make great recyclable substitutes for paper towels.

Carry your own grocery bags to the supermarket. The argument over which is better, paper or plastic, is moot and stupid. The only way you can really make a difference is by using canvas or cloth bags that don’t have to be disposed of.

Leave that car behind. Bike, or walk, or take public transport. I love taking the train because it gives me the time to catch up on my reading, or to just look at the world and the people around me. When I am driving, on the other hand, I am easily stressed and easily provoked into losing my temper.

Compost. Desi tells me how his mom threw her vegetable scraps from each day’s cooking into the tiny plot of their home in Madras where she grew some vegetables. Over time, the scraps broke down and fed the new plants. A natural cycle of life. You don’t need expensive bins to compost. Most counties here in the United States offer free composting bins into which you can throw all of your grass clippings, dry leaves and food scraps. You can even compost in a hole in your backyard. It takes the barest minimum of maintenance, but at the end of it all you have organic compost that’s going to make great food for your vegetable garden. You can find tons of information on composting on the Web, and here’s a great resource.

If you have more ideas on going green without burning a hole in your pocket, do share them here. We’re all in this together. Let’s make sure we protect our home as best as we can.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Comments

  1. says

    Great post! I still save all the Jelly and Pasta sauce jars and use it to store dals and spices.

    Have you seen this movie “Knowing”?
    Although “aliens” stuff is all bakwas, at the end of the movie they show that because of the global warming etc, Sun throws off these heat flares which burns down the Earth in seconds to ashes. It’s scary to see that in that movie, so real and could happen easily if we continue on like we are now.

  2. says

    Here she goes again, totally agree with you on each and every point that you have written.

    I try to do most of the similar things you have written. Only problem with me is cant take public transport as bay area is behind all the nation on that. my company does provide free shuttles but timings don’t work but I try to carpool as much I can.

  3. Anonymous says

    I feel exactly the same when people complain about wild animals “invading” developed areas…it’s us that have invaded their home not the other way round. And this is mirrored in so many other arenas such as wildlife management on rivers and public lands and even in natural reserves. Why can’t people see the injustice?

  4. says

    Hi,

    I try to find a second use for everything. But there is a limit. We get so much packaging here even if we try to buy the bare minumum. So it becomes clutter in the house.I guess there needs to be less packaging to begin with, especially plastic. I try to find new uses for them. I use the heavy plastic (cut up into small pieces) as plant markers and the light plastic as sheet protectors for plants.

  5. says

    Totally agree with everything you said Vaishali. We have stopped buying bottled water, we have water bottles at work that we refill. Great post.. very thought provoking..

  6. says

    Bulls eye….thts wht people fail to understand…recycling is utmost important and just shutting off lights for one hour wont be of any help if after that, u r again on the usual track of putting on Ac and lights when there is no body in room, keeping the cellphone ,ipod and whatnot chargers plugged in,not completely switching off Tv(just doing tht with remote while the power plug is on,still sucks the electricity),Using vacuum cleaners even for trivial cleaning,using dryers of washing machine inspite of great sunshine,keeping lights on,instead of keeping windows open during day…so many ways to waste electricity …woosh.And driving car for a single person is still out of question for my family..bless the public transport system(no matter how terrible it is) or car pooling is still the best option here around us.
    And i can relate to every other sentence of yours from start to end,coz we still follow these ways,though so called high society people,consider it as chindigiri(act of miser).I till date havent got any DECENT container to store pulses etc,and even the containers that arrives home via Home delivery from restaurants are used for sharing food with friends and relatives
    Glad that u started this topic, i got some place to explode ;-)

  7. says

    Your upbringing sounds so much like mine. I am very glad that your reminding everyone of earth’s day to do our duty. Also, one thing specifically I see people doing is not turning off the light when they leave the room; for some reason, I can’t and so I turn it off. Even at work, when I leave the conference room I make sure to turn off the light. Every little bit counts!

  8. says

    nowadays every starbucks has a bin with coffee grounds to enrich the soil for your plants. it’s free.

    i use half the recommended amount of pasta water to cook pasta. it reduces to a thicker liquid that i use as a soup base. no water gets wasted that way.

    great post. hope to take part in your lovely event this month.

  9. says

    Asha, I haven’t seen that one, but as you point out, the consequences of our actions are scary indeed. Glad you too are a recycler :)

    Mints, I too had a similar problem with my old job where I couldn’t take public transport, but it’s great that you carpool.

    Anonymous, thanks for your comment. Yeah, doesn’t it seem like a no-brainer, and still there are so many that don’t get it.

    Srividya, what a great tip! I love those ideas, and I am so trying them out in my garden this summer. Thanks!

    Pavani, thanks for a great tip. Indeed, reusing plastic water bottles is a great idea, and something I absolutely believe in. I once had a colleague who’d pick up a fresh styrofoam cup from the kitchen each time she wanted a drink of water or a cup of coffee. By the end of the day, she’d have tossed out six to seven cups, and as you might know, each one of those would lie in a landfill for 500 years before it bio-degraded. I reminded her of that each day until one day she finally brought in her own cup and reusable bottle. I guess she was sick of listening to me, but I couldn’t be happier! :)

    Alka, great idea to recycle restaurant containers. As for those who deride a conscious way of life:
    I say the joke’s on them because — let’s face it– ignorance is really not bliss. It’s just…ignorant!

    Priya, you’re making a big difference by turning off those lights. So proud of you!

    Eva, Thanks!

    Pavithra: Thanks, and kudos to your mom!

    Bee, Thanks for those tips. I didn’t know Starbucks did that, and I am definitely making a trip to pick up some coffee grounds soon.

  10. says

    Do you know what I did with empty peanut butter jars? I turned them into doggie toys… spread peanut butter around the rim and sides, and a handful of dry cereal on the bottom. It keeps them busy for awhile- caution- only good on carpet to avoid broken glass!

  11. says

    am not spending much time at the computer right now, but couldn’t stop reading this post of yopurs. I love each and every word of what you have said.
    one thing which I am trying in addition to many other things is tobuy as much of locally and, more important, seasonal vegetables grown veggies and fruits as possible. Exceptios are there, like bananas, ideally I shouldn’t be eating them at all, but i have minimised it a lot. So, we do not buy banans regularly but only when i know i will fnish them off. This is a very tough thing to do when you live where i do. As the supermarkets are usually full with things from all over the world and seasonal things here means there isn’t much choice left to buy. But it still feels good. And,for example, i try to buy bell peppers grown in some neighbouring contries which stil have enoug sun to grow them than thpse coming from some far of continent, which is not rare.
    I have written more than enough, I think.

  12. says

    Totally agree to what ever you have written. When I read about that woven baskets..I so remember those cute little baskets..My mom still uses them to buy veggies. we were discussing the other day that we should bring them here and use them..there are so many small things that we can change and save the world..Thank you for the beautiful post.

  13. says

    Very well written and useful post Vaishali. Some really good tips in the comments section too. I try to buy local produce as much as possible, I’m growing a few herbs in the spring, turn off unused lights, not use the washing machine for small loads, washing the dishes myself instead of using the dishwasher and using dish cloths instead of paper.
    I try to advice my frnds who buy bottled water to have a filter attached to their tap instead. If the tap water is really too bad, many stores now have mineral water dispensers, where you can buy huge cans, or get your own even. You can easily recycle the bottles and cans, and it reduces the overall plastic consumption.

  14. says

    great post Vaishali! I totally agree with you!

    Here is what we do for our part:

    Turn off lights when not in use. Recycle the empty yogurt cups to plant seeds. We also started using coffee grounds and egg shells as compost. Use jam bottles, even pickle bottles for storing stuff. We use one-side used papers for writing shopping lists etc.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  15. says

    Thanx again Vaishali for yet another lovely post!Once again I could not agree more!I try as much as I can to pay more and more attention to what and how I consume,though I must admit many things like these were always a norm with me,my awareness is growing now a days just like with many people due to the crisis that has forced society to take a closer look(and thought)at our consuming ways.I also like to collect jars for spices and even juice bottles for grains;my apartments were always decorated with 80% collected items and furnishings off the street,or second hand that I just loved to renew;I always love giving new life to old items,adding embroidery to an old bedspread,painting an old chair,upholstering a used sofa..and my work in design is also largely based on recycling,collecting plastic bags which are nasty to our earth and transforming them into practical durable items;collecting waste paper and molding it into creating new artistic paper etc.The concept of taking care of our earth is actually very creative and fun!I hope more and more people will understand it is also crucial! :) Mia

  16. says

    I had missed this wonderful post. We are 100% in to recycling & do whatever we can. … I don’t even waste the left over water in our glasses, collect all of them in a container & water the plants with it, or use it to soak dirty utensils.. the kids have started doing the same. even my 3 yr old has started to distinguish the items which can be recycled. the schools do a lot here & I am so glad they do! The children need to get aware too. my kids do not waste any paper.. use both sides of the sheets! creates a lot of clutter at home collecting every single sheet, but it makes me feel good.
    I have seen my parents do the best.. & that’s what i am going to teach my kids too. I am seeing that slowly a lot of things are becoming a habit for them, & i feel so happy.

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