Friday, February 08, 2008

An inconvenient recruit

Somewhere between watching Obama and Clinton in the presidential debate a week or two ago and cleaning up the mounds of snow that piled up on our driveway these few days, I realized I am turning into a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the environment.

For one I've been frustrating the Drift Memsaab by refusing to start the snow blower, instead shoveling the snow for hours at an end. And my argument is this: why should I give up one of the few genuine opportunities to exercise in winter and instead replace it with an activity that puts ricksha-grade smoke into the air?

And I've also noticed that much like my Dad I've started following the kids around the house, switching off lights behind them. "Reduce! Reduce!" I keep telling them "its much better than recycling and feeling good about how you just separated ten cans of coke from the rest of the junk!"

I save every pasta bottle - looking for something to put in it. I tackle anyone who as much as gets close to a recycle bin with an empty bottle in hand. We have everything in reused bottles now - masalas, snacks, nuts, daals, my beloved anardana churan bombs, cookies, heck even pasta itself.

I wash out most used Ziplocks, reuse discardable Tupperware. (I remember once chancing on Oprah talking about how terribly cheap this kind of behavior is - I haven't watched her show since)

Dad used to be like this when I was growing up - squeezing a tube of toothpaste (giving me visions of Thakur squeezing Gabbar Singh's neck) till every last drop had been gleaned because he couldn't bear to waste the packaging that contained the product.

In fact, he remains the only person I know who would practice household chores to the point where he could do it the dark - thus saving electricity (which incidentally is generated primarily through more carbon emissions in the US). Once, using the light from the gas stove, he tried to make tea in the dark and broke one of the cups which led to the standing joke in the house that for every paisa Dad would save, he would end up breaking something worth 10.

I ask for forgiveness from both.

From Pappa for not recognizing that he is a true environmental hero because let's face it: if we all shared resources equitably across nation and class, that would be the way we all would have to live.

And from my kids and wife, for becoming a highly annoying member of the family.



mimi said...

surely this thriftyness is typical desi behaviour... my mum has stacks upon stacks of empty plastic containers from ice cream, margarine etc. to be filled with left overs, pickles and random namkeen. My dad will never throw out cardboard packaging, in case, decades down the line, we may possibly need a giant CRT monitor sized box, god knows why. Unfortunately I have inherited this trait, and am swamped in shoe boxes!

That said, I do try and encourage recycling - even if it does mean I have to be the one driving down to the centre with sacks of old plastic bottles and tins...

Unknown said...

Shoeboxes are awesome! Because if you buy good shoes - something I always try then the boxes are great for holding my paint stuff like brushes, tubes, pencils, erasers.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, you are not alone. I live with another such person. He not only goes behind the kids turning off lights but he also switched to the Compact fluorescent Lightbulbs years before they became popular.

I know what you mean of the Indian ethic of reusing and dislike of waste. Without ever having heard any horror stories of the environment, my mom, and mil both have been for years reusing ziplock bags, even being so careful about how they use paper towels.

Every time my kids get new toys I can see them visibly cringe at the amount of packaging they come with.

Anonymous said...

This must be an Indian thing, because this has been going on in our household way before I was even born. My dad used to tell me that when he was little, my grandfather used to do the same thing, meaning go behind the kids and turn off the lights they left on. Although his reasoning was to save $$ on electric bill, but lets face it, it's a multi-purpose thing.

I am a total believer in recycling...and reusing. WE save every container and wash plastic utensils to re-use. And like Meena said, we've been using energy-efficient lightbulbs way before they became popular. Yes, we always paid a little extra for them, but totally worth it!

Anonymous said...

hey i do the same thing too...hate it when ppl leave the lights on..even if it is just the stove top light. Not to mention forgetting to turn the heater down to a bare-min temp while leaving the house. I think Indians do a lot more conservation of energy than the amrikis. Coz we've seen how scarce resources can be.

ppl said...

Wow that post and the above comments should be a 'misaal' for how ahead of the curve we desis have been in the recycle/reuse
I however would like to exclude myself from that list, due to my inherent laziness and love of things disposable.

But drifters, this is a turning point for Leera, I have been realizing how freaking expensive ziplocs,paper towels and the rest are, not to mention once you are dependent on them its a major panic attack cleaning a spill or putting something away, once you are out.

The pasta bottle idea is genius and all my cereal, pasta and farsan are gonna be filled in there from here on forth.

I remember the horlicks bottles being my mom's perrenial cookie jar to the point that the mere sight of one evoked a pavlov's dog like response from me and my brother.

I am duly chastised and indeed its time to take a page from the time tested desi ethic of reuse.

Anonymous said...

It is an Indian "thing" but one that is environmentally forward thinking and can generate serious cash...
My parents' housing association in India is switching to a trash collecting system that will provide the service for free to the residents. The folks come, collect your trash, and then separate it. Then they recycle, sell and process. This helps the environment, puts cash back in the residents' pockets and also makes some nice money for the dude that runs the business.

Except, what will the "jamadaar" do for a living now?

Unknown said...

Gang, I agree with you: we've all seen too much of common sense reuse in our families to not be drawn to it ourselves.

And I always thought India would tackle its economic progress more sensibly in terms of waste compared to the rest of the ones that got there first. Which is why I am a little disappointed by the meteoric rise of plastic packaging in India.

Those small bag of chips should be absolutely banned.

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic, Aspi. I actually like the cloth thela's that Indian's use. I am a big believer in say no to plastic and paper. My mom would actually sew them from discarded clothes and some of them ended up with so many patches of clothes that we would be embarassed to use them.

Don't use paper towels for cleaning but I launder my kitchen towels often so not sure how much I am saving.

I dont believe in the world is ending global warming cry but think we should do everything we could possibly do to reduce our carbon footprint.

Here are some footprints:

1) Use cloth bags if possible.

2) If going shopping ask the first shop for a big bag and use that for the rest of your shopping.

3) If using paper bags or plastic take them back to the store and reuse if possible.

4) Line dry as much as you can. I line dry most of my gym clothes.

5) Turn off all the lights. I anyway prefer a romantic mood so lights are always dim in my house :)

6) Recycle gift bags, packaging, christmas decorations, aluminium foils, saran wraps, zip-locks ...

But I do drive a gas-guzzler so take my advice with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

I meant here are some ways to reduce footprint...

Anonymous said...

I have been in India for a week and I figured out the NRI mystery.

Its our obsessiveness to say thank you, bless you, you are welcome, hello and smile at everyone.

My mom says when we leave a restaurant we spend half an hour saying bye and thankyou to every baira (waiter) and cleaner in the restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Hey i am impressed that u all maintain the desi flavour even when u go saat-samundar-paar. My brother-in-law was born and brought up abroad, so simply fails to understand our obsessive love for plastic packets and containers. When my mother returns from her sojourn abroad, she gleefully shows me some stuff which bil intended to discard, and which she secretly packed into her bag:).
For people who have always been thrifty esp with lights, thats typically desi. But I know many people who as teenagers, hated their parents switching off lights, but as adults started doing the same themselves. Aspi, if u fall into the second category, then I am afraid, thats a certain sign of 'ageing'! Welcome to the league:).

Unknown said...

Aha, so the way you look at and address people plays a part in NRI identification. I can see that.

Joules, there is probably a hybrid version of a gas guzzler coming to your town soon. So there is hope.

anu g, I've been old for a while now.

Anonymous said...

the post and all the comments here take me back to the old days when mom issued stern warnings on how wasting food was a crime when we had so many millions of starving children in india. it guilted me no end --- but eating was a chore (were that the case now!) so i did end up wasting food! well, i'm congenitally lazy, so i'm nowhere near as conscientious as the folks here despite being fed the same stout desi values. when mom and mom-in-law visit we do all the things u folks do - reusing ziplock bags and plastic/glass containers et al. most of my daals and such like are in dannon yogurt dabbas that mom-in-law rescued b4 they could hit the trash! my mom will use Tupperware until is yellowed, discolored and smashed! i practically have to stage an intervention to replace it. Thanks to Leera's brave admission I'm able to admit to admit to my environmentally irresponsible nature!

Seems like this is the issue for 2008. It is all over the press... for instance, whole foods has stopped offering plastic bags. amongst a rash of articles on this in the NYT in the last month or so is this one which talks about the perils of recycling certain kinds of plastic. i promptly threw away my poland springs bottles and took a nalgene one into work last week! Perhaps this is my foray into a brave new world :)

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Awesome! And rrrr to Oprah. I sure hope she encourages environmentally responsible behavior (she could start by ceasing publication of that content-free mag of hers).

Unknown said...

It tickles me constantly to see a magazine on the newsstand called O which always has Oprah on the cover. How narcissistic can you possibly get?