For the past few decades, sustainable living has been focussed on three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The idea was to focus on consumption patterns, do away with excess, and extract the maximum utility from every object.
For example, if you celebrate Deepavali by lighting lamps and distributing gifts and sweets, an organic lifestyle would recommend home-made snacks, in limited quantities (reducing), cleaning earthen lamps from the previous years (reusing), recycling the wrapping paper and upcycling your trash to generate objects of beauty and purpose. You could even consider a wardrobe swap to reuse your friend or cousin’s clothes, and refresh your look without any new resources.
Three new Rs have joined the company of these old vanguards of sustainable living – and they are probably even more important.
1. Refuse: The best way to reduce consumption of anything is to completely refuse it. There are a number of really simple (and annoyingly ubiquitous) products that can be completely removed from our lives. Plastic bags, disposable straws and plastic cutlery are the winners in this contest. It is almost painless to refuse that colorful straw with your drink, to carry a couple of grocery bags for shopping, and ask for reusable cutlery while eating out. I am thinking of making a small cutlery bag (with bamboo straws) for use in fast food restaurants. It could turn out to be a charming project. Or it could end with people rolling their eyes while I take out a spoon and fork from my bag. But hey, what’s a green lifestyle with some exasperated sighs from loving family?
2. Repair: My son has broken so many of his toys and had them repaired that he now thinks that the word ‘repair’ means to break something. His car (or one of the 50 other pieces of construction equipment) is always getting ‘repaired’ and needing to be fixed. There are stories that erupt from each badly re-attached lever, and he seems to get more possessive about things that have spent time in the ‘repair shop’.
I hope that he doesn’t lose this enthusiasm for fixing things, and it is a good lesson for me as well. I can barely thread a needle and fix a button on a shirt, but I wish I was better at it. I am getting better at asking a friend (ahem, or my mother), to help me with frayed ends and split seams, though.
3. Rot: This is one of my favorites. Nearly half the waste we throw away each day is made of vegetable peels, dried organic matter, and food waste. There are a number of ways to decompose this waste inside your home. Among the nicest (and most sweet-smelling) methods is to use earthworms. You could also bury your waste in a small patch of land, feed the leaves to a cow or goat (and quickly see that waste turn to manure!) or use bacteria and fungi in specialized indoor composters. If all of those options seem impossible, then at least segregate the waste, and let someone else do the rotting for you. Once organic waste mixes with dry waste, it becomes incredibly difficult to recycle the plastic and paper, and the decomposition becomes a stinky affair.
So tell us, this Earth Day (April 22nd), what are you going to refuse and repair, and how are you going to convert your waste into manure?