Sometimes when I read about amazing people and their life’s work, or about desperate situations that seem beyond redemption, I wonder whether there is room for personal change. For example, when I saw about the doomsday list on BBC’s website about major urban centres that are about to run out of water, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Chennai was not on the list. Two decades ago, people were actively migrating away from the city because of crippling water shortages. Now, even though the population within city limits has nearly tripled, the water situation is vastly better. Much of this improvement is thanks to people like Shekhar Raghavan who have worked extremely hard to implement Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) across the city. The success story is far from complete, but the impact of his work is obvious.
So what has been happening across the world over the past few weeks?
- China says NO to ‘foreign garbage’:China was recycling nearly 50% of the world’s solid waste. From the beginning of this year, though, they have started turning away 24 categories of waste, and are particularly stringent about garbage mixed with hazardous material. Among the materials that China are refusing to accept is low-grade polyethelene terephthalate (PET) – used to make plastic bottles. Soft drinks, bottled water, and juices often come in PET bottles. Most cheap water bottles are made of PET as well. Garbage dumps in Europe and the US are overflowing and waste exporters are scrambling to find alternate places to ship their material. There is no real solution beyond reducing consumption, though.
My Personal challenge: Find out about all the 24 categories of waste and see what I can remove from my daily consumption. Cut down consumption of plastic bottles by at least 50% over the next year. I don’t use much, but my oils come in plastic bottles and I am going to explore alternatives. I will continue to wage war against the waves of plastic bags that beat a relentless rhythm against my door because thin plastic shopping bags always end up in landfills or water bodies – whether in China or in some other part of the world (unless they are used to pave roads).
- Nilgiris is continuing its fight against plastic:Here is a place in India that is already on the crusade. A series of district collectors have pushed the people and tourists coming to Nilgiris towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Early this year, the collector banned 12 types of plastic and combined it with an awareness campaign. The ban includes laminated paper plates – the thin aluminium-ish looking disposables that have become ubiquitous in roadside shacks. Other culprits are styrofoam and thermocoal plates, cups and, boxes as well as plastic water packets. Laminated brown covers and bakery boxes have also been banned. Tourism is one of the main economic engines in the Nilgiris, and that has powered a lot of this disposable waste and a ban is only the first step in this process. However, tourism could also push the move towards sustainable living. Nothing is more attractive than a clean, green mountain range.
My Personal Challenge: Become a sustainable traveller. This means carrying water bottles, boxes, plates and cutlery in a small bag while packing my bags. It also means refusing to use those ghastly laminated brown paper covers for my child’s school books.
- Unilever Disclosed Its Entire Palm Oil Supply Chain:Palm Oil is an important ingredient in a stunning variety of retail products. It is used in lipsticks, detergents, and soaps as well as instant food and packaged bread. The World Wildlife Fund has a handy guide about the various names under which palm oil and its derivatives appear in an ingredients list. Understandably, since its demand is so high, the supply is lucrative. In many parts of the world, this has meant that palm plantations are replacing tropical forests. A mature forest, in addition to sustaining biodiversity, is also better at sequestering greenhouse gases. There have also been concerns about pollution and social justice. Unilever’s move to disclose its supply chain means there can be greater scrutiny and more accountability for sustainable practices.
My Personal Challenge: I am walking away from most instant food, detergents and soaps already, even if they are sustainably sourced. I suspect I don’t really add anything to Unilever’s bottom line (though I can never know. It is a multi-headed hydra that makes a stunning variety of products). Perhaps I should just become extra nice to my baker friend so that I can have deliciously fragrant loaves each week.
Do any of these global events have echoes in your life? Tell us!