Sunday, February 02, 2014

Is free really free?

Today, at Target, I was at the checkout counter after buying things when I realized that I forgot to bring my bag. Since there were not too many things, I said that I do not need a bag, and will just carry the stuff in my hand. The lady at the checkout counter looked really surprised and said, "But we do not charge you extra for plastic bags. It is free." I said, "That's okay, I still do not want them, they are not good for the environment."

This brief conversation made me realize that the crux of the problem is what the lady said. "But we do not charge you extra for plastic bags. It is free." Just because it is free does not mean that we need it. And many of us do not realize that free is not really free. Somewhere, someone would be paying the price for the thoughtless use of bags, or anything for that matter. Disposable plates. Plastic spoons. Bags. Bottles. The list is endless. What we do everyday is not sustainable. Somebody out there is already paying the price for our lifestyle. 

If you do not believe me, do take this footprint calculator quiz. It tells you how many Earths would be needed to sustain the resources if everyone lived the same lifestyle that you did. The results will depress you.

Being a part of the American society, I have witnessed up close, and at times even emulated the lifestyle that people adopt here. But I know that this is not sustainable. “What if I can afford it?”, is what you may argue. And I’d say, that even if you could afford it, the planet does not have enough resources to support your lifestyle. Over the years, I have consciously stopped doing many things that I used to do mindlessly. My intentions were not bad when I did them, I simply did not think about the consequences. I’ll give you some examples:

Things I try to do/not do now that I did before:

·         I no longer use disposable plates and spoons for parties. It does not make sense to use things once and then throw them away. Instead, I use proper plates and spoons. A little scrubbing and washing the dishes will do far less long-term damage than mindlessly using disposable items.

·         I use the dishwasher (a full load of course) only when I am too tired to do the dishes. Which comes down to once a month. The rest of the time, I use my strong, masculine hands.

·         To reduce the number of trips made, I go to the grocery stores right from work, than push it to the weekend.

·         I always carry 4-5 “bajarer tholi” (strong, reusable bags) that I especially got from Calcutta that can easily hold a lot of weight.

·         No more Costco and Sam’s Club memberships. I was a Costco member once, and what that meant is I hoarded things in bulk that I did not even need, making my house look like a warehouse. When you have more, you use things without sense. When you have less, you are more careful. I once bought a whole bunch of paper towels back in 2009, and five years and two cross-country moves later, I still have some with me.

·         I never use the air conditioning in summer. I am used to the warm weather, and even find it comforting, because it reminds me of where I grew up. I simply open the doors and windows in summer, letting the bugs and flies come in, and happily live through the heat and humidity. Winters are a different story of course.

However, all that I do is far from being enough. One, I need to know of better ways to recycle, use less, and use carefully. I am trying to find a course that I can take, or identify a resource that will help me do these. And as a single person who drives a humble sedan and flies a couple of times a year, I see myself lower in this food chain of indiscriminately using resources. Think about the families with kids, that use diapers like it is nobody’s business, drive vans, and live in huge homes. Some of my friends in the US live in homes that are no less than mansions. Sure, they can afford it, but can the planet sustain all the heating and water usage?

As a kid, I was never aware of the word recycling. Yet my family was always recycling. It was built within the system. There were no plastic bags when I was little. My grandma and mom never threw the empty Horlicks bottles (or any other bottles). Those glass jars were always recycled and used to store things. There was no mineral water in plastic bottles. No one ate in disposable plates, not even during parties. The vegetable peels were all collected for the cow to eat every day. The tap was never allowed to run freely while we brushed our teeth. Milk was delivered in containers, and not in plastic bags. Newspapers were made into paper bags (kagojer thonga). Gadgets were not bought (or thrown away) mindlessly like we do now. We mostly rode the rickshaw, enjoying the breeze. Recycling and conservation of resources were inherently built in the system.

I am taking an online course on Coursera, called, “An introduction to the US food system:Perspectives from Public Health”, that covers a lot of interesting material about food as a resource, and how water and soil are resources that are being used indiscriminately.

We could argue and debate about this endlessly. But it is undisputed that behavioral change needs to set in. People need to be aware that it is not okay to consume all the resources that we do. And behavioral change cannot come until we step in as larger communities and societies, advocating some dramatic lifestyle changes.



CYNOSURE said...

that was a nice post indeed...the issue is pretty serious...from the past few years I'm also taking few steps in the direction...Thanks for sharing the link for the course...will definitely check that out... :)

sunshine said...

Cynosure, I'm wondering, what do you do everyday as steps in that direction? I ask this because I want to modify my lifestyle to make it more sustainable.

Ruminating Optimist said...

Wonderful post indeed. Nice to see a true reflection of my own thoughts coming from someone else. Some times, I do wonder what is the reason for these indiscriminate and mindless acts? Peer pressure is one that I can think of when I think about some of these issues. Other one is of course "I don't care" attitude.

CYNOSURE said...

Hey...firstly apologies for late replies...

Coming to the point to what I do are very much similar to what all you mentioned...Actually what one can do will be very much similar for everyone...but how frequently someone does makes all the difference...

Go and talk to anyone...they will say that they make a mental note for all such things...but the point how often do they access that part of their brain...

Justme said...

Maybe you've already seen this; one way to use less -