The first time it struck me, I was frantically scribbling the conclusion to an essay on my Science paper with a very scratchy pen. It was one of those generic 10 rupee pens you purchase at the ‘Petti Kadai’ after desperately searching your pockets and coming up empty.
‘…Hence I conclude:’, I wrote, noticing the increasing resistance at the nib. ‘Reduce…’, The blue was definitely growing fainter. “Reuse…” The letters had all but disappeared.
I stopped writing to scowl at the offending instrument for a good minute. Gingerly unscrewing the top of the pen, I inspected the stick. Sure enough the bright blue gel was hovering at the very end near the nib. Huffing in exasperation, I put the top back on the pen, capped it, tossed it into the waste basket near my desk and promptly turned around to borrow another.
“Recycle…” I finished my essay on ‘Environmental conservation’ with a satisfied grin, and leaned back to proof read my writing. Suddenly, the irony of the situation startled me. I could still see my pen and its dismembered parts lying in the paper basket.
Five components in all…
One long thin plastic stick containing the ink, a see-through cap with a deep blue handle, a shiny metallic top to cover the nib, a rounded blue casing for the opposite end and another long casing with the company’s name and logo scrawled across.
Of all the 5 parts, only the gel stick was altered in any way by my weeks’ worth of writing. The cap and casing were pristine, and yet there they lay within a red basket waiting to be moved to a larger green Bin and finally forgotten.
Humanity would have no more part in these little bits of Plastic that were once mine, and neither would I.
I took in a startled breath and sat at my desk frozen. 4 functional parts in one pen, multiplied by all the pens I had discarded in my 14 years of schooling, multiplied by the innumerable students like me sitting at their desks with no knowledge that what they held in their hands is poisoning their home…
After spending a few weeks fuming and figuratively shaking my fists at “These Impetuous Corporates!!”, I sat down to see for myself what lay behind the waste conundrum of the 21st century.
What I discovered was a complex network of our lifestyles, attitudes and demands that intertwine with each other to build this system of wastefulness.
In this essay, Dear Reader, I will attempt to outline my thoughts on how each of us is responsible for this crisis facing us today, and also why I believe this is great news!
SMOKE AND MIRRORS:
The traditionalists, also referred to as the silent generation, were my age a century ago. My great-grandmother was one. Born under the shadow of two world wars and a drastically changing global landscape, they were acclimatized to scarcity, and the lessons they learnt, are ones we desperately need to revisit.
I can still recall with perfect clarity, my hawk-eyed Great-grandmother, her glasses perched precariously on her nose, as she wandered the house looking for what needed fixing that particular day.
There wasn’t a meal I’ve shared with her where she didn’t insist I picked up the last grain of rice from my plate. There wasn’t a single piece of ripped clothing that hadn’t been on the mending end of her needle. And if, as was often the case, I’d torn my clothes beyond repair, it was only a matter of time before we’d see it re-purposed into a doily or cushion cover.
Reading this, you perhaps imagine a stingy old woman made bitter by life. But my Great-grandma was the polar opposite of that. She lived a life characterized by immense bounty.
When she laughed, the corners of her eyes would crinkle with joy, and her grin could brighten a room in a heartbeat. All her parsimony never subtracted from her enjoyment of life, if anything, I’d say it gave birth to her gaiety.
When we first replaced our old T.V for a newer flat-screen, her shock and confusion were apparent. She simply couldn’t grasp how we threw away what we had owned for a decade. I tried explaining that it was outdated to no avail. “But it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway!” she exclaimed (Translation mine).
I found it laughable then… Poor old grandma. How would she ever keep up in this era of technology? Now, typing this on the third device I have owned with my family in a period of 5 years, I can’t help but marvel at how right she was.
Upgrading from model to model, Technology to Technology, the ‘must-have’s and the ‘Just-launched’s… here we are, chasing after illusions while contributing to the madness. Smoke and mirrors….
At the beginning of this essay, I promised you, this was great news! I’ll get to why in a minute. I use my Great-grandmother for illustration, not because she was an extra-ordinary person, but because she was so very ordinary.
I’m certain, Dear reader, you know your own traditionalists. People whose prudence made you feel mildly uncomfortable even… guilty? And herein lies our saving grace. This frustration we feel at the world we’ve built is the single proof that change is on the horizon. Not for the “World”, but for you and me.
Let’s set aside the idealism for a minute, and dive into the practicality of it. How many times a week do you have to take out the Trash? What if I told you, we only need to do it once every month at my house?
Better still, do you know there are folks around the world who can fit all the garbage of an entire year into a single Mason Jar?
“Ugh, but that must take so much effort” you groan. It’s impossible to imagine a life where you keep track of every plastic bottle or pen you ever bought.
But, you don’t have to do that. In fact, 80% of all the waste you generate at home will be organic. “That’s good news!” you think “Organic means compostable, so I’m not polluting”. Unfortunately, that’s very far from the truth. Landfills have such poor circulation, organic matter simply rots, providing no use to life. On the other hand, creating a common compost pit, could generate a never-ending resource of garden soil which can be sold for up to Rs.60/kg on Amazon, last time I checked .
For the remaining 20% of waste, yes, it takes effort… But here’s something that will amaze you. It’s possible to earn more than 13% of your monthly income by merely cutting down on waste. Think about that for a minute… You could earn money by ‘not spending’ it. Remember that vacation you could never save up for? Or the time you never seem to find? Here’s your solution!
With the constraint of time, and a fast-approaching word limit, I’m afraid there isn’t much more I can tell you. But that’s alright… because this journey is ‘Yours’ to undertake.
I think it was Uncle Ben from Spiderman who said “With Great power comes great responsibility”. The genius of this statement is that it runs both ways. “With great responsibility comes great power”.
Every time you claim responsibility for a part of your life you regain power over the world. Every time, you choose to buy re-usable, a R&D manager is taking note somewhere. Every time you see through the smoke and mirrors, a politician is re-writing his agenda.
So Take a minute to type in “ Zero waste” on Google, and you’ll find help and inspiration beyond imagination.
Start, not because I asked you to. But because individually, you and I, can build our world. Start now, so one day we can crinkle our eyes with the same unbridled joy as the Traditionalists…