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The Problem of Over Consumption: What Can I Do?

Aman Luthra

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Remembering these three words and exercising them as you pursue your daily activities might significantly help you reduce the amount of waste you put in to the environment.


In last month’s article, over consumption as an environmental problem, was briefly mentioned. This month’s article will attempt to understand it in greater detail. While this problem is mostly attributed to the developed world, the developing world which includes us, is not entirely exempt from it. The growing urban middle class and the influence of the throw-away culture of the West, has made us much susceptible to be significantly contributing to the problem. And unlike most other complex environmental issues, this one probably has the easiest solution. The solution demands effort from all of us – just a few simple things to keep in mind as we go on with our daily lives.

While thinking about the environment, one of the most important rules to remember is related to the laws of thermodynamics. Your inputs into the environment will either continue to exist in their original form, or decompose into something else, but they won’t simply vanish. If these products decompose, the resultant matter or energy can either be toxic (or harmful) or non-toxic. In case it is poisonous or toxic, the repercussions will follow us or some other poor member of the living world. Even if it is not toxic, it might haunt us as an ugly pile of garbage that destroys our beautiful view or lowers the prices on our property. To attempt to tackle this problem, some genius came up with a beautiful mantra of the three R’s:

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Remembering these three words and exercising them as you pursue your daily activities might significantly help you reduce the amount of waste you put in to the environment.

Let us look at how these three principles work. The first one is to reduce consumption. It is almost impossible to live without consuming products but it is possible to live without consuming products you really don’t need to. For instance, consider what you cooked for dinner last night and how much you had to throw away this morning. If you had cooked a little less, then you wouldn’t have wasted what you wasted this morning. Or maybe you don’t need all those extra clothes, especially if you are never going to wear them. Everytime you go the store to buy something, it might be a good idea to ask yourself: “Do I really need it? Or can I do without it right now?” And while you’re doing this good deed for the environment, as a bonus you might also just make your parents, husbands or wives happy as well, when they see their monthly savings.

The second principle is to reuse. Before you throw last night’s leftovers into the garbage, think of things you might do with it. It might call for unusually different or thoughtful lunch, or maybe someone else might like to eat it. In India, we have some pretty nice systems of reusing things. One of my favorites are the utensils vendors that go from street to street and exchange old clothes for utensils. Now there’s a good deal.

Last but not the least, comes the principle of recycling. While you might like to think that saving all that newspaper, glass bottles and plastic for the kabadiwala, was really worth it, it really was. Think about it, someone is actually paying you to get rid of your trash. They might not be paying you enough but there’s always room for haggling. So before you throw that newspaper or that bottle away, think about saving it for that “con-kabadiwala”. And when you go out to buy things, try and buy those that you know you’ll be able to recycle. While we are on the topic of recycling, it might be worthwhile to mention composting. Composting is a way to reuse all your organic waste – leaves from your houseplants, grass from your mowed lawn, leftovers from meals etc. If you have a backyard, its fairly easy to set up a compost pile in a covered bin. It is essential to have a covered bin because otherwise it might smell and be a breeding place for all kinds of insects. All you need to do is turn over your compost pile using a shovel once a week and in no time you’ll have organic fertilizer for your garden.

Remember, whatever does not go through one of these three R’s, will end up in the landfills or incinerators. Besides being ugly and smelly places, landfills have other problems associated with them and one of the these problems is of seepage of toxins into groundwater, and eventually into the water supply. Believe me, you don’t want yourself or your kids to be drinking that water.

Lastly, dispose of trash in the appropriate places. If you’re on vacation in the mountains, please don’t throw that candy wrap down the slope of the mountains. It’ll probably stay there for the next thousand years. While you’re next to water body, such as a river, lake or ocean don’t teach your trash how to swim. A poor little fish might eat it and suffocate on it. And who knows, if reincarnation did occur, you might come back as a poor little fish who’ll suffocate on someone else’s trash.

The Golden Rule: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

What Can I Do?

  • Avoid food wastage
  • Buy clothes as per your requirement only. Do not buy excess number of clothes
  • Reuse your Waste
  • Sell the old newsapapers and old bottles to kabadiwala instead of throwing them away
  • Recycle the waste by the method of composting
  • Dispose of trash in appropriate places
  • Use covered trash bins

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