We may have called them stodgy for doing it but our parents practiced it persistently. So why are we abandoning it? I am talking about environmental consciousness.
Growing up in 80s and 90s, conservation and environmental consciousness were part of a typical Asian household. ‘Less is more’ was the mantra and as I look back now, the key to our emotional well being. There was one TV which the whole family would sit together to watch. All extra lights would be off in rooms not being used. In summers, the entire family would huddle together in one room to cool down in the air conditioner. Wardrobes were kept simple and minimal. Already worn shirts would be spruced up by add-ons like laces, buttons, ornaments years after its original stitching, the ‘dopatta’ (scarf) would be converted into another top. Worn out clothing still had purpose and value and its last use would be of a duster for home cleaning.
In the kitchen, things were no different. Food conservation was every bit as important as energy conservation. We were reprimanded for wasting food. The leftover beans would either be added in a quick omelette or mixed with rice. A slight dent on a fruit, a mutant looking banana was meant to be eaten and enjoyed. Making tea in the saucepan meant pouring as much water as is required rather than boiling a kettle full of water and wasting energy.
The use of plastic and plastic packaging was minimal. Yogurt and water were stored in earthen bowls and containers. Kitchen paper towels were unheard of. Duster and cleaning cloth was used to spruce up the kitchen.
There was little waste generated . Everything was used and reused until it fell apart. Birthdays meant all wrapping papers patiently folded and stored under the matresses. All bottles, boxes, cups, glasses, stashed away in storage cabinets for later use. Most of us remember the famous Royal Dane biscuits box that mums used as a sewing and stitching tool box. In short, everything was used and nothing got wasted.
I then moved to the West where waste was the way of life. Everything from food, plastic use, wardrobe, technology gadgets, electricity use , triple folded. The ‘less is more’ mantra seemed quite undesirable. Who had the time, effort, and brian space to make environmental considerations in daily life. So it was okay to use and abuse substances. Throwing away a soggy cabbage lying for weeks in the crisper did not bring guilt, drinking water from disposable bottles and throwing them away was just another norm. Like me, most of our fellow Asians have similar experiences to share, practicing the power to waste and being at a total conflict with our more ‘environmental conscious’ backgrounds.
But now, as climate change, unsustainable practices in daily life like food, plastic and energy waste have captured world headlines, a renaissance of my parents mind set is taking place. The wisdom of my parents’ generation is speaking to me again.
We need to stop yearning for this unsustainable, convenience culture and realign our values around environmental consciousness.
More than ever before, we need a happy, healthy environment and community today for ourselves and for the coming generations.
So how can we practice sustainability and environmental consciousness in our daily lives without doing too much.
Below are some easy adjustments that we can sneak in our day that can go a long way: (suggestions are inspired by The Sustainability Co-Op blog which is an effort to understand and communicate the interconnectedness between global and local societal needs and environmental concerns.)
Start small but consistent
Integrating sustainability into our daily life does not have to be nerve-wrecking experience. We can practice sustainability by making small changes and turn them into lifelong habits. These small changes can add up to a big impact! Equally important is to understand what we can and cannot commit to in the long-run, as well as an understanding of the reasons behind certain actions (or inactions).
Less plastic is fantastic
Unfortunately, plastic is part of most our purchases and integrated into our daily life. Single use plastic such as bags, disposable water bottles, beverages, food containers, and straws have negative environmental impacts throughout their lifecycle: from being made from fossil fuels to ending up as litter. It’s estimated that plastic bags will take 500-1000 years to biodegrade, but the good news is that we can reduce our use of plastic.
- We can use reusable bags for grocery shopping.
- When we are out and about, rely on reusable water bottle
- Pack school lunches in reusable containers
Do good, save food
Our moms were right. Wasting food is bad. Especially when one reads horrific stats about one third of the world food produce going to waste. So lets make food waste a thing of past. And guess what, it all starts in the grocery store! This is what we can do:
- Make an inventory of items that we have in the fridge and pantry before heading out to the grocery shops.
- Keep track of what we and our family eat every week and limit our grocery purchases accordingly
- Love our leftovers. Food tastes amazingly delicious the second day!
- Don’t judge fruits and vegetables by their appearance. Lots of tasty and nutritious fruits and vegetables do not get sold because they fail to meet the beauty standards. All fruit and veg are great. Next time go for that mutant looking carrot or that weird shaped strawberry.
Lets save energy for a better tomorrow. Certain tech products use electricity when they’re plugged in but not turned on. These products are nicknamed “energy vampires”. Unplug cellphones, tablets, laptops once they are charged.
Teach children about environmental consciousness and living modestly
Kids witness their parents interact with the natural environment at every turn—it’s only fitting that we become teachers and positive role models of green living. We can do this by taking them for outdoor activities and let them explore the natural world around them of dirt, trees, sky etc. We can read them books that inspire them to have a sense of responsibility to take care of their environment, talk about real world problems of water and energy conservation to raise their and our own eco-consciousness to make a difference.
Lets try one or two things above-mentioned and relish in the knowledge that by being kind to the world around us we have been kind to ourselves.