Good for the earth. Good for you.
As the year 2014 wraps up with an environmental disaster in the Sundarbans, it is high time that we focus on eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions. If you feel guilty about not getting to go clean up the oil spill, it doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. Every little bit helps towards the goal of a healthier planet and happier you. Don’t forget, small daily improvements are what lead to great long-term success.
Walk as much as you can
Not easy in Dhaka, I know. Nevertheless, don’t give up walking. Walk whenever and wherever you can. Make it a habit to walk to your corner store or grocery store. The abrupt disappearance of the sidewalk beneath you or a pillar smack dab in your face may hinder your initial pedestrian adventures. Sidewalk tea stalls and general loiterers may get in the way, not to mention the sight and smell of garbage. But if you stick to it, soon you’ll get used to them (to be honest, it’s no less annoying than being stuck in car traffic) and start enjoying the familiar route. You’ll get to know your neighbourhood and all kinds of neighbours better.
Let’s make it a vow this year to reduce the waste we generate. To minimize packaging waste, choose to buy items in bulk at the grocery store rather than small amounts packaged in plastic bags. Conveniently, leading supermarkets and old school grocers already use paper bags for bulk items. Purchase a large reusable shopping bag and make it a habit to carry it to your weekly grocery trip. Buy rechargeable batteries instead of disposable. Our city has no official programme to manage household hazardous waste! Avoid buying bottled water. Invest in a BPA-free sturdy water bottle and use it regularly.
Reuse and recycle your possessions
Reusing and recycling go hand in hand with reducing waste. There’s even a bonus: they also lead to de-cluttering of your home and your mind. By turning something you would throw away into something useful, you not only do the environment a favour, but also feel good about it yourself. Give away anything you are holding on to but haven’t used in a long time: clothing, stationary, old drapes and bed linen etc. Turn empty containers into little plant pots. Use old towels as kitchen rags instead of buying dish towels. Don’t worry about what anyone says. Be proud that you are doing something that’s good for you and good for the earth.
Eat less processed food
Choose fresh vs. processed every time you can. Juice drinks with artificial flavours and colours have no place in children’s meals. If you are concerned about formalin, soak fruits in water for half an hour to remove as much trace as you can. Shop from conscientious sellers and choose local and in-season produce. Remember, you are also missing out on fibre, vitamins, and minerals if you eliminate fruits from your diet! Beware of packaged foods with long shelf-life. These are usually loaded with salt, sugar, and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Support your local economy
Buy local vs. imported to reduce your carbon footprint and help the local economy. Choose hand-made baskets and wooden toys rather than imported plastic. Buying fresh in-season fruits and vegetables also support the local economy while boosting your food habit. Boldly go with local fabrics for your home and your clothing rather than following trends. Remember, the more we buy, the more the local artisans produce. It heats up competition among them to improve price and quality for us.
Spend time in nature and green your urban space
We have an evolutionary need to be in nature where we can become aware of the world beyond ourselves. If we can sit through hours of traffic to try the newest restaurant in town, we can take the time to get out of town to spend time in nature. Reclaim your local park and take your family and friends for a walk. Walk with children to tell them about plants and insects, not just of makes and models of cars. You’ll be amazed how much scope for biodiversity exists even within the city. Grow plants in your balcony or by your window. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can just grow some mint, which can withstand much abuse from black thumbs. The aroma and rich green foliage with freshen and beautify your space; the zesty leaves will spice up your salads.
Conserve energy to save money and the earth
This one is a no-brainer. Yet it is also the most challenging because using up energy means convenience for us. It’s always easy to choose what is convenient over what it right. Use your car only when necessary. Turn off lights, fans and air conditioners when leaving the room.
Turn off your gas stove when not in use. You know… all the things our parents taught us as children. Use your washing machine only when you have a full load. Clean and replace the filters on your air conditioners. Dirty filters make air conditioners work harder and waste energy. Replace any incandescent light bulbs you may still have with CFL bulbs. They even come in the warm variety if you like the look of incandescent light without wasting energy.
Try non-toxic alternatives to cleaning and personal care products
Try to use natural and multi-purpose alternatives to a variety of cleaning products. Vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda really do work just as well as branded cleaners! Give them a try this year. However, keep in mind that “natural” is not always non-toxic. Read labels and research ingredient lists … it’s easy with our smartphones. Go back to natural remedies and personal care products. Try homemade scrubs and facial masks. Many of the world’s leading spas charge premium price for their Ayurvedic products. We are lucky to live in a part of the world where we can still find Sandalwood or Neem trees without spending a fortune.
Give conscious gifts
All the principles we have talked about so far, apply them in gift giving. Give the gift of a potted plant rather than a bouquet. Flowers are natural, but even they require fertilizers and pesticides to be cultivated commercially. Give the gift of an activity rather than an object. Choose paper wrapping instead of plastic that will sit in the landfill indefinitely. Give books and school/art supplies to children instead of run-of-the-mill plastic toys. Planning to buy a new water bottle for yourself? Buy one for your best friend too.
Finally, turn good intentions into action and be the change you wish to see in the world. Don’t be shy to demand change from everyone around you. Together, we CAN make a difference.