About Me

Someone who fell in love with the natural world early on and has been smitten ever since. A blade of grass, a mighty mountain, a tiny raindrop, a roaring waterfall, all fill me with awe and wonder. Nature feels home, filled with warmth and love. It pains my heart to see this home being ravaged. This blog is an effort to find tweaks in modern living to preserve the sanctity of this home. I sincerely hope that you join me in this green karmic journey.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Challenge 1: Practicing The Subtle Art of Not Wasting Food

I know! We are conscientious people. We don't want to waste food. But we still end up doing so because, well....because life is so busy and we can't plan our meals to that exact morsel and we just can't manage it all. 


1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year!

I spoke to a few friends about their food waste patterns and was delighted to hear from at least a few that they don't waste any food. How do they manage that? I'll share their (open) secrets but first I want to share an idea that I have recently hit upon. 

The Tell-All Jar


I've kept a glass jar on my kitchen counter. Every time any food is wasted, the person who wastes it is required to write out the name of the wasted food item (preferably with quantity ) on a slip of paper and put it in the jar.

Whenever we get time, or at least once a week, we sit down as a family and read those slips of paper to see what was wasted and why. 

Then we talk about how we could have done things differently and try to implement that in the coming week. It helps us to put a handle on things because a visual reminder is more effective than just the knowledge that it's a crime to waste food. 

We strive to keep that jar empty. I've another idea as I write this piece. If the jar stays empty at the end of a week, we should treat ourselves to something nice! 

You can give your personal tweaks to this idea. For e.g. if you regularly waste rice, then you should put the same quantity of raw rice in the jar as you've wasted. This way, you can have a visual reminder of rice that was thrown away due to carelessness. The jar sitting at your countertop would chide you to cook less the next time. 

Now let me share the secrets to not wasting:

1. Buying less - Over a period of time, you understand your family's requirements. Don't be tempted to buy if you won't be able to consume. If a deal is too good to pass, get that and then share the spoils with friends. 

2. Storing right - Foodgrains, fruits, and veggies need proper storage. If it's proper storage jars that you're missing, go get them. If it's the technique that's missing, figure that out. If it's a particular food that you waste over and over again, find the reason and rectify that. There's not a problem that you can't tide over!


3. Estimating cooking portions accurately- Cook what you can eat. Set up a measure for portions like rice, pasta, flour, etc. and you'll hardly go wrong. If you're in doubt, err toward the lower side. In case that portion falls short, your pantry will come to your rescue. Looking at overflowing pantries these days, I feel they can feed an army!!

4. Keeping the refrigerator clutter-free - Make visibility your mantra. Store in glass containers so that things don't become "out of sight and out of mind". Move the old produce toward the front and top when restocking the refrigerator with fresh groceries. 

5. Using leftovers - Make refrigerator and freezer your friend. One of my relatives sticks a slip of paper with the date of freezing on the container. I think that's a pretty neat idea! Another thought would be to set a reminder on your calendar to use that stuff by a particular date. 

A few people have compunctions about eating leftovers. If that's the case with you, I've got news for you, folks! You've to work harder to get the first four steps right. You might have to make that extra trip to the grocery store to restock. You can also plan your menu in advance so that you use more delicate perishables toward the beginning of the week with hardier stuff toward the end.

Do let me know your thoughts on food waste. Is this challenge relevant to you? If you've overcome your habit of wasting food, do share the tactics in the comments below. 

And till the next challenge, keep thinking, keep winning!

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Invoking The Green Goddess Within - Nine Habits in Nine Days Challenge

Today is the first day of Navratri. The festival of Navratri is celebrated to mark Goddess Durga's victory over the demon Mahishasura. Hence, Navratri is the time to invoke the inner Goddess and vanquish the demons that are ailing oneself.


Goddess Durga
Picture: Sourav Nandy, Pixabay

What better time than this to attack our negative habits that are harming the Goddess Earth?

I'm taking this opportunity to start a nine-post series to help you think about and adopt one easy green habit a day. 

This would work beautifully if you're ready to:
  • Acknowledge: 

"Well begun is half done", goes an old saying. If we just acknowledge that we can do something different that could be better for our health and our planet's, we would have made the right start.

"I understand that mindless use of plastic bags is no good and I use too many of them. I can easily reduce my consumption." Just putting your thoughts into words is half the battle won!

  •  Believe: 

Trust that you can change yourself. It might take some time and you might make a few false starts but as the consciousness stays with you, you would find yourself remembering those little things. 


Another often-heard argument is that these small changes aren't going to make a huge difference. I do agree that the world needs drastic measures at the level of government and corporate to make a massive difference but I also believe that we are interconnected in a fine web. If one of us changes, it does make an impact and also creates a ripple effect. It encourages others to do the same. So doing the right thing is always right. You've to decide the right thing for yourself.
  • Act: 

If you've crossed the above two steps, the third one is the easiest! In this day and age, there's no dearth of ideas on 'how to' for any given issue. 

Are you ready for the challenge? If you've already conquered a particular challenge in the series, challenge someone else to do the same. Share the blog post with someone who you think would be game. 

If you want to suggest any challenge to be included in the series, please mention it in the comments below.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

The Steel Utensils Bank Initiative



What’s the idea behind Green Karma 360's Steel Utensils Bank Initiative?
This is an initiative to reduce the use of disposables at get-togethers.
You can borrow steel plates, cutlery and glasses from Green Karma 360 and stop disposable waste going into landfills.

Why?
For the love of health - ours and the planet's.

You can read the genesis of this idea in my blog: 
https://www.greenkarma360.com/2019/08/ab-tak-chappan-56-and-counting.html

What can be borrowed?
Currently, there are 20 steel sectional plates, 20 spoons, and 6 glasses. I plan to keep building on the inventory.

Where is it located?
Dunwoody area, Atlanta. 

How does it work?
  •  Write to greenkarma360@gmail.com to check availability.
  •    Make a $40 refundable deposit and pick up the utensils.
  •  After use, clean the utensils. They are also dishwasher safe.
  •   Return clean and undamaged utensils and get your deposit refunded.


  How long can I keep the utensils for?
  You can keep them maximum for 3 days. Pick a day in advance. Return the next day of the event. If the demand is high, expect a 2-day cycle.

What is the rental fee?
There is NO rental fee. 
However, a token donation of any amount is welcome and would be used to buy more plates and cutlery. 

What if I lose or damage an item?
You’ll have to pay the replacement cost for each lost piece as follows:
  • Sectional plate - $10
  • Glass - $3
  • Spoon - $1 
Why should I do it?
There are many reasons, really. Take your pick.
  •   If you enjoy nature and it pains you to see it being destroyed: Be a part of the solution and not the problem.
  •    If you like to travel and hate to see the litter: Try not to create it in the first place.
  •   If you worry about your health and the health of your guests: Serving hot food in Styrofoam, plastic or paper dishes might leach harmful chemicals in your food. Why risk?
  •    If you like to eat organic: Nature doesn’t work in isolation.With soil, water, and air being polluted by the garbage you generate, it all comes back in your food through the very same elements.
  •   If you have kids and you want to ensure a good future for them: Natural calamities will not only increase in frequency but in intensity as well. Along with good education and health, you should think about giving your kids a sound environmental education. Kids learn by watching. You would be raising environmentally–conscious kids by your positive actions. 
  •   Do you volunteer? Yes? Great! Consider this as volunteering for a cause. 
     No? Great! This is an opportunity to start it.
  •  If you’re spiritual: You feel the oneness or interconnectedness of all beings and therefore like to care for the whole system. If you don't want the garbage from disposables in your own backyard, trust me, nobody else does. 
  •   If you’re savvy with economics: You would know that a dollar saved is a dollar earned. Why make money go down a trash bag if you can save it? 
I use paper plates. Why should I bother?
Paper plates are generally coated with a thin plastic coating so that they don't turn soggy. Such soiled plates cannot be composted. They don't get recycled either. The only place they end up is in a landfill. 

Remember the Amazon fires? The more paper you use, the more fires you're helping ignite.

I use bagasse plates. Why should I bother?
Bagasse plates need oxygen in a landfill to biodegrade. In an interesting find, a newspaper was taken out of a landfill after 40 years. It was still intact and readable! So unless you are composting the plates, they just end up in landfills. 

Once bio-degradables get buried in an air-capped landfill, they do not decompose. On the contrary, they produce methane, which warms the planet 22 times more than carbon-di-oxide does. At the end of the day, 'Reduce' is the holiest R of them all!

I have more than 20 guests. Why should I bother?
Every bit counts. You can add your reusable plates to the ones you borrow from Green Karma 360. You can borrow from friends too. If I’ve been able to save 500 plus plates from being landfilled, so can you. If you haven't already read, do read my story at:

Aren’t you using water in cleaning reusable plates? I’m saving water by using disposable plates.
This is such a huge fallacy! 

In the case of reusables, once the product has been manufactured, energy is spent only on maintenance. With disposables, you have to repeat the whole manufacturing cycle from scratch, using precious resources, (yes, water and lots of it!) and energy at each step. This drains the environment continuously.

Apart from resources (raw material, energy, and water) used in manufacturing disposables, energy is also used in transporting waste to a landfill. 

The environmental cost of waste in landfills or oceans is so high, we simply can’t afford to pay it anymore. 

Tips for Hosts
Congratulations on making the start. You should really be proud of yourself!

Now get ready with logistics to handle the used plates. These tips will come in handy for smooth sailing:
  •    Request a friend to be your green buddy.
  •  Place a marked trash can/ garbage bag nearby for leftover food.
  •   Place a large tub with a clearly marked label for soiled plates.
  •   Let your green buddy direct guests on how and where to put the used plates.
  •   Gently guide guests to remove leftover food from plates and stack the plates, glasses, and spoons in their respective piles. Handhold the first couple of guests and the rest will follow suit.
  •    If the party is at home, the plates can be stacked in the sink or a pre-assigned spot.
  •  If the party is outdoors, carry back the used utensils in garbage bags or containers.
  
Tips for Guests
Appreciate the host for greening the get-together. Do your bit to make things easier for the host.
  • Do not leave your used dishes at the table for others to clear.
  • Ask the host about the used dishes station.
  • Remove all food from your plate. Stack it the right way. Ditto for glass and cutlery.
  • If the party is at home and you have access to the sink, rinse your plate lightly before stacking.
  • Ask the host if you can help stack your rinsed plate in the dishwasher.
  • Be respectful of the host and follow the given cues.

Still have Questions?

Monday, 5 August 2019

Ab Tak Chhappan (56 and Counting)




Actually, it's 560.


Well, what about 560?


560 is the number of plates and spoons that I've managed to save from landfills in the last couple of years. 

How? 

By carrying my own reusable plate and cutlery to get-togethers and lending my reusable plates to others for their events. (Well, the number is 560 plus now but the title mimicked the movie 'Ab Tak Chhappan' and I hoped to catch your attention with it. It worked, didn't it!)

My socio-environmental experiment on 'Bring Your Own Plate' (BYOP) has been quite interesting so far. 

When I moved to the US about three years back, I was flabbergasted to see high use of disposables. Be it a hotel breakfast or a casual eating joint, the rate of waste creation was alarming. If I went to eat out, a mound of disposables like boxes or plates, plastic cutlery, tissues, ketchup sachets etc. piled up very fast. 

At get-togethers and birthday parties, the throwaway mania would be at its peak. Right from decorations to tablecloths, serving trays to plates and cutlery, water bottles to paper napkins, everything would be a one-time use. It burned a hole right into my heart to see perfectly good plastic table cloths being trashed. "But you can use them for the next birthday party!" I tried to reason with a host. "Don't bother. They're just a dollar each. Besides, who's going to clean and store them? And the theme of the party won't be the same next year!" 


Slowly, as I started making friends, I urged them to hold eco-friendly get-togethers. I wrote to event organizers and temples to serve food in reusable plates quoting how all waste goes to landfills and oceans. Everybody would appreciate and agree with these concerns. They would nod knowingly and say "We completely understand and we also try to be eco-friendly but..."


But...

The but always butted in! The 'but' had a few variations which were:
  • It is too inconvenient. 
  • It's work enough throwing a party. Who would like to work post-party, washing plates?
  • There is no help here like in India. 
  • Everyone else is using disposables. How would my not doing so make a difference?
  • The temples cited a lack of volunteers. "Everyone leaves right after the program. How can a few of us manage everything?
I couldn't blame them. "If you can't beat them, join them", goes a saying. I begged to differ. "If you can't change them, change yourself"! Why not carry my own reusable plate and spoon to parties? I could also carry my own water bottle. This way I would at least not be a part of this throwaway madness. That was my aha moment! 

So when I went to the next birthday party, I carried a plate and spoon in the car with me. But at the last moment, I couldn't find the courage to actually whisk them out. I was new to the country, trying to fit in and I feared being branded a bumpkin - fresh off the boat- ignorant of western social mores. So I came back defeated from a couple of parties. 

However, the issue kept bothering me. I could not stop socializing because of this. At the same time, I could also not be a mute spectator. Then, the power of the written word worked its magic. I came across a few quotes and they seemed to speak directly to me. 


"Be the change you want to see." 



"If no one responds to your call, venture alone." 


"I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about it. Then I realized, I am somebody." 


"Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is doing it.   Right is right, even if nobody is doing it."

The last one got me all shook up. Basically, it nailed it for me! When I knew it was wrong to use disposables and I could easily rectify that by carrying my own stuff, why wasn't I doing it just because "what would people say"?

This prompted me to create a modus operandi. If I got an invite, I requested the host to use reusable plates, spoons, and glasses. I offered to take a dozen plates of mine and also offered to help clean up post-party. Most of them politely declined, saying that though the thought was excellent, they wouldn't be able to do it at that time. Then I would tell the hostess that I would like to bring my own plate and cutlery and hope she didn't mind. Of course, she had no issues. So I found my opening and started carrying my own plate. It saved some awkwardness during the party when I pulled out my plate and spoon from my bag. Victory, at last!



My loyal accomplice in BYOP for a few years now!

Carrying my own plate became an interesting conversation starter. People would give me a totally incredulous look. 

"You mean you carried your own plate here?" 


"Yes."

"But, why? Are you a Brahmakumari?" 
"Interesting! You know, they used to do the same in my town way back!" 
"Nice to see you walk the talk."
"You're doing a great thing but what difference would a single plate make? See the heap of trash there?"

Whatever the reaction, I was glad that people were at least talking about the issue. 


I had a couple of sectional steel plates that I had brought when I was setting up my household. These plates were convenient because they could hold 5 different dishes and made bowls superfluous. I decided to buy more of these and soon got 15 plates. Now, I started urging friends to use these at their parties. I would carry these plates to their home or venue. At the end of the party, a few friends would help stack them in the dishwasher or hand wash them. 


Green soldier, who has saved many a disposable plate.

Soon, our parties started turning green. There were setbacks with a few people refusing to use steel plates (remember the but?) but the positives far outnumbered the negatives. We still had to use disposable glasses and spoons at times. I decided to buy these too in time. 


A growing family of eco-warriors.

My idea was to have a steel utensils bank where I would lend these steel plates, cutlery and glasses for parties. Now that the test model worked, I was ready to try it out on a bigger scale. My joy knew no bounds when someone asked me if he could borrow these plates for a get-together at home. Pure happiness! 

Now, I'm much more comfortable carrying my plate around. My friends and acquaintances are used to seeing me with it. I'm not a social outcast - yet! 

This experiment has also inspired me to start a steel utensils bank, wherein people can borrow steel plates, spoons and glasses for free to reduce waste. More about it in my next post.

So, my learning from this experiment has been that if you have an idea for any positive change, just go for it. The world will adjust around you!