When we think of eco-friendly, the western model of sustainability is what we’re often presented. Just a simple search on Google will bring forth images of what sustainability is supposed to look like, albeit the perspective is limited to a Western understanding.
Eco-friendliness is often displayed as an ‘aesthetic’, with mason jars, succulents in the house, organic food and pine wood furniture. While this approach, looks pretty and satisfying, it doesn’t really accomplish much in the endeavour to be eco-friendly. Contrary to this, the Eastern model for sustainability is often disregarded even though it goes further in accomplishing its aims in reducing waste. Ironically, the Western model is prevalent in the media, while the Eastern one is rarely talked about.
Let me share some ideas from an Indian perspective. While India is regarded as the third-largest producer of emissions, this is largely due to its massive population of 1. 3 billion. India’s per capita emission of 1.8 tonnes is in sharp contrast with the per capita emission of 19.8 tonnes in America. This difference not only highlights the differences in sustainability models, but also accentuates how first-world countries play a larger role in causing pollution and climate change.
Sustainability has always been a core component of Indian culture. Its philosophy and values have underscored a sustainable way of life. It is not a new ideal, in fact, one that has been rooted in its people.
Cloth waste in India is handled very well. Fast fashion is almost non-existent in the majority population. Only recently, have brands like H&M and Zara come to India in an attempt to gain popularity amongst its youth. Most people buy their clothes from local shops that can last very long. These clothes are often cheaper than factory produced merchandise. Clothes from these local shops can last many years in perfect condition. Moreover, these clothes are often passed down in the family. It is a very common practice for children to share clothes amongst their younger siblings and cousins, a practice that is not prevalent in the West anymore.
But that’s not all. Once a piece of cloth outgrows all its members, it is still not thrown away. Old clothes are commonly refurbished as bags to keep groceries in, mats, as well as used to mop the floor.
Paper waste and other items accumulated in the house are sold to ‘raddi- walas’ (scrap dealers) who recycle them for their livelihood. Many re-sell these items as well. This is an incredibly common practice and benefits both parties.
Food waste is also dealt with. India is home to many street dogs as well as cows. My family keeps fruit peels (a special treat) aside to feed our neighbourhood cow each day. Not only, does it dispose of the waste, it also feeds the cow! People also make their own compost for their gardens.
Street food is also rather economic and eco-friendly. Most vendors serve their food on steel plates that can be re-used. Food is also commonly wrapped with newspaper or leaves, that allow customers to carry their food with them, while ensuring no waste is generated.
And that’s not all. Almost every item in an average Indian house gets reused or recycled. Used soda bottles are used in the kitchen to hold items, or are reused as plant pots and polythene bags are stored and reused multiple times. My family has a whole corner in our house, dedicated to plastic bags. Every time, we bring a bag home it is carefully kept so we can reuse it next time.
And what about shopping? Most of the population buys their supplies from local shops. Not only does this support local businesses it also ensures that the carbon footprint generated is kept to a minimum. My grandparents purchase all their groceries from a ‘Hata’ (marketplace). These places resemble a western farmer’s market. Produce here is fresh and cheap. Customers use their own bags, (commonly jute bags) and buy from the vendors. There is no plastic involved. Compare that to grocery stores in places like America, where copious amounts of plastic are wasted in packaging.
That is not all. Even day to day habits ensure that all resources are handled with care. Bucket baths are the norm in India, with people using only one bucket of water to bath themselves. Don’t assume that this is not enough! Great care is taken for personal hygiene, which is imperative in a humid country like India. In contrast, even environmentally conscious bathers who have low flow showerheads end up using at least seven litres of water per minute, making even the fastest five-minute shower— a 35-litre affair.
Clothes are dried in the sun, dishes are hand washed and there is a cultural aversion to the wasting of food. Many attribute these habits to have originated in middle-class families, where families live paycheck to paycheck, and ensure nothing goes to waste. And these values are so deeply instilled in Indian families, that they still continue with these habits abroad. And indeed that is how sustainability should look.
These practices might not be pretty or aesthetic and may not be attractive enough to be featured on magazines, but they accomplish each one of their goals. Colonialism and classism is inherent even in the way we perceive these practices. These are often dismissed as ‘strange’ or ‘poor’ practices. But if followed by everyone, these habits have the power to change the world. One bucket at a time.