Friday, May 08, 2009

Reducing Wasteful Consumption and Consumerism

While I was rambling over the internet, I recently came across and read an article titled ‘Consumption dwarfs Population’ by Fred Pierce. What was most interesting about the article was that it looked at over-consumption as the main problem for the scarcity of resources in the world, not the growing population. This is an interesting change of view that has come from the west.

I’ve been concerned about the trend of over-consumption for some years now. In the late 1990s there was an advertisement on Star TV, which had plastic bags falling from the sky, burying the people that had their hands up in the air, asking for some more bags. Yes, plastics are a menace, but we can’t ban them altogether. It’s not that simple. The real cause of all the plastic management problems is not the plastic bag itself, but actually, over-consumption and bad civic sense that are both caused by us citizens.

And that’s not easy to sort out, and perhaps that’s why the western countries have not addressed that problem seriously. And now look at what’s happened to them. An average American currently generates 5 kgs of waste per person per day. In Europe, that figure is about 3.5kgs per person per day. Now compare those figures to half a kg per person in Goan cities, and 300 gms or less per person in Goan villages. The difference comes in the picture when we look at the way people consume resources.

Yesterday, when I stepped out for a tea with some friends in Margao, I realized that the takeaway tea was in a plastic throwaway cup. Bad enough, but then I recalled myself having a tea 2 months ago in distant Europe. While traveling overland from one end of Europe to the other, one goes trough lots of cups of tea, especially if you are hitchhiking in the cold from Sweden to Portugal. Most of my takeaway teas consisted of the following items:
A Paper Cup
A Plastic Lid for the Cup
A Plastic Straw
A Plastic Stirrer
One Tea Bag
Two Sugar Sachets
One Milk Sachets
At least 2-3 paper napkins.

As a result of all of this, each time I sipped some tea, I would end up producing 300-400gms of waste!! That defiantly does not make sense at all! The trend however, is to replicate this wasteful consumption of resources here in India too. We better realize this soon, or else, we too would be responsible for generating increasing loads of waste per person per day!!

What if we don’t? Let’s do the math. Assuming Panjim’s population is 60,000 persons that live there permanently and about 40,000 visits the city, each generating an average of half kg per day. That works out to 50 tonnes of waste per day. If we start living the western way, Panjim would then have to deal with 500 tonnes of garbage per day. That’s 4 times the garbage the whole of Goa generates!

In the recycling world, the 3 R’s (Reduce Reuse and Recycle) is often mentioned, however, practically speaking, it’s usually only the last R, Recycling that we practice. What about Reduce and Reuse? Do we actually make an effort to practice reducing our need for resources? Do we reuse items to the maximum extent of their lives? Probably not. In fact, we seem to follow the western trends of doing exactly the opposite. We upgrade our mobile phones, computers, motorbikes and TV sets though they are in perfect running condition. At times, upgrading might seem senseless as we don’t really use all the features of the upgraded product.

In today’s world, the word’s ‘disposable’ and ‘use-and-throw’, only ought to be categorized as bad-words, as they encourage wasteful consumerism, in a world that’s rapidly running out of resources. You don’t have to go radical and change the world right away. Start small, and make a few decisions to reduce your unnecessary consumption patterns, but start today.

Tips to reduce plastic bags: Refuse plastic bags every time you are offered one. You will notice that there are lots of instances where you don’t need one anyway. Skitter, a friend says she always keeps a couple of cloth bags in her car in case she needs a bag. You could do the same. In case you have to really use a bag (for items like fish, or meat), wash and clean the bag at home and make sure it is recycled. There are lots of recyclers all over Goa that will recycle clean plastic bags and pay you for it too.

Clinton Vaz, 28 lives in Benaulim and works on environment and wildlife issues in Goa. He can be contacted at or +91 9890936828 This article appeared on Gomantak Times, 8th May 2009

1 comment:

vishal said...

its really impt to conserve anything we can for our future