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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Today, as we continue the conversation about environmental awareness and sustainable practices, here’s a list of eco-friendly desi hacks. You probably already do a lot of these or have experienced them growing up in your desi households!

1. Reusing Dahi Dabbas (Plastic Yogurt Containers)

Well, any plastic container, to be honest. Many of us have used them to store leftovers. Or to send Aunty some of that halwa mom made. Although the concept of recycling may not have been actively practiced or even addressed, we all still engage in a “no waste” mentality in subtle ways. Many of our parents emigrated to this country from a middle-class lifestyle in India, saving money. Being resourceful was a priority. As we often say, Jugaad is part of our culture! 

2. Washing with water

Let’s eliminate the taboo around washing your bum with water! Western culture traditionally uses paper products to wipe after using the toilet. However, not only is water more hygienic for cleaning but it’s also more sustainable. A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity, and some 1.5 pounds of wood to manufacture. Remember those plastic Dahi Dabbas we just talked about? Do you remember your parents reusing them as plastic mugs for your bathrooms? Or even the large plastic measuring cups – definitely an upgrade, considering the comfortable handle! Another option is a Bidet, which is now growing increasingly popular. The bidet is essentially a “pichkari” for your bum. Traditionally, Asian cultures have used water as a method of cleaning for centuries, so why fix what ain’t broke? Make your desi parents proud.

3. Using your dad’s old, ripped vests for cleaning rags

Whether they are used to clean countertops, or mop floors like Swiffer jet sheets, these rags definitely come in handy! Another common way is converting your mother’s old cotton sarees or your father’s old cotton lungis into the best, softest, and most water-absorbent towels ever (sighs in comfort). I also remember how, when my family visited, all my cousins got to sleep on the floor together, telling each other stories. We would layer old blankets and old cotton sarees together into thick, soft quilts to sleep on. Those old sarees were definitely versatile!

4. Desi composting and gardening hacks are awesome!

One common eco-friendly hack in my house was using Neem oil as a bio-safe pesticide. Remember all those leftover pooja flowers and holy water from ceremonies? As part of the pooja rituals, we would discard them into house plants/ gardens, instead of throwing them away. That flower/rice/water mixture then became organic fertilizer for your plants. At harvest time, we always used what we could and froze the rest to use later. Extra crops were dehydrated on a cotton saree in the hot summer sun on our patio or sidewalk, to be used later for fryums, dry mirchi powder, etc. Another summer tradition in my household was to take extra vegetables (even non-desi ones) and pickle them into achar. 

5. Some green desi food hacks!

Speaking of food, let’s wrap up with some eco-friendly desi food hacks! I remember every time my mom made lemon rice she saved the squeezed-out lemon halves to reuse as a sponge. Or if the tamarind she bought came with too many seeds, she would add salt and use it to clean her jewelry and silver/copper/brass dishes. Not only does tamarind help remove oxidation, but it also removes tough grease on metals. In fact, tamarind and lemon have always been part of desi culture as cleaning solvents, even before the invention of modern-day dish soap!

Well, there you have it! These are some of the best eco-friendly desi hacks I picked up in my childhood and continue to practice today. This planet is everything we have, and it’s our responsibility to protect it. It’s difficult to be perfectly green nor can we expect that from each other. However, by participating in at least one green activity, we are making progress. So, I encourage each of you to see if there’s one thing you can do to be more environmentally friendly, whether that is turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, or carpooling, or the desi hacks mentioned above.

Do you have other green desi hacks? Share with us in the comments.

Together we can help our planet Earth!