Tag Archives: #recycle

Yogurt Containers (Image by Nikol Lohr from Flickr)

Green Desi Hacks That You Probably Didn’t Realize Were Part of Your Routine

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PDT/ 9pm EDT!

As we continue the conversation about our environmental and sustainable practices, here is a list of green Desi hacks. As you read, you may come to realize that you already do most of these or have experienced growing up in your desi households!

Dahi Dabbas

We all have reused the dahi dabbas (plastic yogurt containers) and any plastic container to store leftovers or to send aunty that halwa your mom made. Although the concept of recycling may not have been addressed in your Desi household, in subtle ways, we all engaged in a “no waste” mentality. Considering that many of our desi parents immigrated to this country having lived a lower middle class to slightly upper-middle-class lifestyle in India, being resourceful and saving money was a priority. As we often say, finding the jugaad way of doing things is part of our no waste, save money culture.

Wash 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 and healthy for cleaning but is 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? How many of you remember your parents reusing them as plastic mugs for your bathrooms growing up? Or even the large plastic measuring cups, which was definitely an upgrade, considering the comfortable handle!

If that doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps a Bidet is your option! The bidet is essentially a pichkari for your bum. Using water has been a traditional method of cleaning for centuries in Asian culture. Why fix what isn’t broken and make your Desi parents proud?

Old Clothes

Take your dad’s old ripped-up banyan or any ripped clothes (non-donatable)  and convert them into cleaning rags. Whether it’s used to clean countertops or replace the swiffer jet sheets, these rags definitely come in handy!

Another common usage of old fabrics is taking my mother’s old cotton sarees or my father’s old cotton lungis, and converting them into water absorbent towels. When I was younger, I used to layer old blankets together and even old cotton sarees together into thick, soft quilts to sleep on. The old sarees were definitely versatile fabrics revamped into quilts, sofa covers, curtains, etc.

Desi Composting and Gardening Hacks 

Use Neem oil, which is sitting around, as a natural and bio-safe pesticide!

Havan (Image by Ninad Katyare from Wikimedia Commons)

Remember all those leftover pooja flowers and holy water? Part of the ceremony and pooja rituals is to discard the leftovers into house plants/ gardens and not throw them down the drain or into the garbage. That flower/rice/water mixture then becomes organic fertilizer, providing nutrients to your plants.

Through Desi gardening, we are able to maintain community. Towards the end of the crop season, take all the harvest and freezing them to use in later in the year. If freezing is not the choice of preservation, extra crop is dehydrated on a cotton saree in the hot summer sun on our patio or sidewalk, to later be used as needed (fryums, dry mirchi powder, etc). Taking extra vegetables, some of which were non-desi, and pickling them into achar was a summer tradition in my desi household.

Dishwashing Solvents

When my mom makes lemon rice, she saves the squeezed-out lemon halves to later reuse as a sponge and uses rock salt as her soap to clean her silver pooja gear. When she buys tamarind that came with too many seeds and/or too little pulp, she will add salt and use it as a cleaning agent for her jewelry and silver/copper/brass dishes. Not only does it help remove tough oxidation on metals but also removes tough grease on metals. Tamarind and Lemon have always been part of the Desi culture as dishwashing solvents, even before the invention of modern-day dish soap, and they work great!

Well, there you have it!

These are some of the best green Desi hacks, all of which I picked up in my childhood home and continue to practice in my household today.

This planet is everything we have and it is our responsibility to protect it. It’s not easy to be perfectly green nor can we expect that from each other, however, by taking action and participating in at least one green activity, we are making progress. So, I encourage each of you to evaluate your lifestyle and see if there’s one thing you can do, one lifestyle adjustment you can make to be more environmentally friendly.

Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.


2021 is A Hangover & We Are Facing the Repercussions

Hey, the New Year 2021 is here! Yay! There were a lot of private parties and a few public parties, with both masking and unmasking happening, for sure. A lot of cake was eaten and quite a bit of champagne was drunk. 

Unfortunately, the new year started with a heavy hangover from the previous one. What with the COVID-19 virus mutating and becoming even more contagious, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. About the transition of power in Washington, the lesser said the better. In fact, why say anything at all here? We are all watching it on TV on a daily basis.

Where I live in South India too, the new year is beginning on a weird note. It is raining a lot, when it should actually be sunny but cold. In Coorg, Karnataka, where we have a small coffee plantation, people are very worried. The unseasonal rain is causing the coffee berries to drop and rot on the ground, reducing the yield. Those that have been picked have had no time to dry and may rot on the drying yard, if they aren’t washed away by the water, that is. Paddy harvest too may be affected.

Indians are certainly waking up to the unwelcome realization that global warming and climate change are no longer just subjects for scientific debate, but the reality on the ground. Farmers are seeing it first hand, while consumers are suffering when prices fluctuate wildly due to the unseasonal weather. Onions at Rs. 120 a kilo? Enough said.

Meanwhile, the United States is seeing its share of natural disasters as well. Forest fires decimating large swathes of land and swallowing up neighborhoods, and hurricanes and tornadoes wreaking havoc with barely a pause between successive ones, are impressing the concept of climate change among the people far better than any Government initiative to educate them.

However, the big question is: how are the two countries responding to it and trying to change their behavior? And what are individuals doing? Well, here is a layperson’s perspective.

In my decidedly uneducated opinion, both the US and India are responding identically to the climate crisis. They are spending billions of dollars and rupees having conferences and putting out white papers and other colored papers on the subject. But not one of them is doing anything real or major on the ground that may have the slightest effect on reducing emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and cleaning up the environment that they have laid waste. 

In India, new cars are flying off the shelves. All the money that couldn’t be spent during the lockdown days is being splurged on new and fancy cars. So much for reducing dependence on fossil fuel. 

Public works are still being conducted for the welfare of PWD contractors and not the public – in short, resources being wasted on shoddy work, such as water pipes that break and bleed hundreds of gallons wastefully into the earth. Water wastage and electricity theft is rampant, and there is no earnest effort to clean up invaluable water resources, even after the shocking water crisis faced by Chennai city. 

And forest management is absolutely non-existent. If you are a wild animal, or a human whose land is being encroached by wild animals (many parts of South India are seeing an unprecedented number of people being affected by the entry of elephant herds into cultivated land), or a tribal whose very livelihood is at stake, you are on your own. Meanwhile, blocks of flats keep appearing and land is being cleared to build new townships. 

In short, very little is happening on the ground to actually combat the climate crisis. 

As for the trend in the US, I had an opportunity to observe a few things when my husband and I visited the US this August. And what I observed was shocking, especially after having become used to the Indian way of life.

Again this is my humble opinion, but I think the US is seriously over-consuming. During our stay, we were stunned by the amount of trash we ended up generating each day…and this was mostly non-recyclable stuff. We stayed at a motel for an extended period, so we bought a bunch of silverware and some microwavable plastic and porcelain dishes. We had to depend on microwavable food from grocery stores, as eating every meal at restaurants was neither to our taste nor feasible due to COVID. We found that the frozen dinners were packaged in plastic that was of such durable quality that we actually washed a few and reused them as microwave bowls. 

Every store used plastic bags. At large chain stores especially, they would literally put just a pack of socks in one bag and a t-shirt in another. It was as if they’d never heard of limiting plastic. I dearly love the US and am nuts about the stores, but I wanted to weep when I saw the sheer amount of plastic waste that was being generated.

In India, plenty of plastic waste is generated too, especially with Amazon, and Flipkart, Big Basket, and Swiggy, Zomato, and other food delivery companies. But a lot of it does get reused at least a little. Plastic containers are washed and used to store food. Many use cloth bags for shopping, and as for the plastic bags that are used for things like rice, dhal, etc., they get reused too. Small kirana shops use these to package their goods. Milk covers are given to kabadiwaalas who resell them to recyclers. Newspapers are also sold to recyclers, or used to package things or used around the house, or even to wrap used sanitary pads before discarding. 

Some cities like Mysore where I live also force citizens to segregate their waste into dry and wet waste. Some apartment complexes like ours have their own composting units, and give only their dry waste to the municipality. 

Of course, in India, we have the overwhelming problem of public cleanliness – what garbage we have is usually in plain sight. Now after COVID, there might even be less will to clean up the country. Everyone feels that it was our daily exposure to all kinds of pathogens bred in our own neighborhoods that gave us lower susceptibility to COVID-19 virus. So God knows what will happen to the Swachh Bharath initiative.

The New Year has dawned. We’ve had to change a lot of our habits and behavior last year. Hopefully, we will change our behavior regarding many environmentally-sensitive practices so that 2021 will see a healthier planet emerging from shadow of COVID-19.

Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.