Tag Archives: waste

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.

Lota in the Loo

Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  But even during the most desperate times, Winnie’s wit carried the day. So perhaps today, while a virus wends its way across the world, we can take a deep breath (while practicing social distancing) and smile.

To be sure, the coronavirus presents a rather serious crisis. It’s so bad that people have convinced themselves that there are shortages that don’t really exist. The opening sentence from Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari’s New York Times March 13, 2020 article titled, “Is There Really a Toilet Paper Shortage?” captured the madness: “If there’s one image that captures the panic sweeping through the United States this week, it might be the empty store shelves where toilet paper usually sits.”

I went to my local Costco to see if this madness could possibly be true. Were otherwise intelligent people actually hoarding rolls of soft, perforated white paper whose only function was arse-cleaning? Were they willing to wait over an hour in line just to enter the warehouse store to buy massive amounts of this Western brainchild of the inventor who named it after himself: Gayetty’s Medicated Paper? Would panicky people contribute to supply chain sabotage and throw demand-planning forecasts out of kilter by emptying store shelves of this quotidian product?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

So what to do about all these affirmatives that presage a rather unsavory negative? Just imagine a world where people don’t have enough toilet paper to do their business! In my line of work, I help organizations make transitions through times of change. I use a rather simple formula to overcome resistance to transformation:  D x V x F > R.

  • Dissatisfaction: Internalize dissatisfaction with the current change
  • Vision: Envision a desired future state
  • First Steps: Take the necessary first steps
  • Resistance: Recognize that there is resistance to change

If it is true that there is always some level of resistance to change, then R is always greater than zero; and in the simple math formula, R will always win out if D or V or F is zero.

Back to the toilet paper crisis, which is actually a metaphor for the paradox of abundance.  

Dissatisfaction

It is clearly unacceptable that people should fight over toilet paper. Similarly, price gouging must be unacceptable, and yet capitalist individuals corral the supply of hand sanitizers and sell their goods on Amazon at obscene markups. And as we climb the ladder of abstraction, we can all agree that authoritarian systems must not exploit the free market by accepting the largesse of other countries in their own time of need but limit the flow of medical products when their time of distress has passed (yes, this is about China limiting the flow of face masks). With each of us surely only six degrees of separation removed from someone inflicted with COVID-19, Dissatisfaction is greater than zero.

Vision

Look around and imagine that we have plenty of resources; we just have to be empathetically resourceful in how we make these resources available to those who need them most. Let’s not become like Joseph Gayetty who watermarked his name on each sheet with which people cleaned what they had shat; let’s be a bit less egocentric and self-centered. The following quote often attributed to M. K. Gandhi, but actually first said by Frank Buchman of Initiatives for Change, can help us all envision a more generous world, thus making our collective Vision greater than zero: “There’s enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

First Steps

Here’s a more famous Gandhian quote that the so-called Mahatma might or might not have said:  “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” That’s a great philosophical first step.  Now on to the practical matter of what we do to hygienically clean up after we defecate in the loo. I suggest this call to action as part of your morning ablutions, thus making your personal First Step greater than zero:  minimize your dependence on toilet paper by cleaning your backside with water. For those whose toilets are so-quipped, loo like the French do and use a bidet.  For those without fancy ceramic fixtures, loo like billions of villagers do and pour the water from a lota. 

Resistance

When I first returned to India in the mid-1970s, I saw all of the Rajasthanis in my native village carrying lotas with them to the “jungle” at sunrise. At first, I resisted this communal cleansing but eventually, I joined the morning march. Perhaps you, too, will resist the idea of using a lota in the loo. But try a little behavior change on just one morning this week. By giving up the urge to wipe your rump with a lifetime of bright white reams of paper, you might see that we’re all in this crisis together.  Regardless of where you land on the economics of globalization, the coronavirus has proven that Marshall McLuhan was right: we all live in a global village.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, is a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world; he also facilitates the development of MBA students’ interpersonal dynamics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.