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Reuse Recycle

After reading Jim Spath’s blog on CSR and Me I thought of putting in a comment. But as I started keying in it kept on growing, so decided to blog my thoughts. 

Coming from India where economic advancement has brought in significant changes in lifestyle for good or bad depending on which side of the house you belong to. I shall take a few facts which will explain more.

First the ubiqitious use of plastic carry bags (does not matter how many times they have been recycled). I remember when I was a kid my father (and other neighbours) used to go to the Bazar (local market) with a bag (made of just fibre/rough cotton). Grocery stores used paper bags (called “thonga” in my native language Bengali) tied with a piece of just / hemp string. No plastic – paper and cloth both of which are biodegrable though some may argue about paper making cuts down so many trees. But then remember these paper bags are made of recycled paper – your daily newspaper which has a shelflife of only ONE day. And now there is plastic everywhere but at least there are nylon shopping bags which can be reused. In fact the shopping bag I use is recycled from nylon material of a foodgrain bulk bag. Cheap (cost me equivalent to 25 cents) but most importantly REUSE and RECYCLE. I have been to Europe as well as USA and have seen exact opposite scenes in the Supermarkets. In Germany we packed our groceries in plastic carry bags and was pleasantly surprised to find being charged 5 cents for each bag. So next time round we picked up a better plastic carry bag which cost 20 cents but then could be RESUEd. On the other hand in USA plastic carry bags were used without any thought at the checkout counters. Not only that milk was put in double plastic bags in case it leaks and because its heavy (1 gallon plastic container).

The second example is use of paper napkins. Well it has become so common now in India – everywhere. In fact if paper towel is not there in a mall toilet then you complain. But the hand driers in the toilet is left unused. In Germany I remember SAP offices (and other public places) had this cloth-based towel which needed to be pulled from one roll to another and later cleaned for REUSE. Of course this is in addition to the multiple hand driers in the toilet. Ok paper napkins are made of RECYCLEd paper but still we can cut down on the energy (water, steam and electric power) spent in recycling it by just carrying your own handkerchief (I carry mine and get stares on usage). Likewise use of plastic cutlery in cafeterias versus using steel cutlery and washing them up should be mandated.

Third example paper usage in office – from cups at the coffee dispenser / water fountain to A4 sheets lying waste at the printer. Just have a coffee mug / water bottle can cut down paper cup usage so much. As regards printer paper usage – back to back (can be set as default printer setting) and / or 2 pages in 1 printing can do wonders.

Fourth example – public transportation versus one/two person in their own cars. Within rising income levels having your own car is no longer a luxury in India. That brings in road congestion resulting in more pollution – not to mention frustration and road rage. While cars have become fuel efficient, traffic jams / gridlocks can ruin any benefit when you travel 10 kms in 1 hour with the motor running all the time. I still don’t own a car but planning to buy one soon (albeit a small fuel efficient one). And I was happy that my company is going to provide bus service as soon as we move to our new office as an incentive for relocation. But that means cutting down on car usage by my colleagues (and also me).

And the last example. Last year’s (2007) TechEd at Bangalore was my first TechEd and simply a great experience. One thing that was striking was how water was dispensed to 5000+ attendees – in 200 ml plastic bottles. Due to the Bangalore heat I am sure each person was consuming no less that 5 bottles per day. So in all 6000 x 5 x 3 = 900000 plastic bottles used up at a minimum. That can definitely be reduced next time. No dig to the organisers but maybe this year along (or instead of) with the TechEd bag give a water bottle and setup drinking water dispensers at TechEd.


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  • Somnath – thanks for your wonderful perspective! One of my proudest moments as a father was hearing my son (about 10 at the time I think) tell a grocery clerk “no bag please” to cart home a small item.  He heard it from me enough times.  As I live in _the_ most wasteful society in the world I’m regularly conflicted on how to live my life fairly.  Your words help.  Jim
    • I must thank you for your wonderful blog. At least someone else on the other side of mother Earth has similar sentiments. I need to check about Carbon Footprint for my apartment but am sure it will be quite less – around 100 Units (kWH) of electricity and 10 kg of LPG (Cooking gas) per month.
  • Maybe we should ask the Venetion and other Tech Ed venues this year to provide equivalent drink services without waste and throw in SAP TechEd Drink Bottle and Coffee Mug in our bags.  I wouldn’t mind washing my bottle each night.

    Vegas is amazing at how little they recycle.  A colleague was staying at the Luxor, and had a bunch of paper to throw out and the Business Centre didn’t even have paper recylcing!

  • It’s seems that some of our community conversation is happening on twitter and prompted an interesting wiki page over on James Govenor’s Greenmonk: Thoughts on Recycling.  Thanks Somnath, Jim and others for evolving the conversation here and James G., Craig, EddyDC and Tom Raftery for the conversation there!
    • Interesting perspective and actual recycling efforts across the world Marilyn. Back here (in India) Recycling is not a formalised process but lot of stuff gets recycled (newspaper / any kind of paper, empty bottles, cans, clothes) in different ways because its a living for good number of people. Nothing yet from Municipal / Government legislation yet. Another example is Cell phones which always can be traded in for a new one. I bought a new Sony Ericsson trading my old Nokia 6610 bought in US March 2004 a month back.