Monday, April 22, 2024

Recycle or perish

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

The times we live in and their inscrutable ways are difficult to comprehend fully. Our unsustainable practices have brought us to this pass and if we don’t find solutions to wasteful and consumptive behaviour, our very existence can be under threat.

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Recycling is a fascinating process although never really fully understood. Neither has it been taken as an exacting or exciting science. Developed countries such as Australia have taken it seriously. Material sciences and new products from recycled processes are well nifty and well advanced, ushering in a revolution in sustainable development.

giving new life to textile products through recycling

A name that comes to mind is of Veena Sahajwalla, a scientist and inventor of Indian origin. She is a professor of Material Sciences at UNSW and is Director, UNSW SM@RT Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology. An IIT Kanpur alumna, she is credited with several inventions including ‘Green Steel’, Recycling science’ and ‘micro factories’.

She has appeared on ABC TV in the program ‘New Inventors’ as a specialist engineer judge, in addition to several other appearances in TV episodes in Australia. I have had the privilege of being with her for a media interaction during one of her visits to India a few years ago. Apart from being a passionate scientist, she is a good communicator and can convey things in the most articulate manner. Yet, she came across as a person with humility, sensitive and down to earth.

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Recycling not new

Recycling is not new to India or Indians. We’ve all seen the kabadiwalah or raddi paper walah since our childhood.  No other country or region has recycled the way India has.

We’ve also been hearing of the recycling process and of almost everything and anything being able to be produced by recycling.

Thank God for that. It’s about time – with the world on the edge – that we have got down to concerted thinking about recycling.

Garbage and trash pileups are commonplace in cities and towns. The larger cities have tonnes and tonnes of waste and garbage piled up in huge heaps that are incinerated and converted to small mounds or hills.

Parts of India’s coast lines are also known for being the graveyards of ships. The world’s largest shipbreaking yard is at the Alang-Sosiya belt near Bhavnagar in Gujarat. India has some 120 shipbreaking yards.

A shopping escapade

I walked into this beautiful mall with upmarket brands and shops, and lo and behold, got attracted to a pretty nice ready-made Bush shirt. I thought to myself, why not? Now that the summer is just around the corner I could do with some cool shades. This one was even better. It’d a design of natural forest foliage. I hesitated when I saw the price. By then the damage had been done, the decision to buy was made. 

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I had become a sucker of the capitalist push. Several times in the past I’d been pushed to the point of no return.  I realised that the shirt is made from recycled material. Should I or should I not? A decision had to be made.

The process of recycling

For the good of earth

My interest in contributing to reduce the human footprint compelled me to proceed farther. I’d been leaving less and less of carbon footprints, or so I have come to believe, for my involuntary acts, including such as not using a car or any fossil fuelled vehicle.

I have contributed to a greener world by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It gives me a good feeling. 

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The airline I fly has me believe that by taking, say, certain planes my contribution of carbon has diminished, even gone way below that of others of my ilk.

So, it was with all this knowledge playing in my mind that I knew I had transformed myself to a responsible citizen capable of decisions for the good of our earth.

Almost in an impulse I bought the shirt, becoming the proud owner of a product made from recyclable or recycled products. Perhaps a first for me. It’s possible that unknown to me I might have purchased eco-friendly or recycled products. Who knows?

This product had more qualities than I thought it had. It just needed a rinse in a quarter bucket of gentle washing soap and it would be ready for a dry.

‘Green’ shirt

I recalled my growing up years. Some ready-made synthetic shirts and trousers used Dip and Dry.

I brought the shirt home, only to be told that I was out of my mind to have invested so much for a so-called ‘green shirt’.

I gave folks home the environment speel. How proud I was for having bought something that I was positively sure of benefiting our earth. It didn’t seem to leave the slightest impact on those around me. 

They wouldn’t have any argument or counterarguments. So much for my persuasive skills. 

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An expensive proposition

So, what does it all come to? To recycle and come out with a new product is not inexpensive. If it’s a branded one the product can cost you the earth. 

Back home, I have been met with a lukewarm response to my purchase. Perhaps rightly so. As they say, I’d pay through my nose for a product that I am not one hundred percent sure of. So, here I am saddled with a shirt, and not knowing if it was a good decision, let alone a wise one, to buy it in the first place. A dilemma we all face at some point or the other! That said, recycling can be the way forward for our sustainable future.

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"


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