The Indian Middle class is a curious case study in itself. We are a generation whose parents struggled to make it, in the post-independent, battered nation. We witnessed our neighborhoods progress from one landline telephone and a shared television to households full of multiple handheld devices. Our parents toiled hard to give us a life of dreams – a stable job, good meals, and accommodation. Twenty years later, today we can afford to buy dresses based on moods, trends, and occasions, and travel to meet our wanderlust. However today as the earth struggles with rising carbon emissions, there are things the world can learn from the Indian Middle Class.
Reuse Reuse Reuse
Buying dresses were an annual thing performed during our festival of choice, or at best on our birthdays. We never bothered about outfits for every tiny weeny occasion back then. We eyed our sibling’s closets and waited patiently for the treasured hand me downs. From school uniforms to wedding trousseaus, we took pride in reusing stuff. Once the clothes were adequately worn out, we reused them as cleaning cloths, or even made household stuff with those (homemade blankets, cushion covers – unending creativity there).
Zero plastic waste during shopping
- either unavailable,
- too expensive at the time.
Our parents went veggie shopping with reusable bags. There were set bags for fish, for meat, for fruits, and for other items. I think in my entire childhood I only saw those bags change a few times. I am happy to say during my recent visit back to India, I saw a majority of people still venturing the markets with one reusable bag in hand. I personally went vegetable shopping, and on coming back realized the only bag I procured from the vegetable seller was a semi cloth one (he gave for free). No plastic-wrapped cucumbers, no beautiful packet wrapped spinach. It was ugly, fresh, pure, and natural. Street food is still served in newspaper bags along (in most places). I am also proud to say the upscale shopping malls provide paper shopping bags- a thing I rarely encountered in more environmentally conscious nations.
Biodegradable disposables available easily
Our disposable utensils were made of banana leaves or other dried leaves sown with tiny wooden sticks. Although, the trend reversed and people started using foam/plastics, but the biodegradable disposables are still easily available and for cheap. I had the pleasure of venturing my husband’s grandparent’s home this time, and as he was showing the row of banana trees in the garden he proclaimed how they had fun cutting off the leaves to be used as plates whenever there were guests at home. From brooms (made of plants and woods) and wipe cloths, to cloth based baby nappies Indian middle-class disposables did not kill earth back then.
Even a little lifestyle change can have a huge impact when it comes to India. But still, as of date, India ranks far behind the developed environment conscious nations like US and Canada when it comes to per capita carbon emissions. The current government has participated in global climate summits and 25 (out of 29) Indian states have a partial ban on plastics (as of 2018). Do we have room for improvement? Of course! Tremendously!
With Delhi, Kolkata ranking as one of the most polluted cities we have a long way to go. But if you look at numbers and stats the developing countries have a lot to learn from us. And for us, all that we need to do is go back to our 90s middle-class lifestyle of minimalism, of reducing and reusing.
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