Sunday, September 9, 2007

Paper, not Plastic

The cashier looked daggers at me and the motley pile of bags of lentils, jam and other assorted groceries piled in front of her.
"Don't you have a shopping bag? We can't provide you with a plastic one, you know. Plastic bags have been banned."
"Couldn't you wrap these up in old newspaper?"
Mumbling to herself, she proceeded to inexpertly wrap up my purchases in three parcels, fumbling in a drawer for rubber bands to secure them.
It brought back memories of my childhood forays to the neighborhood store, shopkeepers dexterously wrapping large newspaper cones of measured out lentils and tying the parcel with a quick twist of jute twine that hung in a large spool from a hook off the rafter.

The triumphant return of newspaper parcels wasn't the first thing that I planned to blog about on my return from a 4-week trip to India, but I thought it bears mentioning, in face of the tons of plastic I just discarded yesterday from various purchases at the supermarket. (No longer. After this trip, I promise to use the reusable shopping bags available for 99 cents each at the checkout counter. Or the lovely bags from my rice purchases that I hesitate to throw away, seeing how neatly the rows of double reinforced stitches run along the sides of the heavy-duty canvas).

Come to think of it, a lot of practices which are now being trumpeted as the latest 'green' innovation are just plain old common sense/ancient cultural practice and frugality thrown in, along with a marketing program, vision/mission statement, catchphrases and sloganeering, elaborate launch programs and what-have-you. Here's a couple that I observed.

Banana leaves instead of disposable (and landfill clogging) styrofoam plates.
Of course, leave it to the locals to come up with their own twist on the combination between the practicality of plates and the messiness but eco-friendliness of banana leaves : I observed at least once, stainless steel plates lined with banana leaves, to cut down on the messiness of gathering used leaves. Plus, a perfunctory dunk in not too clean water for the plates wasn't going to offend anyone's sense of hygiene, since they get a brand new leaf surface to eat from anyway. I don't know how many restaurants use the same technique, but it may not be an isolated instance.

Ecotourism : Tourism with a green tinge, or the same-old, same-old seen through green-colored glasses to rival those of the denizens of Oz. (Dorothy, we're not in Kansas any more!). All blurbs extol the use of renewable natural materials in the construction of the luxury 'kettuvalloms' or riverboats (see photo) in which the tourist can relax as the boatman guides it on a relaxing cruise on the backwaters, lulled by the gentle waves and replete with a lunch with the local fish specialty and rice.
(We may even have enough time to try this on our next visit, assuming that we don't have insane travel schedules as we did on this last trip.)