By MRINALIKA JOSEPH (Columnist)

Do you remember your grandmother mending a tear in her 10-year old saree, or your grandfather fixing his shoe at the cobbler for the nth time? Theirs was a different world – a world in which old sarees were made into quilts, ash and mud sufficed for washing utensils, and every empty food container was turned into a storage unit for jewellery, medicines or the like. Everything was used for more than a decade and then reused as something else. That generation seemed to need less stuff too – a single soap for an entire bath. Today, we need a face wash for the face, body wash for the body and a shampoo and conditioner for the hair. Our parents too seemed to inherit some of our grandparents’ habits and traits. So, how did we end up with a complete disregard for old things? How did it become ‘necessary’ for us to change watches once every couple of years, when our parents used one watch for almost half their lives?

Ever wonder why the furniture or appliances in your granny’s home still seem rock solid after decades, while you have replaced yours three times over? There was a time when we used fountain pens. We could use the same pen for years on end and all we had to do was refill the ink. But ball point pens became the norm and although we could change the refill initially, now we just throw out the whole pen when the ink is over and buy a brand new one. It’s the same with computers, blenders, DVD machines, you name it! The easy answer we give ourselves is that stuff is just not made the way they used to be made and so nothing lasts. However true this may be, that’s just one side of the story, isn’t it? After all if you continue to use water instead of baby wipes to clean your baby’s bottom, there is nothing much the corporate world can do. But we don’t? Do we?

Every day we watch a new advertisement or hear of some new product, and every day we are convinced that we need to change what we are using for something more advanced or stylish. So although it was enough for men to shave with a single blade razor, now even two or three blades are not enough, we need a five blade razor to get that perfect shave. And although we used to be able to clean our teeth and tongues as well as massage our gums with a twig from the neem or babool tree, we now not only need toothbrushes but ones with three different kinds of bristles.

Of course, it isn’t easy to stay away from the influence of advertising. In fact, that is why advertisers are paid so much. But maybe if we just look at our rate of consumption, our need to have more and more and more and what it is doing to the planet, then maybe, we can get a better idea of what we are actually losing.

In the last three decades alone, we have consumed around one-third of our earth’s resources. 80 percent of the earth’s original forests are gone. India alone is losing an average of 334 acres of forests a day – that is equivalent to more than 250 football fields. Around 100,000 synthetic chemicals are used in our products today. Only a handful of these are tested. When we dispose these products, these possibly poisonous chemicals mix with the soil. Burning them releases the chemicals into the air. The burning also creates new super-toxins that are stronger than the ones that were put in. Even if they are not poisonous, these products are usually made of plastic, which take years to decompose and hence we have ever-increasing landfills. In other words everything that we decide to use and throw, and then buy some more of, has an ecological impact. Recycling is no longer enough. We need to reduce our consumption.

So next time we decide to buy another phone, when the old one is still working or we decide to use a paper towel when we can use cloth or when we buy trash bags when we can reuse old newspapers and plastic covers, remember that ninety percent of the stuff we buy ends up in the trash within six months. And that this trash is not going anywhere. And so we repeat, reduce! reuse! recycle!