Meethotamulla garbage dump - Pic by Tharinda Elvitigala
By M. M. Inoka Damayanthi Manthilake
Over the past few decades, the scientists who keep an eye on the Earth have been telling us that conditions on Earth are deteriorating. Animal and plant species are vanishing and so too would humans, we are warned.
We can observe that the lifespan of people is shortening because their health condition is degrading. The Earth is becoming unable to support human life because we have ruined it. It is time to work to rescue the Earth from man’s foolhardy actions. Imagine the weight of garbage thrown away every second by people. Big or small, given the amount of garbage we throw, the earth’s wound is getting worse every day. With regard to Sri Lanka, we know how we have submerged this country in garbage, where a short walk down streets (whether village or town), travelling in the train or in the bus, wherever we turn our heads, we see garbage strewn around.
Somebody vs. everybody
Mass-scale plans for saving the planet from mass production are desperately needed. In today’s world, the production of goods and services is to satisfy the wants of people and not the needs. The more that is wanted, the more that is produced.
The piles of garbage that floats on rivers and sea, that make fake mountains of foul smell, paths that ooze grease wherever one sets foot and the filthy backyards and locations of highly-respected and worshipped places are results of this.
Some individuals throwing something ‘insignificant’ at some point of time, repeated by many others, many times. Thus, every individual has done their share in making the planet dirty and inhospitable.
“Consumerism” tells one that “possessing more stuff makes you more happy”. Like all other “-ism”s, it is making one observe a pattern of living. If blindly followed without paying attention to what’s happening, one becomes a slave of consumerism. This makes the person shop more, buy more, use more and throw more, but at each moment one gets restless or stressed trying to keep up the earnings to match the expenditure.
At the same time the environment gets restless. The resources, and much of them non-biodegradable, are used up faster and thrown out on the planet faster than the rate of decomposing. This social and environmental unrest will prevail as long as people believe that happiness is in the things one acquires.
The streets are full of beautiful shops filled with ever so many items waiting to be bought and “consumerists” are grabbing them. It is easy to point fingers at others, complain or start an argument on consumerism and saving the planet. However, one’s world is made by oneself. So let’s look into oneself.
You, as an X years old wo/man, have so many wants. Life goes on day by day, moment to moment. Therefore, let’s start from the morning, and make a list of items required to support your life starting from toothbrush, wash basin, commode… to the bed, pillows sheets and fan or A/C. As a simple exercise to see what each of us can do to save the Earth, let’s do this activity without comparing or worrying oneself to others. First, make a three column table and list the items that you want in the left hand side column.
Then go to the places, say for example; to see the shampoo bottles, you got to go to the bathroom and, may be there would be some new bottles in your store room as well, and note each item on the middle column.
If there are five shampoo bottles use five lines to mention them separately. Please be open minded that this list may get longer than a couple of pages. Now, if you like you may analyse the number of items that you have bought within a year, in terms of money, kg or ml of the useful product (food, shampoo) and the amount of paper/plastic in the form of packaging/bottles. Do this listing for all the items, shoes, ties, belts, earrings, necklaces, plates, cups, cloths, scents, cooking pans, brooms, food, etc.
The third column is for remarks. For each item, indicate whether that item is in use, not used any more (for some reason say, expired, or you don’t like the smell or out of fashion, etc.). As you complete this long list, you’ll realise that there is a unique consumerist monster in you and that you love/crave to have certain items over the other items. With your heart’s consent see if you can give away the items that are not in use. You can then decide upon extracting yourself from the vicious cycle of consumerism.
This country has all the resources to sustain us and if we take the effort, we would find that a local Ayurveda shop would have enough of natural herbs that could replace your many shampoo bottles, soap and toothpaste. You could bring these resources from the Ayurveda shop to your home wrapped in paper or take an old ice cream container or any other.
It is normal that someone may not feel ready to let go of items that were bought or gifted. Sharing such items among relations or friends makes the bonds stronger. Or one may sell it for a lower price. Anyway, all items are degrading even when not used.
The advantage of giving is that it bestows on the giver a rewarding feeling when you gift usable items to those who can use them. It also instils in us a sense of detachment to things.As a society, when such items are given away, the use of earth’s resources is going to be reduced because the demand for new products is reduced. Just like individual acts of consumption initiated global deterioration, individual acts of saving will lead towards global restoration, which means our own lives will improve. Apps and internet-based platforms can be created to facilitate such sharing of items, sales and give away.
Class of society
Our ancestors had a saying about the “class” of a person. The worst of the classes is the “third class” person, who makes the place dirty and does not bother to clean.
The “second class” person is one who makes the place dirty but who pays and appoints a person to clean the place. The best is the “First class” person, who ensures s/he cleans the mess made by himself or herself. Earthlings were “third class” before recognising the hole in the ozone layer.
Then, they have become “second class” by dumping all the garbage of First World countries on poorer countries such as in Asia and Africa with a payment. They finally came to an agreement on stopping use of ozone depleting chemicals and worked towards that, and now the positive effect of reforming the ozone layer is observed. However, there is still much to do to save this Earth (and thereby ourselves). Thus we have to do so with diligence if we are to escape the curse of future generations for creating a hell on earth.
he writer, BSc Eng (Mechanical), PhD (Loughborough, UK), is serving as a Senior Lecturer of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of University of Moratuwa.]