Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I was noticing that the soles of my Simple Shoes are being worn out, and I was wondering what would happen to them when the soles were completely worn out. The shoes are made of either recycled materials or natural materials like hemp. But the rubber soles made me think about something of a much grander scale - tires for cars. I remember Professor Filisko telling us in our introductory materials science class that rubber can't really be recycled, and that you'd become the richest person in the world if you figured out how. A few years ago, car tires could not be recycled. But now, apparently, car tires are being used for various other purposes once they have been discarded, but apparently there are more than one billion tires discarded annually. This means, however, that more than one billion new tires are being made from natural resources annually. Just as with metals, these materials are being taken out of the earth, and are now crowding the living space on the surface of the earth. Sure, recycling, or reuse of materials is worthwhile, but we continue to extract more and more materials. It is not as if we are saying, "Okay, our stock of rubber that we have processed and is now available for use is all we are going to have for the next 100 years, and so we are going to have to make due with what we've done so far." The paradigmatic shift is to move away from concepts of "consumption" and "efficiency" to the concept of "sufficiency," as Professor Princen says.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Private choices

"However destructive may be the policies of the government and the methods and products of the corporations, the root of the problem is always to be found in private life. We must learn to see that every problem that concerns us as conservationists always leads straight to the question of how we live." Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community - Wendell Berry

Jennifer sent me this link about how Coca-Cola is encouraging the people of the world to be more conscious, environmentally-friendly, and to be better citizens. It is incredible how a company that has been accused of polluting waters and wreaking havoc on ground water supplies all around the world can encourage us to continue to to buy their product, and at the same time make us feel good about ourselves. We are devoted, committed and loyal to companies and corporations that produce brands and products that have no empathy, sympathy, and concern for anything other than their own profit. Left in their path are destroyed land, water, air and communities. How are we to fight back? More importantly, how are we to live true to our ethics and philosophies as conservationists? It absolutely comes down to private choices in our daily lives that can have influences on those people around us. What we must come to terms with is the fact that we must change our conceptions of what is good for us, what we need to live, and what we need to be responsible citizens in our communities. We cannot continue to let entities like Coca-Cola define what is good for the world, and what we need to be doing to make our impacts on the environment less harmful. Take a stand, and make the hard private choices.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finding ways to continue unsustainability

For many centuries, humans have centered their societies around energy use and combustion of fuels. Humans have traditionally burned biological matter, such as wood, for millenia. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have focused on other types of biological matter burning, just fossilised now. Because of rising concerns about "carbon dioxide emissions," we are at a point now where burning fuels such as wood, and fuels derived from living biological materials, such as ethanol and palm oils, has become more "attractive" from a carbon dioxide "life cycle perspective." However, this has led tot he clearing out of rainforests in ecologically sensitive and important regions such as in Borneo and the Amazon. Ethanol derived from corn competes with out abilities to feed people. Ethanol from algae-based feedstocks have always been "five years away." But say we did find "alternative fuels" that will adequately displace fossil fuel use. How much land are we going to need to supply the world's growing demand for energy? How much energy do we need, period? Indeed, the questions about alternative fuels lead us to deeper philosophical, ethical and moral considerations about how we choose to live. What will it take for us to ask the hard questions?

I've been meaning to add a "Good, bad and the ugly guide to Ann Arbor eating and trash." I need to think about this more, and come up with a list of recommendations for each place you go to, so that you, too, may be able to reduce your trash generation there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Centralisation and trash

As I mentioned in a previous post, our communities have been giving proxies to outside entities to "take care of what we need to take care of." We have been on a mission of centralisation - centralisation of money, centralisation of data, centralisation of power, centralisation of production, centralisation of energy production, and centralisation of water-treatment. This has resulted in families, communities and regions relying on foreign communities and regions to provide essential basics such as food. We have also ended up creating hubs of even those things that make us human, such as "culture" and "entertainment." For example, we rely on agro-business interests to provide us foods (wherefrom, we don't know), we rely on Hollywood to make us movies, and we think that culture resides in New York. In the end, we have "specialised" in some thing, and have therefore willingly given up to ability to know and learn and do other things. This specialisation and these proxies have not, however, decreased our appetite for things we can't do for ourselves. We have thus resorted transporting items, products, goods, foods and culture from one place to the next. Our products and toys come in cardboard boxes, with styrofoam peanuts, wrapped in bubble-wrap, taped up in tape, and enclosed in more cardboard. Our food comes in boxes and hermetically-sealed plastic bags with little plastic containers enclosed. What do you do with all of this when you've taken out what you wanted?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Harmony and trash

While at the Farmer's Market today, Richard of Tantre Farms introduced me to Barry, who used to be a construction worker for the University of Michigan. We got into talking about what I wanted to do after school, and the conversation inevitably moved to talking about nature. He used a word in a phrase that I haven't thought about in a while - harmony in nature. He mentioned how in nature, even though there is constant change, there is harmony in change, such that at any given moment, there is a complex and beautiful relationship between all of the forces, lives and non-sentient beings that constitute nature. This got me thinking about waste and trash. Every living being produces some form of "waste," by expelling any surplus requirements back into nature. I use quotation marks because this "waste" is actually food for nature, and something that contributes to the harmony in nature. On the other hand, trash is something that is out of context with nature, and is totally inharmonious. By creating trash in our communities and in how we have structured our interactions, we have given up on harmony in and with nature. We are introducing synthetic toxins and chemicals into water, land and air that have been pristine for millions of years. What trash says about us is that we are not willing to do all it takes to make sure our impacts on earth are fleeting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guest blogger Jennifer: BBQ in Florida

My co-workers are BBQ afficionados. We traveled to a fabled spot yesterday - a local favorite sporting homemade sauce, super-sweet iced tea, and walls covered in gator (UF) memorabilia interspersed with signed photographs of homegrown politicians. Unfortunately no BBQ place I know of down here is like Slow’s in Detroit with its spectacular veggie options. My lunch choices were limited: coleslaw, potato salad, and key lime pie. What struck me as I stood in line, thanks to Darshan’s influence, was that every single food item involved a piece of trash: styrofoam trays for sandwiches, plastic containers with lids for salads, boxes for dessert, and plastic cups and tableware. Paper napkins are a given. Our group of 27 was fixin’ to use about 170 pieces of trash, of which I contributed 6.

The dark hilarity of it all was that nestled in between the two trash cans was another container, above which was a sign: "Please be green and recycle your soda cans!"

The rest of the day I pondered what would have to happen to wake up everyone (myself included) to our constant use and abuse of our surroundings and make a drastic change. Will we ever stop doing things just because they are easy and stop using things just because they are supplied to us by those profiting from their use?

These questions are also relevant to the episode of The Story I listened to this morning that spoke of the horrid exploitation of sharks for their fins. By some accounts, 90% of the world’s shark population has been depleted for this very reason (about 100 million sharks killed per year), in order for rising middle and upper classes to feel secure in themselves slurping as kings once did the tasteless cartilage. As a wise person once said, money is the root of all kinds of evil. The pursuit of it certainly has been the main destroyer of the world.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I went to visit Melissa in Chicago last weekend. Melissa had asked me what she needed to do to help me out in trying to generate no trash. I said that I was sure it wouldn't be that big a deal - maintaining constant vigilance was something I needed to work on as mentioned previously. Well, it turns out it is way easier to be vigilant in Ann Arbor than in Chicago. The first night I was there, we went to a nice looking bar to eat. I ordered soup with Irish soda bread, and failed to anticipate the butter in little packets that came along with the bread. When ordering my beer, I assumed that since the beer was local, it would be a draught beer. I ended up with a bottle. When we went to eat deep dish pizza, napkins, totally unused, were whisked away because they were a little "wet" and were promptly replaced by other napkins. Indeed, I learned (again) that I need to be very upfront with everyone about what I am trying to do. It was hard convincing a Pakistani man on Devon Avenue that I was sane after I asked him to make me paan (after-dinner mouth freshener) without any wrapping around it.

Have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Here's a picture of an albatross chick (a marine bird) that died because it was fed plastic.

In the next post, I'll post about the the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly restaurants in Ann Arbor regarding trash, and some tips for all of you on how to avoid trash.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A win for Chicago, a loss for the environment

As you may know, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup after a really long time...49 years? Indeed, this was a call for celebration. But unfortunately, another landfill was probably started because of it. The team parade through downtown completely trashed it. I'll talk about Chicago again in the next post, but until then, savour the following...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Addressing complexity with more complexity

We lead such complicated lives today - You have to start saving for your retirement. What pension plan do you choose? A 401(k)? Is your employer offering you the best possible options? We need insurance for health, but you can't afford it. You pay out of your pocket to treat an injury, and you're bankrupt. You have a device that updates you on your friend's statuses on Facebook. You can travel to India, but because of heightened security reasons, all of your shampoo and lotion must be in containers no larger than 3 fl. oz., kept in a clear plastic bag. Schooling in America is "broken" and your child sees drugs and violence daily at school. There are chemicals of all sorts in your processed foods, chemicals that have never been tested for any human or environmental health impacts. Complicated problems we face daily. What is our approach to solving these problems? More complexity.

Let's make sure that people have health insurance by having the government create a competitive market for insurance providers. Let's create a variety of different school types and have states make up plans of how they'll improve over the next five years so they'll get money, and let's provide incentives for teachers so that they do their job, and if not, fire them. Let's create legislation to make sure that chemicals used in our foods, for cleaning up oil spills, for treating medical waste, can somehow be tested for their impacts on our earth. What unfortunately we do when we try to address problems in such a manner is that we add even more complexity to our lives, and to our problems. Then, when we realise that there are problems with our so-called "solutions," we address those problems, not the original problems, to make sure that we don't further dig ourselves into a hole. We lose sight and track of what we actually have to deal with - deep-rooted cultural, social, economic, ethical, moral and environmental discrepancies and problems in how we interact with ourselves, animals, non-sentient beings, and our earth.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Packaging, information and trust

Most of the minuscule amount of trash that I've generated in the past two months has come from food and groceries. Fresh foods generally have no packaging, and they also do not have any "nutrition facts," whereas "processed" foods seem to have both packaging and these nutrition details. I have bought processed foods - things like granola - but in bulk, with no packaging. I've filled bags that I've had since before I started trying to generate no trash. I've read the ingredients of the granola before I bought it, because on the bins that contain the granola at the People's Food Co-op, they have a little info sheet telling me where the food was made, and what it contains. Once I have purchased the granola, I never feel the need to look at ingredients or nutrition facts. Here's the question that Ryan, Poonam, Tim and I got started talking about last night - how do you convey and keep ingredient and nutrition infomation handy after you purchase it? Say someone has Celiac Disease and wants to know if something is gluten-free? How would you do that for a city of one million people?

It seems like there is a certain trust and acceptance that people show when purchasing fresh, raw foods, like apples, cucumbers and onions. When I say trust, I mean that these foods have been exposed to people and the elements and have potential to be contaminated, but people buy them nonetheless. In the produce aisles of stores, I've never really seen warnings or labels or nutrition facts for these foods, apart from their names. But it seems like processed or cooked foods are always labeled and tagged and marked with tons of information, and packaged very carefully, even if there isn't really an issue with the food going bad if opened. Packaging ends up as trash. But is what I am saying imply that if you package processed foods, you should probably package fresh foods?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

On definitions and development

I'd like to mention first of all that Krista, Serge and I have planted a couple hundred seedlings to grow our own fruits and vegetables this summer and fall. We'll see how it goes. We started from seed. Here is a picture of my plot, and I'll be uploading a picture of Krista's plot soon.


The words "development," "developed," and "developing" are used so frequently and nonchalantly today that people stop to realise what they mean. (I guess that is the case with any "word of the day" like "sustainable.") These words have been used to describe communities, regions, countries, economies and landscapes. Why do these words mean what they mean? And who has defined what they mean? And why have we accepted the definitions of those who have defined them?

On the surface, ascribing the adjective "developing" to something is a good thing - there is motion, there is ambition. But ambition for what? To go where? What is being "developed" and why does that thing need to be "developed?" Is there anything wrong in just letting that thing be where it is, in the same state that we found it? Today the West has defined the word "developing" to mean having control over and exploiting natural resources that country has. Or, it can mean a country providing services for one of the "developed" countries. People around the world, unfortunately, have accepted these definitions. The outcome of this arrogant definition is that humans everywhere are on the wagon of trying to make some thing, that thing, any thing theirs - they want control over it, to see what it can do for themselves and their families. It is because someone is willing to "pay for it," whatever it is. Why isn't there value in leaving something untouched and unviolated?

When does a country move from "developing" to "developed?" Why does the definition of "developing" not include other unquantifiable things like culture, community, kinship, compassion and love? These are sentiments that will stay around much longer than money and values of GDP, than presidents and CEOs would care to admit. A focus on values of dividends, profits and revenues leads people to drill for oil where they shouldn't. They then boast how much money they make, and how much the area around them has "developed" and how many families they "support." But when something goes wrong, terribly wrong, irreversibly wrong, those very people have the arrogance to take a moral and ethical high ground by saying "we do the right thing," "we will restore the Gulf to the state it was in before." But why now is the conversation moving away from your "development" to unquantifiables like doing the "right" thing and "the state something was in before you touched it?" I hope it is because they feel, deep down, that they are wrong, and that all "development" isn't good, and that leaving some things unviolated is more valuable than the job it will provide for someone, somewhere.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What plastic bags say about how we live

Sarang sent me an article from the NYTimes, about how California is increasingly looking to ban the use of plastic bags, encouraging people to bring their own bags. That's terrific. But why have we come to a point where it is necessary to legislate common sense? I mean, doesn't it make complete sense to have a bag made out of cloth (say, an old dress) that you can use for years, rather than have some paper or plastic bag that tears, the handle of which may break at inopportune times, rendering the bag useless? No, convenience trumps all! A plastic bag represents something new, untouched, just for us to use once, maybe twice. It represents where we'd like to be - not here. It represents a sort of detachment from where we are, and what we are doing. It represents our obsession with cleanliness - totally sterile. It represents a sort of cavalier mentality, in which we can use what we need, get what we want out of it, and move on to the next thing. A plastic bag? Who knows where it came from? It looks like all of the other plastic bags that were produced from some oil from somewhere. No, these bags represent what else is out there. Why save one? Can a plastic bag have any sentimental value to anyone? Can it age with you? Can you pass it on to your child? Move on to the next frontier, lest we be left behind. Left behind with an old piece of cloth, a school uniform that performed its duty, until its master grew out of it. A piece of cloth that can be washed and reused, many a time, and be folded, without making irritating sounds and crunchy noises.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Constant vigilance

I realised I may have fallen into a "slump" with this reduced trash business - I don't think I have been as vigilant as I was when I started out about demanding and asking and knowing that no trash (at least, in front of my eyes) be produced by others around me, when they somehow are involved in my experiences at places. Examples - 1) Going to BTB, ordering a chimichanga, and asking for hot sauce, assuming that they would put the hot sauce inside of the chimichanga. No, they served it in a little plastic container alongside it. 2) Going to get a burger at Sidetracks and realising that they give burgers with these little, annoying tootpicks that stick through the burger, which generally have very little utility.

In the larger scheme of things, however, I think this is a very important lesson. Unless you are steadfast and vigilant about something, whatever it is, people will try to either convince you otherwise, or you will subconciously compromise your ethics, morals and principles regarding that issue. In the end, compromising will have eaten away at all that you've strived for. I am not saying that there is no room for "compromising" in life. But for what is essential and dear to us, compromising is tantamount failure. How much are we willing to compromise to "lessen impact" on our birds, amphibians, flowers, trees and water? No compromises. I can do more, and I must.