We Indians boast of an unparalleled rich and diverse culture with great pride. The infinite festivals celebrated across the length and breadth of the country all through the year are vibrant manifestations of this cultural richness and diversity. Festivals break the monotony of the mundane chores we get engaged with in daily life. So aptly they are a treat to the senses- the bright colours, lights and shimmer, the sounds, smells and tastes.
However they have an ugly side too, that stealthily but definitely threatens our environment and fellow beings on this planet. The copious amount of waste generated, noise, smoke generated during such celebrations poison our environment often culminating in irreparable damage. Taking a closer look at our activities during such occasions will help us identify potential threats and adopt an alternative strategy that is eco-friendly and at the same time maintains the festive spirit.
· Bursting of crackers
In India, most festivals are celebrated by bursting crackers, lighting sparklers, flower pots etc. Though they look magnificent against the night sky, they pollute the air with smoke and soot. Many metal salts are added during their making to give various colours. The noise produced disturbs children, the elderly and animals. It disturbs sleep and even causes hypertension and respiratory disorders. After the festival, streets are strewn with the harmful trash generated by crackers. Apart from the pollution they cause, many firework factories employ children who face many occupational hazards.
Alternative: Families can resolve to stop the use of crackers and fireworks. Children will surely understand, most often it is adults who need convincing. Instead, families and neighbourhoods can get together and enjoy a night of singing and dancing. Older people too can be involved in sharing stories and traditions with the young.
· Use of artificial colours and dyes
Who can enjoy Holi without colours? Diwali too is incomplete without colourful rangolis. But what if those colours were deceptive masks worn by deadly chemicals hazardous to humans, capable of triggering a host of health issues? At the end of a Holi celebration we get bathed in harmful dyes that can even cause cancer. A huge quantity of water gets wasted and the water balloons amount to non-biodegradable waste that pollutes the soil.
Alternative: Use natural and organic colours like haldi, henna etc. Tone down the excitement to use buckets of water to mix colours. Be creative and dye your clothes with plant extracts for a change.
· Immersion of idols in water bodies
During festivals like Durga Puja and Ganesh Chaturthi thousands of painted idols of deities are immersed in ponds, lakes and rivers along with flowers, plastic garlands, glittering decorations and even food items. Idols made of plaster of Paris pollute the water and alter its chemical properties. The colours from these idols leach out harmful chemicals, dyes and even heavy metal salts. Plastic waste is non-biodegradable and chokes aquatic life. The flowers, leaves and other puja items rot in the water and serve as ideal breeding grounds for microbes that either spread diseases or reduce the oxygen content of the water body. Needless to say the lake/pond or river chokes to death.
Alternative: Encourage children and others in the family to make unbaked clay idols (as DIY craft projects) that can be immersed in a pail of water or nearby water body without causing pollution. Idols can even be reused every year. It also teaches children to be environment conscious individuals.
· Wastage of electricity
Festivals and fairs witness indiscriminate use of electricity to light up homes, streets, halls etc. Loud music throughout the day has become the norm. To compensate for the overuse, power cuts become frequent after a festival.
Alternative: Use a small number of oil lamps, candles or energy saving LEDs for lighting. Use lighting only when necessary.
Generation of trash
The clean up after a festival, be it in a home, street or locality yields piles of mixed wastes that cannot be recycled or reused. The waste piles contain leftover food, flowers and leaves from pujas, paper and plastic cups, plates and spoons, decoration, cardboard boxes of sweets, clothes and gifts, gift wraps etc. Even during national festivals, plastic flags and sweet wrappers litter schools and offices.
Alternative: A little thought on what is really needed and what can be avoided prior to the festival will reduce a lot of waste. Reusable plates and glasses or eco-friendly plates can be used. Puja thalis can be reused. Decorations can be made from materials available at home. If we take that extra step to segregate the wastes, it will be easier to recycle them. Wastage of food can be avoided by taking and serving small helpings. Flowers, leaves and vegetable wastes can be composted. Involving children is the best way to spread the idea of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling.
Meaningless usage of edible items in rituals
Be it turmeric smeared rice used as akshate ( for blessing) or ash gourds filled with red dye that are smashed during Ayudh Puja, many rituals make use of food items that later get wasted. At a time when the world population and declining agriculture is driving us towards food crisis, it is certainly not acceptable to continue following such traditions where precious food gets wasted.
Alternative: Revisit ancient customs and rituals instead of mindlessly following them. May be they were relevant in olden days. Find out their relevance in the present scenario.
Useless giftsGifting is very common during festivals. Gifts are purchased thoughtlessly and exchanged during Navarathri, Diwali, Christmas etc. Most of them lie unused or tucked away in a cupboard only to be trashed later.
Alternative: Meaningful gifts that encourage environment friendly thought and behaviour can be given like books, plants or saplings. These need not be wrapped in plastic or paper, reducing the burden on or planet. Donate old clothes to the needy. Refrain from buying new clothes unless absolutely necessary.
Festivals are inevitably linked to feasting. A great number of delicacies are cooked at home or bought from outside. Sweets with artificial colours, deep fried snacks and dishes bathed in oil and ghee look very tempting and inviting. In a country that is on its way to being the capital of all lifestyle disorders, this is an unhealthy trend.
Alternative: Healthy and tasty meals can be prepared at home. People should eat keeping in mind their lifestyle and health. Instead of sharing sweets, healthy recipes can be tried out and shared.
During festivals, people compete with others in the apartment/locality for putting up the best display/decoration/ meal. In the process a lot of money and material gets wasted. A lot of money gets wasted in buying new clothes, home decor and a list of not so necessary items. People often indulge in impulsive buying due to discount sales and offers during festival time.
Alternative: Get together as a group to celebrate festivals. Families can together make a single display (be it a christmas tree, golu, pookalam or rangoli) that will save time, money and materials. It will also foster friendships and spread the message of sharing. Plan a visit with loved ones to a nearby shelter or orphanage. Spread the spirit of the festival by sharing your time and gifts with them. Such humanitarian acts are the best ways to inculcate in children and youngsters important values which adults often complain are lacking.
So this festive season, let your creative juices flow. Reduce, reuse recycle, compost, donate, share and do just about everything you can to have a safe, eco-friendly and above all, a more meaningful celebration.