Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Sujatha Manivasagam  (she reads and comments on many of the posts here). She is a former team mate of Priya Raju and I.  She reads a lot on a variety of topics. And it shows in this first ever blog post that she has written. Please be generous with your comments and encourage her. She eventually wants to start her own blog.  Way to go Sujatha. – Sukumar


Right from the days of childhood, as a new year unwinds my dad would sit with us, talk about what we did last year and also plan on a few new resolutions for the year. Some of the resolutions would happen but most of them would go down the drain in a few days, anything relating to studies especially…. This trend continued through my adulthood, but over the past few years, my husband and I plan on changing one thing in our life every year and work around it. Last year we decided to eat healthy and avoid eating outside. Since it was one small change it helps us focus and we did stick to it for the most part, occasionally when we eat outside we did make healthy choices.

During our family TV time, we had watched movies like Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, “March of the Penguins ”, Discovery channels “Planet Earth” series etc. and we always talk about what we can do about it, Last week we watched an Oprah’s show on “Going Green” with simple changes we can make around the house to save the environment. And we put together our goal for 2008, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”– the 3 steps to Going Green. As a first step, we started looking around our house and made a few changes on our journey towards going green.

The amount of trash accumulating in the landfills are alarmingly high, so before we throw anything into the trash bag, think if we can reuse or recycle it. Over the past couple of years we have donated books, clothes, toys, computers, furniture etc. to local donation centers, libraries and schools. I have also made up my mind to think twice before we buy something – this is not easy, but I am working on it.

Paper is the number one material we all throw away everywhere – for every 100 pounds of trash 35 pounds is paper, my second area to sneak into and explore. In my kitchen, I use my kitchen towel mostly and also got the select-a-size napkin (it is the half-way perforated one) which cuts the napkin use by half. Just cutting down one paper napkin a day makes a huge difference. We went Paperless with our bank statements; it is saving trees and also preventing identity thefts. Every time we say “no” to the ATM and gas station receipts. At office my husband reduces the paper usage by making double-sided prints. In the grocery shop, instead of paper or plastic grocery bags I am planning to use reusable cotton bags which can be washed and reused.

As part of reducing the power usage around the house, we did simple changes like replacing regular light bulbs with Compact Florescent Light bulb (CFL), using a Power strip to plug in our TV, computer and other appliances and switching it off every night and unplugging empty cell phone chargers. We use rechargeable batteries for all our daily home electronic devices such as wall clock, remotes etc. that reduces the amount of combustible metals going into the landfills.

Using energy efficient Washer and Dryer and also using cold water to wash that saves a lot of energy. One major change we made is to program the thermostat 2 degrees below average during winter months and 2 degrees above during summer.

We use the car for my husband’s work commute, running errands etc. and use the SUV only when the whole family goes out. It’s also easy to understand that shutting down the engine of the car while waiting for somebody reduces the carbon emission and fuel.

Water conservation is something every Chennai resident learns from the early days of their life, so I do use water efficiently. We changed the shower head to a low flow shower to save 50% of the water used. I always run the dishwasher only if it is full, hand-wash the dishes if it is less. In the washing machine, we reset the run cycle every time based on load size.

Other major plans and changes around the house is to use natural (plant based) eco-friendly cleaning products instead of chemicals thus reducing the amount of toxic gases and chemicals around our home.

I read a news article about our former President Mr.Kalam’s visit to Kochi, where the local folks had cut down trees in a small area to create a helipad for his visit. On hearing this, Mr.Kalam expressed deep concern about the cutting down and immediately ordered to plant 3 new saplings for every tree that was cut down. This summer I plan to plant a single tree, a shrub or a small container of herbs that will help clean the air.

Global Warming, Energy Conservation, Saving the world these are some of the alarming words we hear everyday as we flip channels or newspapers. Although it may sound a monstrous task at first sight, making small changes around our house and in our lifestyle can help save the environment and help the beautiful universe survive for a few more years. So, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and please pass the word and try to make one change today – “Let’s be the change we want the world to be”.

Here are a few numbers which would force you into Going Green.

  1. If each American household replaces one bulb with a CFL bulb, it is like reducing the carbon emission equivalent emitted by 800,000 cars.

  2. More than 380 million plastic bags are thrown away in the United States every year, and those plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade in landfills. And while paper bags do eventually biodegrade, an estimated 14 million trees a year have to be cut down to make 10 billion paper bags.

  3. We use 2,200 paper napkins a year, per person on average. So if we all gave up one napkin a day, we could save a billion pounds of paper waste from going to landfills a year.

  4. Receipts from 8 billion ATM transactions every year are one of the biggest sources of litter on the planet. If everyone left their receipts in the machine, it would save a roll of paper more than 2 billion feet long—enough to circle the equator more than 15 times,

  5. Shutting your car off while waiting for 10 minutes less per day can keep 550 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air every year.

  6. People use an average of 2.5 gallons of fresh water for every minute they shower.

All data presented here have been collected mostly from the following websites


Oprah’s Going Green 101:

Elizabeth Rogers “The Green Book”: and Google Search on “Going Green”.


  1. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 19, 2008, 12:40 pm:

    Amazing article, Sujatha. You & Anbu have given this topic a lot of thought. What a wonderful topic for your 1st post.

    We recycle paper, glass/plastic bottles & plastic bags. We avoid printing documents & rely on soft copies whenever possible. And we use a cloth dish towel instead of a paper towel. We also avoid using a dryer for our clothes. In Chennai, a nice indoor clothes-horse for drying suffices & saves power.

    We’ve been thinking about taking our own bags to buy groceries & vegetables. Time to act on it, I guess! But there’s no way to avoid using plastic bags for garbage now, is there? Any suggestions on that?

    The Indian govt is taking some good steps – around emphasizing why people need to switch to CFLs (people are reluctant though, as those bulbs cost more. What they fail to see is, using a CFL will reduce their electricity bill & defray the cost of the bulb) & the need to use fly-ash bricks for construction. China has recently imposed a ban on plastic shopping bags. A step in the right direction, I think.

    I don’t even want to talk about the dumping ground for South Chennai’s garbage: Pallikkarnai, a protected marsh-land. Garbage is dumped & burnt there, sending the nesting birds scrambling for cover. But habitat destruction is a different story altogether.

  2. Quote

    Hi Sujatha,

    Nice and enlightening post. Here we are also into Green since last year. Things I could do are
    1) Bought a Hybrid Camry. (and had to fight with my wife how SUV is not the best choice. If all our parents come, we can always rent it from Hertz).
    2) Set thermostat as you are doing.
    3) Eat less eggs and more vegetables. Organic food as much as my wallet allows. Poultry and meat production has many times more carbon footprint than grain/ vegetables produce. The more consumers use Organic, the less their price becomes.
    4) Reduce buying water rich vegetables…like Lettuce.. Cant imagine lettuce sold at Tampa comes all the way from CA. Lettuce grows a lot at Homestead,FL near Miami. But somehow Walmart’s economics prove that it is cheaper to bring it on road from CA which is 2500 miles .
    5) Conserve water, power, TV, Monitor, Printer, you name it….we try to switch off anything that need not be turned on.
    6) Biodegradable products as much as possible. Cottons are cool for Florida climate. Wearing leather jacket makes us feel like in Tandoori here.

    Over all, that covers perhaps only 20% that I could do…lot to improve.


  3. Quote
    Saraswathi said January 19, 2008, 3:55 pm:

    Thoughtful post Sujatha!! It is a great post to start off your blogging experience:)

    Though I pretty well know the consequences of using plastic,paper and benefits of energy conservation, never gave it a second thought to bring about changes in my house. Your post is surely an incentive for me to introduce some changes.

    My father used to always use the a cotton bag in India to buy vegetables. Ofcourse we could never avoid plastic bags while buying provisions in supermarkets. As for water and electricity conservation, my mom would always be careful. She would take every extra care to switch off lights/fans if they were not needed. I used to switch off my monitor in office before leaving for the day.

    You have pointed out some really relevant points to bring about changes in our lifestyle to help preserve our environment and in turn benefit ourselves!!

  4. Quote

    Awesome post!!! What a wonderful way to begin the New Year!!!

    Thanks for all the pointers.

  5. Quote

    Fantastic post Sujatha. It remided me of my childhood days, when wasting was considered very wrong. Mom used to carry a reusable wire bag to the vegetable vendor, now-a-days even the smallest of shops use plastic covers. Switching of the lights and fans when not it use, thats something which my dad insists on even now.
    Your post was eye opening. There are so many smalls corrections we can do and make a big difference. It has given me lot to think about.
    Looking forward to your blog.

  6. Quote

    How To Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long — the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in — costing you higher heating bills.

    Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

    But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home — the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

    Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

    Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door — do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and AC Returns

    Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.

    If attic access is inconvenient, or for AC returns, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter and AC return. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed.


    Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

    Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? Hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when warm heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

    Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit

  7. Quote

    Sukumar, Thank you for providing an opportunity for me to be a part of your prestigious blog. When you asked me if i would like to write something, i was stunned for a moment. As always you had been my mentor, be it my first job or my first blog post. Thanks again.

    Priya, you are right. i haven’t seen anything other than plastic bags for garbage. Very sad to hear about the dumpster in chennai. I do miss the air dried clothes in india, we never get that crispy feel when we use the dryer.

    Hema,Thank you for reading it.

    Vamsi, Thanks for all the pointers about the changes we can do to our food buying and choices that are available. In florida, you can actually buy all the vegetable fresh in the farmer’s market.

    Saraswathy & Archana, Yes. Our parents and grandparents were really good with reduce, reuse and recycle.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  8. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 19, 2008, 11:51 pm:

    Vamsi – Ah, I’m really glad to know this about the lettuce. Its an evil vegetable – tastes like a wet jute bag, has an awful texture & now its bad for the environment. Why, when we were kids, even our neighbor’s goats refused to eat lettuce 😀

    Hybrid vehicles aren’t available in India, sadly. There’s an electric car where just 2 people can sit, where you can’t even carry 1 week’s worth of groceries.

    Sujatha – The biggest mess that worries me is all the PCBs & the electronic junk that we are creating. Any thoughts on that?

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said January 20, 2008, 9:03 am:

    Thanks for the kind words Sujatha.

    Looks like a fine discussion is afoot.

    Does anyone have any ideas on biodegradeable plastics? I’ve seen some news items on this for a while now. Has the USA started using them in any reasonable volume? Maybe they are a good solution for the garbage problem Priya raises.

    Vamsi, interesting bit on lettuce. Now I have a much better excuse to say no to it – eco-consciousness!

  10. Quote

    Lettuce has 96% water. I have no issues if someone eats it from backyard. But being integral part of American so call health diet for salads and BLT burger(though it has very less % fiber), it is transported across USA at a high cost in air conditioned trucks. We dont do that to water never transported chilled… That shoots up the carbon foot print.

    Even if we are just sitting at a US home, we will be contributing a lot to the Global warming. 🙂

    Hybrid car, though good for wallet (it takes 5 years to break even as we pay extra premium for buying the car itself ),I think, is never a substitute for using public transportation. Anti-hybrid cars lobby accuses that the Ni-MH battery production itself has a large carbon foot print. It works out good for Toyota because they own 60% of Panasonic, which makes those batteries. Anyways, nothing beats Hydrogen cars if they are available.

    Priya, Do you think electric cars (the ones we have to plug everyday to the socket), solves the problem? Electricity is also a non-renewable energy and it comes at some eco-cost. Doesn’t it?

  11. Quote


    Lot of homeowners in the US use Compost bins to discard & reuse yard wastes and food scraps. This produces an organic fertilizer, reducing the need to buy chemical fertilizers. Above all, reduces the amount of garbage., thus reducing the number of plastic garbage bags considerably. Most cities offices in the US, sell these compost bins for a reasonable price. I know, preparing the compost does take time and effort, but is really worth it in the long run.
    Not sure how the same can be implemented/enforced in Indian Metros. Have been meaning to buy one ever since we moved into our home (i.e. a year and a half):-). This post has prompted us to do it now. Thank you, Sujatha.

  12. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 20, 2008, 12:10 pm:

    Vamsi – If good mass-transit options are available, they should be used whenever possible. Operative word being “good”.

    Barring that, we can only switch to options that leave a smaller carbon footprint. Or, try car-pooling to the office. What else can be done if public transportation sucks (as in Chennai)?

    Another thing. I don’t know why solar power isn’t used much in India. It can really be an alternative to the thermal & hydel (not to mention nuclear) power plants.

    Hema – Compost is a good idea. Sukumar just showed me an article in the “Mylapore Times” about apartment complexes using compost bins & using them for the neighborhood gardens. Cool!

  13. Quote


    There are lots of biodegradable products(kitchen containers,trash bags,paper products,cutlery etc.) now in the market but mostly sold online, i haven’t seen them stores.

    During this year’s Oscar ads, there was a biodegradable bottled water company Biota which was one of the sponsers but i haven’t seen their product in the market yet.
    Target sells a lot of eco-friendly cleaning products, laundry detergent and paper products.

  14. Quote


    Seems like there are some biodegradable garbage bags available for use with compost but not for regular garbage disposal.

  15. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said January 21, 2008, 11:00 am:

    Thanks Sujatha. I saw a company advertising biodegradeable plastic bags in Mylapore the other day. Looks like the usage of these is not yet pervasive in the USA.

  16. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 21, 2008, 11:01 pm:

    Vamsi – I request you to write a follow-up post on the carbon footprints left by various energy sources. And about the the kind of carbon offset methods that common people can use.

  17. Quote

    Excellent post sujatha.. its one of the best post that i have read.. I am going to recommend it to all my friends for a read…

    What’s the use, if i dont follow atleast one of the good things you have mentioned. I decided, that i would never use tissue paper in our office, right from now. 🙂

    I chose not to demand for plastic bags, from stores, if i can carry them in my hand.

    I will focus on these two for coming months.

    I had already successfully practices two resolutions. 1. Not to touch coke. 2. To avoid allopathic medicines, as much as possible.

    In 1990’s our government was sponsoring lot of such renewable sources of energy. For example, in our rural areas a lot of people were using Gobar gas, and use the methane produced for cooking, lighting etc. Stoves specially designed for using woods as fuel, is also widely predominant 10 years back. But, later, people started applying for LPG gas, and all the infrastructure were left to its fate. This has increased lot of stress on fossil fuels.

    There is also some movement for sustainable settlements.. there should be limit to level of urbanisation in any given place. We should have cities, properly backed by villages. Every village should be self-sustained one, in all aspects.
    The source and consumption of goods should be kept as near as possible, so as to reduce transportation cost. We can do this atleast in agriculture. (Now, the vegetables are bought from pollachi, teni, tenkaasi to chennai, increasing transportation).

    Efficient distribution system should be created, so as to offer food substances fresh without any processing. For example, dairy is thriving business. But, if we had designed the milk distribution system, we could have delivered milk afresh, thus saving so much of energy in chilling, processing & packaging. We could have reduced use of packeted milk, only to essential situations, thus reducing plastics wastes associated with it.

    Organic foods.. I recommend it to be an immediate resolve. If you get a chance, please read Rachol Carson’s “Silent Spring”. The pesticides, that are sprayed to the crops gets accumulated in our fats, and it will have its effect only when this fat is used by our body, like when we are dieting for weight loss, or due to starvation. The more dangerous is that the pesticides gets converted in to 100 times more dangerous substance inside our body. For example, the substance, aldrin is converted to dieldrin, which is 100 times more powerful, inside our liver. Lots of such critical information, mentioned in that book.. (in india, its not available in book stores.. but i think, its available in US).

    Organic food is costly today, because of the cost involved in moving away from pesticides and fertilisers. Due to continuous use of fertilisers for around 40 years, the land has lost all the essential vital eco-system for natural sustainable farming. For the first two years, the yield will be dead low.

  18. Quote

    In our office also, the pesticides are sprayed in our bays regularly every week to control pests & mosquitoes. One weekend, i checked the name of that.. Only brand names were available in the can. It was stated that these substances are highly penetrable to skin.. ie, it will enter in to our body, just by touching it, or it gets sprayed on us.

  19. Quote

    Thanks Senthil. I am happy to hear that you have made some new changes in your life to save the planet.

    I had also heard about Gobar gas usage in rural areas. In the past 10-15 years we have started using lots of plastic in india, especially in the grocery shops for packaging. i remember the times when milk used to be delivered in reusable glass bottles in the 80s, grocery shops packing in used newspapers etc.

    The facts about Organic foods is true. I will try to grab that book and read.

  20. Quote

    What a thoughtful post, Sujatha! I just wanted to add that there’s a website that I recently saw that has some great info about water conservation – I recommend checking it out:


  21. Quote
    pk.karthik said January 23, 2008, 7:48 am:

    Really interesting post Sujatha.It was really insighfully.I had accidently or rather unconciosuly kicked out some eco damaging habits..but ur post made me realise their importance…I feel i can now imporve upon them and my drops to the ocean..

  22. Quote

    Thanks Gwen and Karthik.

    Gwen, The link had a lot of tips for water conservation but the water consumption calculater is not working after a few screens. Anyway i will try again later.

    Also, Whole Foods, the Grocery chain of Organic foods announced yesterday it is going Plastic bag free in all its shops by Earth Day(April 22nd). They will use either reusable bags or have recycled paper bags instead of plastic bags. I hope the other grocery chains catch up on it.

  23. Quote

    Thank you for promoting reuse. It is a totally misunderstood and underused enviromental, economic and charitable activity. May I suggest that anyone looking for ideas about REUSE take a look at “Choose to Reuse” a book I coauthored. It is the only comprehensive guide to this subject ever written. (Don’t buy it take it out from the library – one of the best reuse strategies ever devised.) David Goldbeck

  24. Quote

    Sujatha – Some simple steps go a long way. I wish people in India knew more about this. I’m wondering how to reach out to a wider audience & tell them about this.

    1. Always carry a cloth tote bag. This way, you can avoid plastic bags that you get when you buy almost anything.

    2. Carry a bottle of water with you. Then, you don’t have to buy a plastic bottle of water in a restaurant or coffee shop.

    3. Avoid gift-wrapping whenever possible. Especially if the gift is already packed in an attractive box.

    Of course in India, people recycle paper & plastic or glass jars to a great extent. And used clothes, electronic items etc are given away.

    If people also choose bamboo, rattan, cane or water hyacinth instead of traditional wood to do their interiors – that will be even better for protecting our forests.

    All in all – a very thought provoking post. My cousin has read this post & has decided to go green. I have to thank you for that 😀

  25. Quote

    Thank you Mark D.Tyrol on all your tips on how energy can be saved. All the easy solutions you had mentioned are very helpful. We will definitely look into these areas.

    Thank you David for your comments, reusing is more important as you had mentioned. We try not to buy a book unless i really love rereading them often. Your book definitely sounds interesting, i will try to get it at my local library.

    Thank you again Priya, Great tips especially with gift wraps and furnitures.
    Media and Government in US are spreading a lot of awareness to the people. I am not sure how much it is talked about in India. Lets try to spread the word as much possible. Even a small step goes a long way.

  26. Quote

    I came across this article on climate change by arun shourie.. as usual, the detail in which he articulates his point needs lot of efforts for us to grab and understand..

    The core message is that patch up works that is being undertaken now in the name of green initiatives will not be effective, unless there is a fundamental shift in the way the development and progress happens in a country.. In that sense, the very fundamentals of benchmarking a developed state should be reviewed.

    In india, there is only 7 out of 1000 who owns a car whereas in developed countries, its 700 out of 1000.. if we attempt to reach the level of developed countries, will the earth bear this?

  27. Quote

    The second part of the article:

    “There is more to life than GDP..

    We are losing the life, for the sake of the GDP numbers… we need metrics in our life, both work and personal. But we should not be blinded by that numbers..

Leave a Comment



Formatting Your Comment

The following XHTML tags are available for use:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

URLs are automatically converted to hyperlinks.