A whole lota environmentalism going on

In today’s NYT there is an article about a bobo couple’s experiment with low impact living in “an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue”. They’re eating only locally grown food stuffs and eschewing even spices, olive oil and vinegar because these come from further away. They’re buying only food, composting their trash, and they’ve stopped using paper. All paper. Writing paper, paper towel, and even … toilet paper. This last bit is supposed to let us know that they’re serious about their experiment:

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A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there… Toothpaste is baking soda … Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying… [Link]

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p>I’m just not impressed. Don’t get me wrong, as an ABD I like my conveniences, and I’m not willingly going give this one up. On the other hand, it just doesn’t seem like that much of a hard core thing to do. My FOB friends swear that TP is unhygienic compared to a lota; a buddy from silicon valley used to smuggle his in and out of the bathroom because he just felt … dirtier without.

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p>For this couple, it’s all part of a stunt designed to generate a non-fiction book (he’s a writer). However, a far better place to look for hard core urban environmentalism is in the Dharavi slums of Bombay, Asia’s largest. Dharavi takes the discards of Bombay’s 19 million residents and turns it into close to $1 Billion of production a year, making it the world’s richest slum.

… Dharavi is becoming the green lung stopping Mumbai choking to death on its own waste… This is where 80 per cent of Mumbai’s plastic waste is given a new life. All around young boys cart wheelbarrows filled with everyday plastic waste. Junk is a word that does not exist. Dharavi’s plastic recycling industry employs almost 10,000 people, melting, reshaping and moulding discarded plastic. Close by you will find the soap-makers who reprocess soap from hotels and schools. In single rooms hundreds of men toil in the heat over large metal troughs filled with sinister-looking yellow-green liquid. Around them their co-workers boil vats of molten soap, stirring the cauldrons with oar-sized sticks.

Dharavi is an extraordinary success story, its recycling industry employs over 250,000 people … The new money through recycling has in effect spawned a new slum gentry. Certain corners of Dharavi have even gone upmarket with bars, beauty parlours and clothing boutiques. Last week a major bank opened the slum’s first ATM. [Link]

I don’t want to romanticize Dharavi. These sound like hazardous working conditions, and I’m sure much of what’s going on is toxic. Life in Dharavi sounds grim:

There is little sign of clean drinking water and the sanitation facilities are appalling – up to 800 people are forced to share one toilet. [Link]

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p>But these are the folks who really impress me with their recycling. Of course, a book on them wouldn’t sell as well as a book on the bobo couple would. For one thing the conditions in Dharavi are too far from those in America for the audience to comprehend, for another you can’t write a book about the third world without a white protagonist.

p.s. The residents of Dharavi are currently fighting a battle to prevent their slum from being razed as part of an urban redevelopment scheme. Expect to hear more about it as the conflict heats up.

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92 thoughts on “A whole lota environmentalism going on

  1. Not obvious to me either and I’m an MD. Seems like you could eat locally in New York State and get pretty much all the nutrition you need with a little creativity. Their immune systems should be just fine.

    And they probably stocked up on multi-vitamin tablets as well before they started this.

    I know alot of people who live pretty much like these two are trying and it’s no big deal at all.

  2. Soap is soap. Save your money and skip the antibacterial bit:

    Summary of JAMA article about a study in Pakistan

    An intensive program of handwashing education and promotion in Pakistan decreased the incidence of diarrhea by more than 50 percent among children

    The relevant graf:

    The authors found similar reductions in diarrhea in households using both plain and antibacterial soap. The authors report, “We found no significant difference in diarrheal disease among persons living in households receiving antibacterial soap compared with plain soap. This is not surprising because triclocarban [in the antibacterial soap] is a bacteriostatic agent that inhibits the growth of some gram-positive bacteria but is not effective against gram-negative bacteria, viruses, or parasites that cause infectious diarrhea.” The authors note that the act of handwashing with soap physically removes pathogens that may cause diarrhea from hands that might otherwise transmit these pathogens to vulnerable infants.
  3. Sohwhat -

    i always just washed, no TP wipe, give a good shake afterwards, and never had any female problems. the big advantages of the wash-not-wipe method is when you have dysentary… third world TP can be very chafing when you’re using it 30 times a day. :P

    Did they not have TP where you were? Or was this because you were in a Muslim country that they used a lota system …

  4. I like the system in Malaysia and Bangladesh where TP is available and also there are shower type hoses next to the toilets to enable you to cleanse with water. I always carried the charmin wet tissues with me juuuust in case there is no TP. But i tend to feel the best course is to use tP first then take water (using left hand at all times, unless you are left handed!).

  5. 51 On second thoughts, after reading their non-impact blog, I guess I was shooting my mouth off. If they’re armed with multivitamins and antifungal cream and neosporin and soap and few other miracles of modernity, they can probably pull this off if they are real careful & and be a hero in a movie and sell some books too.

    I was just discussing Arthur Brooks take ( #43) with a few folks here. Brooks makes the case that “private action” is just as effective as collective action. A few years back at this investment bank, we got a memo asking for a $50 donation per employee for a christmas charity drive. Being a fob, I did some quick mental math – Total number of employees times $50 – I wrote back suggesting if the CEO donated just 1 week’s paycheck, that would instantly dwarf the total amount from all those $50 donations. I forgot I was on a corporate mailserver!! That email got forwarded all over the place and I took some real heat that day. But nobody disputed my calculation – the CEO’s paycheck was so out of whack that all employees combined times $50 was still less than his one week’s paycheck. Colin Beavan’s individual action may be laudable, but the collective’s wastefulness dwarfs his no-impact effort to a point where it makes no real financial sense. The average Manhattan office-goer is definitely leaving his PC on all night…that alone adds up to a staggering amount of energy…few thousand kilowatts, enough to power a whole smalltown. If you add the costs of all those upscale upper west side folk dry-cleaning, the suits and ties and coats and scarves, or the time when their TVs are on but they aren’t really watching, or when they run the washing machines to take off some minor stain…the collective’s wastefulness completely dwarfs this chap’s thrift. So much for the effectiveness of individual action. In fact, even Beavan acknowledges in his blog – “some changes we make are more philosophical than scientific.”

  6. Also, the water that one is cleansing oneself with in India is not clean. Lots of bacteria and stuff in that too. That’s why even after peeing one should use anti-bacterial soap or something.

    I’m an ABD and lived in India for year with no water related problems. I did not use TP and drank Aquaguard filtered water. I agree that the water is not very clean, but at the same time Americans are obsessed with anit-bacterial anything. Many studies have been done that show anti-bacterial soap kills the good bacteria on your hands as well (yes, you do have good bacteria on your hands and in your body).

    Anyhow, I do think washing with water is much cleaner, but a wipe down with TP or a towel afterward is necessary, especially for a woman and especially if you are wearing jeans. There is nothing worse than wearing damp underwear with jeans, I know TMI, but this topic is fodder for TMI.

    I have to say the first time I did wash with water and no TP, I was extremely disgusted and wash my hands like someone with OCD. But you get over it.

    It’s just easier in America to use TP because we don’t have those nice water jets/bidets installed in our toilets.

    As far as those moist towelettes, you can get them in the feminine care isle and they do have the kind you can flush. Charmin has unscented ones that come in a travel size pack. I used these while travelling in Southeast Asia because often times the TP is like used sandpaper and at the same time extremly thin, I don’t know how they manage to do that.

    Happy National Goof Off Day! Wish I was goofing off in the warm sunshine instead of this windowless office…

  7. @Tambram 56 That must have been a painful lesson in email etiquette. I concede your larger point about it not making a huge difference in the world. It is still an interesting experiment and the limitations on the extent to which one can carry it out (or one ends up carrying it out) are instructive. Besides, there is something to be said for walking the talk, even if it’s only for a year.

  8. “an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue”. They’re eating only locally grown food stuffs and eschewing even spices, olive oil and vinegar because these come from further away

    First of all, life without spice is not worth living.

    Second of all, I’m sure it’s easy for them to afford (usually more expensive) locally grown food, considering they can afford to live on what Corcoran calls the Gold Coast.

  9. I’m an ABD and lived in India for year with no water related problems.

    I’m an ABA and lived in India for over a decade and had Typhoid Fever 3 times, Malaria once, dysentary about 500 times and urinary tract infections ongoing.

  10. @MoS #61

    I’m an ABA and lived in India for over a decade and had Typhoid Fever 3 times, Malaria once, dysentary about 500 times and urinary tract infections ongoing.

    I’m not trying to be a troll, but what is your water source that you have had typhoid and dysentary so many times?

    Granted I was VERY careful to the point of anal-retentive about the water I drank. Only Aquaguard at home and bottled when out and I didn’t drink water at homes that didn’t use A-guard. I also never ate chutneys or drank nimbu pani or other fresh fruit drinks outside of the house because those usually have water in them and you just don’t know the source.

    I know this isn’t very scientific but I do think a certain part of my resistance is from going to visit India intermittently and building up a resistance that way. And part of it is genetic having parents born in India and receiving some of their natural resitance.

  11. I’m an ABA and lived in India for over a decade and had Typhoid Fever 3 times, Malaria once, dysentary about 500 times and urinary tract infections ongoing.

    That’s too bad! Mind you, over a span of a decade I guess that averages out to dysentry only once a week so that’s not sooo bad ;) I’m a BBD (Brit Born Desi…) and I used to get as sick as a dog whenever I went to India. Now I’m older and much wiser and I’m always as fit as a fiddle whenever I’m there. In fact I feel healthier there than I do in the US. I put it down to the large quantities of “good bacteria” in the food working hard to keep my system clear :)

  12. A

    nd part of it is genetic having parents born in India and receiving some of their natural resitance.

    A natural resistance? Millions of Indians get thyphoid fever in India – the ones born and raised there. It is so common that it is treated like we treat the common cold over here in USA – “take this pill and call me after 3 days”. The docs are very casual about it.

    Well, I was moderately careful about my drinking water. And I did eat and drink stuff from outside. When you live there for a long time it is very difficult to be super careful about that kind of stuff, what to speak of it not being fun to not be able to drink lassis and what-not when you are in a social setting.

  13. Sorry about being off topic above…

    But I do think that Indians are very resourceful in recycling in ways that Americans don’t think as traditional recycling. But as Ennis said “These sound like hazardous working conditions, and I’m sure much of what’s going on is toxic.”

    My cousin told me a great story about oily rags he uses to start the furnace for his cast iron factory when they have heats. He gets them from a vendor who collects them from an industry that I can’t remember (sorry!) where people’s hands get oily/greasy and they wipe them on old rags. I doubt it is environmentally sound to start a fire with oily rags, but perhpas it’s better than discarding of them in a landfill.

  14. ABA = American born American, i guess.

    Thanks for the clarification but isn’t that tautologous?

  15. ABA = American born American, i guess.
    Thanks for the clarification but isn’t that tautologous?

    Not technically. One could have been born in the States but raised (or lived most of your live or whatever) elsewhere and thus identify more with elsewhere (ABE?), or have been born elsewhere but raised in the States (or lived most of your live or whatever) and thus identify more with the States (EBA?).

    Anyway, that was totally off topic.

  16. Mos was saying…

    A natural resistance? Millions of Indians get thyphoid fever in India – the ones born and raised there. It is so common that it is treated like we treat the common cold over here in USA – “take this pill and call me after 3 days”. The docs are very casual about it.

    Mos, dont take this personally, but I think your immune system is way below average from what you described.

    i agree its worse than the US,etc. but….look, even a ‘million’ out of a billion still leaves a rather small probability for a random person to contract typhoid just like that so many times. Its not like u go to india and every other person is suffering from typhoid… hmmm. no way. i’m assuming you are just exaggerating. or did u really believe what you said?!?!

  17. Typhoid is the 5th most common communicable disease in India … Typhoid is a major cause of absenteeism in schools and workplaces… Typhoid is a major cause of death in developing countries, including India[Link]
  18. Thanks for the clarification but isn’t that tautologous?

    Yeah, I agree with you it sounds a little silly to say ABA. Maybe its just that mos doesnt want to call themselves ‘desi’ but wanted to convey that they were born in america. Just a guess.

  19. Typhoid is the 5th most common communicable disease in India … Typhoid is a major cause of absenteeism in schools and workplaces… Typhoid is a major cause of death in developing countries, including India[Link]

    i saw that link. thanks. Well, yeah. major cause, big problem, etc. major cause of absenteeism in the sense, it probably means if u get typhoid u lose school for a couple of months. I agree. But it doesnt mean most people get typhoid. I still believe most people DON’T get typhoid, though its obvious that many do. But still, if my life depended on the following question: “Is Mos immune system below average?” My answer would be yes, and with a pretty good level of confidence based on the given info. Pardon me mos. i dont mean to insult you, though.

  20. Mos, dont take this personally, but I think your immune system is way below average from what you described. i agree its worse than the US,etc. but….look, even a ‘million’ out of a billion still leaves a rather small probability for a random person to contract typhoid just like that so many times. Its not like u go to india and every other person is suffering from typhoid… hmmm. no way. i’m assuming you are just exaggerating. or did u really believe what you said?!?!

    No, I’m not exagerating. But my immune system may be below average, especially at this point. However, it was very common in the area I was living for people to be sick ALOT. Especially with fevers. Jaundice, Thyphoid and Malaria are very common there – amongst the Indians and foriegners both.
    At one point I started noticing how alot of women had patches of bald spots on their head and later learned that was usually due to thyphoid fever, since a high fever can make the hair follicles weak and the hair fall out.

  21. i am nri in u.s. for many years; have shifted to tp because i prefer it to wet bathroom, but maybe it’s a question of technique: my eco-thinking american partner uses water always now after her trips to india, and bathroom is not a mess afterwards. she is very practical and not a manic about “antibacterial anything.”

    also, regarding “women’s issues” she uses this for past decade and has given many out to numerous indian friends who are completely converted away from cloth or disposables: http://www.keeper.com/

  22. All other things being equal, the picture of ‘lota’ accompanying the article is a bit unnerving. Its too shiny and clean to qualify as ‘lota’. Plus the angle and sharp edges can be quite dangerous in untrained hands!

  23. Would it be wrong or funny to market lotas in the US as “exotic Indian tea services” ? I come to SM for resolution of this and all other moral quandaries

  24. WHY HAVE NOT ANYONE THOUGHT OF THIS:

    If you have used TP, you would have noticed how much SHIT remains in your ass and comes off to the TP when you first wipe.

    That’s the SHIT yoru hand makes contact with, and in the case of women, goes off into their various folds and innards if they use water/lota. That’s the shit that can go under your fingernails!

    Given that there’s no direction with water, there’s a strong possibility that a bit of shit is still sitting somewhere around after the wild water ride – more so if your ass is hairy.

    Unless you wash for a long time, and wife dry with cloth/paper to be discarded, OR take a full shower afterward, there’s no real cleaning fully.

    Given that desis in desh do not use soap to wash their hands after they use their hand to clean your ass, I wonder how many of you would shake hands with someone who just came from a bathroom.

    While in hostel in Chennai (Tamils, common Tamils, being one group with no regard for personal hygeine), we used to have a cook/server in the mess hall who sometimes used to jump into the loo during the lunch session. Seeing him waddle in from that general direction was enough to have me stop my lunch and jump out..

  25. Desi_Truth, I covered all of your points in my posts above. That’s why I suggested full shower with removable shower head that can be angeled just right after pooing — and strong soap.

  26. Why am I enjoying reading other peoples anecdotes and advice about shitting?

    What’s wrong with me?

  27. Unless you wash for a long time, and wife dry with cloth/paper to be discarded, OR take a full shower afterward, there’s no real cleaning fully.

    desi_truth I know sometimes wife can be annoying, but that surely is taking spousal abuse to a new level.

  28. manju and qualified_time,

    a gay friend of mine pointed out last night that he always has wet wipes in his bathroom for, er, hygienic purposes that had nothing to do with relieving one’s nowels… which makes me wonder why my ex-mother & father in law always kept them in their bathroom..

    (manj, you’ll recognize me from lj, i bet!)

  29. Given that desis in desh do not use soap to wash their hands after they use their hand to clean your ass

    Ewwww….that is so not true…

    (Tamils, common Tamils, being one group with no regard for personal hygeine)

    What is a “common Tamil”…as opposed to a “rare Tamil”? I think that comment could be construed as offensive on several levels.

  30. While in hostel in Chennai (Tamils, common Tamils, being one group with no regard for personal hygeine), we used to have a cook/server in the mess hall who sometimes used to jump into the loo during the lunch session. Seeing him waddle in from that general direction was enough to have me stop my lunch and jump out..

    Next boring arangetram I have to sit through this “common Tamil” is going to test the vats of food for taste with his left index finger. More payasam for me !

  31. Why am I enjoying reading other peoples anecdotes and advice about shitting? What’s wrong with me?

    You’re OK man. This is a legitimate area of human inquiry.If I ever become rich I am going to fund the Louiecypher Chair for the Anthropology of Pooping at “Haavad”.

  32. slantedtruth

    (manj, you’ll recognize me from lj, i bet!)

    hmmm? not sure. if by lj you mean live journal…never been on the site.

  33. Many of you need to immediately attend the next session at your local Germophobics Anon. See you there!

  34. I am an ABD, moved here when I was 8 and visit India every 2-3 years once. I have always used water just because I find it much cleanlier. I try not to take a shit when away from the house but I lived in the dorms for a whole year during college and I managed to get by with 2 bottles of water. Its all about technique. I pour the water from the front rather than from the back which eliminates any splashes/uncontrolled flow problems. Its quite clean, and I leave no evidence of water ever being used. A wipe down with TP after washing takes care of the wet ass problem. To avoid getting anything underneath the finger nails, use the kneel of your palm. Never scrub/scratch with your fingers (amateur’s mistake). Soap is a must when washing your hands afterwards. A water bottle is generally better at controlling flow than a traditional lota/small jug. If you are lucky enough to have a toilet right beside the tub, then by all means reach over and refill the bottle.

    Incidentally, if your shit is runny enough, no amount of toilet paper will prevent it (or at least the smell) from sticking to your fingers whereas water will wash it all away.

    Given that desis in desh do not use soap to wash their hands after they use their hand to clean your ass

    I would say a greater percentage of desis than non-desis use soap/wash hands in general after using the bathroom. I don’t know where you’re getting this expert conclusion from.

    Ok, I’m a tamil. Tamils were raised to respect paper because you get education through paper and all legal documents are of paper, if my foot accidentally touches a paper, I must touch the paper with my hands and then touch my eyes much like I am praying / being blessed. So we are not supposed to use paper to wipe our ass because it is disrespectful to the paper..

    I am a Kannadiga and was raised this way as well but I guess we never equated TP as being regular paper. But I always try and avoid stepping on paper, books, etc.

    On visits to India, I drink only bottled/aquaguard water. I generally don’t have any problems with getting sick/diseases etc. I don’t really bother avoiding chutney because the amount of salt in it is likely to kill most bacteria. In Bangalore, there is now a new chain of fruit juice stands (Ganesh?) and they use Aquaguard when making fresh fruit juices. I drink those all the time, and have no problems. Similarly, Chalukya and a couple other places have aquaguard installed and serve chaat dishes, etc. As long as you are careful, you don’t have to deny yourself anything to be safe.

  35. Another thought– lotas generally accompany squat loos which make for a cleaner evacuation in the first place, so there’s probably less poo to clean off. I mean, most mammals squat and they don’t use anything at all, as in how often have you seen a dog or cat that needed a wet wipe? In any event, as humans, why not have it both ways? I’m in favor of wet tp (flushable), and by all means a shower for complete desi state of ablution — but not without first exhausting the capabilities of wet tp.

  36. a gay friend of mine pointed out last night that he always has wet wipes in his bathroom for, er, hygienic purposes that had nothing to do with relieving one’s nowels… which makes me wonder why my ex-mother & father in law always kept them in their bathroom..

    A squeeky clean booty is a must for sexually active people of both hetero and homo inclinations.

    Just toilet paper will not do.

  37. I mean, most mammals squat and they don’t use anything at all, as in how often have you seen a dog or cat that needed a wet wipe?

    I live with three cats, and… well, it happens. And we’ve also probably all seen the busy little kitty using her tongue to clean that particular orifice.

    Growing up with dogs, it was even worse. We had an American Eskimo with lots of long, fuzzy hair. Just imagine.