Why we must panic about losing our most valuable resources like water, energy, and food & what we can do individually, regardless of our financial state, to save this generation’s future:
Remember the disappointment you felt every time you opened up a tin box of expensive biscuits only to find a bunch of sewing supplies inside? We have been seeing in our households since childhood how things that we think have absolutely no value, such as old newspapers and books, or utensils, can be easily sold off to scrap dealers to be up-cycled or recycled. Culturally, there is also repulsion to wasting food. Bucket baths, sun- drying clothes, hand-washing dishes, and other widespread practices, are all very common to us and guess what? They are all part of a global movement!
Originally started in 1987, the sustainability movement, focused on creating a path to improve the standard of living for the underdeveloped nations so that they catch up to the wealthier states. The goal was to ensure better access to natural resources like energy, food, and water to disadvantaged countries.
So how is it that the environmental consciousness that started to cultivate in the west after the Brundtlant report in ‘87, was always a part of the eastern way of living?
The answer to that is ancient wisdom. Have you ever wondered why Sindhis call Indus River as Sindhu Ma? That is because it was reverend as the supreme sacred mother who is giving life to all. That way, there was always gratefulness in the hearts of people taking its water. Even the thought of wasting water was like a sin to them. Now let’s have a look at the yogic principle of aparigraha: it is a virtue of being non-attached to materialistic possessions, and keeping only what is necessary at a certain stage of life. The yogis believe that humans and nature share a harmonious relationship, which goes as far as worship for various flora and fauna. It is the sacred value given to animals & plants that has aided biodiversity conservation efforts. Our ancient ancestors have shown to be wise and caring for us by leaving behind a planet as beautiful and abundant as Earth. But what sort of a planet are we leaving behind for our children?
Our country is among the nations most vulnerable to climate change, and we have very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to its adverse impacts. From floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides triggered by heavy rains to urban flooding due to congestion of storm drainage, Pakistan is already experiencing climate change impacts which are too visible to ignore. These disasters that lead to destruction cannot be prevented; their impact however, can be minimized by adaptation. As a global family and village, we should come together to learn from each other, and good lessons can be drawn and implemented from both ancient wisdom, and scientific fact.
In few years, it will be absolutely impossible to reverse climate change. But what could you possibly do to change it?
We spoke to the Founder of Code Green Pk, who is trying to live a sustainable life herself; about how her initiative is helping people to decrease their carbon footprint with small, easy, and affordable sustainable swaps.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you start Code Green Pk?
I have a Masters in Counseling Psychology and have been teaching + counseling for the last 3 years approximately. I’ve always been super picky about wastage, whether it’s water or food or electricity or paper, but the extent of my contribution to the environment was just being conscious about wastage myself and encouraging people around me to also try regulate their behavior with these things. Around September 2018, after finding out about how horrible disposable pads were for the environment (according to some reports, each pad stays in landfills for 700-800 years!), I decided to experiment with reusable menstrual cloth pads. Total game changer! I absolutely loved the fact that, besides being so much better for the environment, they almost completely eliminated my problems with rashes, and they were cost-effective in the long run. I wanted my friends and family to try this as well, so I did a bunch of research into the different options out there, how each cloth type impacted the environment (P.S microfiber/polyester is horrible for the planet), and how long lasting each option was. More research opened my eyes to just how much plastic we were using on a daily basis, and how this was a part of so many products we used, from shampoo bottles to plastic water bottles to plastic straws to plastic bags and more. After being traumatized by all this information, I started to look into whether different environmental friendly alternatives to plastic-based products were available easily in Karachi. I found just one place, but their website indicated they were on a pretty long break. Instead of just getting better alternatives for myself, I felt I also wanted to provide these to other people who also believed in the cause. Alhamdulillah I had a full time job so I wasn’t worried about making a loss, as long as people started using these things. So, in November 2018, Code Green officially launched on social media with 1 plastic-free product: organic shampoo bars. 4 months later, Alhamdulillah we have a selection of 10-12 different plastic-free alternatives with 3 more in the pipeline.
Was there any religious or spiritual background to your upbringing?
Alhamdulillah I have been blessed to have been connected with my religion from a young age. I attended madrassas or had Quran teachers as a child who taught me Tajweed, and we would also get to attend these amazing classes where we’d learn about both our responsibilities towards God as well as our responsibilities towards people, animals, and the planet. As a young adult, I attended Perceptions, Quest, and LiveDeen sessions, all of which are doing wonderful work in teaching the true essence of Islam. In fact, these initiatives are one part of my motivation to set up Code Green.
We’ve been hearing about climate crisis for years now. What was the turning point for you? What made you take this initiative?
I’d been teaching at a university for over a year, when the amount of plastic bottles, plastic cups, and plastic straws being thrown out (or tossed on the roads) every single day by both students and teachers started to really frustrate me. On top of that, I’d see people just leaving the tap on in the bathroom while they dug something out of their bag or tied their hair, and it would actually get me quite anxious. I started to leave little signs about wastage where I could, and I attempted to gently explain wastage to whomever I felt was receptive, but I felt like it wasn’t enough. I found two great projects working to decrease the use of single-use plastic bags and to conserve water, respectively, but it still seemed that people weren’t responding well to just awareness. Switching to one plastic-free alternative myself, the reusable pads, made me realize that it’s not that using better alternatives or being more conscious is difficult, it’s just that we need the resources to be able to do so. Code Green was created to do just that, to provide people with those alternatives.
Our country has very limited climate change awareness. Even after such a severe heat waves, fogs, & water crisis, decreasing our carbon footprint is not one of our top concerns. We have proved to be a very insensitive & irresponsible nation in this matter. Our government, corporations, brands & decision makers specifically have known exactly what precious morals they have been sacrificing to continue making unbelievable amounts of money. How to you stay motivated to work for sustainability in a country like ours?
I think this is a concern in most countries – the policy makers and large corporations mostly care about themselves and their benefit, not realizing that the way we are hurting our planet now is going to hurt our children in the future. It would make our lives a lot easier to have the big companies on our side, but most things in life are just like this – the people who can create large-scale changes don’t really care, so it’s up to us to do what we can. Small steps are better than no steps at all. To me, seeing one person switch over to even one non-plastic product, even if it’s just for a few weeks, feels like a win.
Do you agree that even one person switching to sustainable living can make a big difference? What products do you think are most harmful to our environment and which swaps does your organization offer?
Absolutely! In fact, even being conscious about 2-3 things can make a huge difference. For instance, if one person switches to using reusable straws or bamboo toothbrushes, that’s at least 50 plastic straws and 3 plastic toothbrushes less (over 1 year) added to our piles of waste. Imagine all the turtles and fish you save with just 2 simple switches!
What are the drawbacks/difficulties of using a menstrual cup or a cloth pad?
I haven’t used menstrual cups myself yet (hoping to switch over soon – they’re better for the environment than cloth pads because less water is required for washing) – my limited knowledge on the cups is that they can be quite intimidating to use the first couple of times, and may not be suited for everyone. The lovely Wasma at Recircle Life can give you much more accurate info on this.
With the cloth pads, it can be a slight inconvenience with regards to washing them but once you understand how it works it’s a breeze! One drawback with cloth pads is also that carrying around the soiled pads can be a bit of a challenge, especially for women who are out of the house, but wet-bags are available for easy transportation of such pads. Personally, the cost-effectiveness, the organic cotton cloth (no chemicals in contact with your delicate skin!), the almost complete disappearance of cramps (because no chemicals!), and the no-rashes is worth the minor inconvenience of 2 minutes of wash time.
Realistically what’s the best way to consume plastic? Do you feel it’s possible to give it up entirely?
The best way to use plastic would maybe be to get plastic products that are reusable, such as plastic jars. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big challenge to completely give up plastic because it’s literally everywhere. Even if you buy oil or salt, they come in plastic bags or plastic bottles. Code Green is currently working on a way to introduce refill stations so people can refill things like this without having to keep getting the plastic containers with the products.
Was it difficult to find a vendor that made sustainable packaging? Do you charge for your packaging as well? Do you think students can afford this lifestyle?
We don’t actually have any official, standard packaging for our products at the moment. A friend and I have been collecting butter-paper / crepe paper type material that people add as part of gift packaging for a while, and we use that to wrap some of our products. We also reuse paper bags that we get from stores/vendors, make little cloth pouches from extra cloth, or just use newspaper. For our lip balms/pot deodorants etc., the packaging is glass pots, which can be reused, and up-cycled. We don’t have an extra charge for packaging as of yet, and we’re hoping we don’t need to since we’d like people to embrace the no-packaging options we have available. Students can definitely afford this lifestyle – for instance, a lot of students buy water bottles from university campus every single day – refilling the bottle from home or carrying around your own reusable bottle helps you save in the long run.
When we advocate for climate change, we get to hear how it’s the rich people’s concern and only affordable for them. Do you hear that too? How do you tackle it?
I haven’t heard this from anyone locally yet, thankfully. At the same time, I understand that, because plastic-free alternatives are new, production costs are pretty high and therefore the prices end up being a bit more than the regular product. We attempt to make our products as affordable as possible – for instance, one reusable straw costs just Rs 150 (can last for a minimum of 3 years easily), our reusable makeup remover wipes are for Rs 280 for a set of 3 (can last 1.5-3 years easily depending on care), and one full shampoo bar (which is equivalent to about 4-5 bottles of shampoo) is Rs 1,400. We have heard that our prices for the face/body/hair are a little expensive compared to stuff found in the local market, but those items are imported and come with 100% organic certification, which are the reasons for the prices.
Have you personally been able to change anyone’s mindset in your family & friends? If yes, how did you manage to sensitize them over this issue?
Alhamdulillah I think so! I was able to convince my parents to use reusable straws or no straws at all when we go out, and my mother and sister has switched over entirely to shampoo bars. Additionally, we agreed to have 80% of my wedding invitations be e-vites instead of printed cards, and we’ve decided to have 0 plastic straws and bottles at my wedding. We will inshaAllah also have a compost + food donation team on site to take care of the leftover food.
A lot of my amazing friends have tried to switch over to some plastic-free alternatives as well, some to support me, and some because they believed in the cause. Alhamdulillah 3 of them went from just buying once to be supportive to becoming regular customers! I think just a lot of patience and subtle reminders really helped convince some of the people around me, especially my own family. That, and them trying stuff to support me, but then ending up liking the products.
What role can parents & teachers play in working for sustainability? How do you suggest can we educate them about their responsibility?
Children learn best by watching, not by what they’re told to do. My favorite incident of this is of my little cousin who saw me binning trash I saw lying around on the street, and then started doing it too. More than teaching adults about their responsibilities, I think long-lasting change would come from them realizing the impact they have on the planet, and how that impact will continue (and worsen) for generations to come. Further, being reminded of how their actions affect their children and students can be a huge motivator for more environmentally conscious behavior, which children will hopefully see and adopt as well. There are a few excellent groups working on this awareness aspect – CitizensForACleanKarachi and WaterWise. They do little informative sessions for both children and adults at a variety of venues.
What’s the first step you recommend for someone convinced to change her way of living?
I recommend they start small – switch to just one plastic-free alternative and do any one thing to minimize your impact on the planet, whether it’s buying less or wasting less food or water or electricity or paper. Changing to a less-wasteful lifestyle is a very conscious and deliberate journey – it can be a bit tricky at first because we’re so used to our current way of thinking and behaving, but once you get into the groove of it, it’s the easiest thing (and you end up saving so many animals and sea-life from ingesting plastic!).
Code Green Pk is selling zero-waste starter kits and doing collaborative giveaways containing a wide range of organic and eco friendly products. Get more details on: instagram.com/codegreenpk