To be completely honest, helping the environment had rarely been a crucial concern of mine. Actually, that’s an understatement: Helping the environment had rarely been a concern of mine at all. Growing up, my parents tried to nudge me the right way. For example, they always told me not to waste food – the theme of this year’s World Environment Day. However, it didn’t actually sunk in. At buffets I would take more food than I actually needed so I could try everything before it was gone. To me, this was well justified – we were paying the same amount regardless of what we took, right? I even scorned my parents’ initiative to use fluorescent light bulbs in the house; I didn’t see the benefit of using light bulbs that took a while to light up.
This past summer I decided to come to India and intern for Raxa Collective to experience something both culturally and professionally different. From the moment I arrived I was amazed at the passion with which Amie, Crist, and the rest of the Raxa Collective staff operated. Cardamom County already had numerous eco-friendly initiatives in place such as their natural farm, composting, and the use of glass water bottles in the restaurant, solar panels to heat the water in the kitchen, and compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). However, it was evident that the Raxa Collective staff was not willing to settle. Thinking of new ways to improve their environmental impact, or sharing successful stories of others, is not simply work for them: it is their passion. Their enthusiasm is palpable, and it has rubbed off on me. I now find myself really caring about the environment and wanting to help.
Earlier in the summer I took a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and in order to get there I had to cross the Jawahar Bridge, which spans the Yamuna River. While crossing the bridge, I saw a man empty a few enormous garbage bins into the river below. I was even more shocked when I later found out that 58% of New Delhi’s waste is “processed” that same way–a disheartening statistic to be sure!
This got me thinking about the environmental impacts of waste management occurring in both developing and first world countries. The well-dressed urbanite who throws a cigarette butt on the ground often does it carelessly, but the trash I witnessed going into the river seems more like a failure of systems, not to mention a lost opportunity. Much of what is currently thrown away in the world could have a rich “second life” as compost, biofuel, or upcycled and recycled materials. There are even countries that are currently importing garbage in order to sustain the electricity grid systems they’ve introduced.
It’s easy to admit defeat, to submit and ask, “what can one individual really do?” But clearly there are more options than we might think. I think about how my transformation over the summer was a product of merely a handful of passionate individuals. Now back home in the US, I have brought back a new outlook on environmental conservation. I plan on sharing it zealously with those around me and hopefully I can impact a few people in the same way Raxa Collective impacted me. After all, as I learned firsthand, it’s never too late to start caring about the environment.