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green living

The sidewalks ran away
From the streets we once knew,
From badminton in the by-lanes
With neighbours and friends.
Now the boy next door
Is just an apartment number
Or a face in the elevator, asking 'Which floor?'

The playground where we used to play
The creaky swing set that flew
Us to the moon and back again
Abandoned us to the mercy of the shiny mall
Banks and boutiques reaching for the sky
And a food court snuggling with a DVD store.

The 90's was an amazing time to be growing up in Dhaka. We were witnesses to a series of life-changing transformations wherever we looked. Single-unit housing began to give way to apartment buildings, and the first of the malls and large shopping complexes appeared. At the same time, a technological revolution was taking place, with cell-phones, satellite, and then cable TV. Dial-up, and then broadband internet manifested themselves and made themselves part of our lifestyles. Life suddenly seemed to be full of exciting possibilities.

Unfortunately, a decade later, we are beginning to pay the price for all those exciting possibilities. Despite the ban on four-stroke engines and polythene bags, life has never been this unhealthy for us urbanites. From rising respiratory problems and a greater incidence of health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, we're running the gauntlet of pollution-related problems. Children are taking up eyeglasses at a younger age, and more and more young people are struggling with skin problems and hair loss.

This week, we are not going to dwell on the negative. We are not going to bemoan the lost parks, the receding greenery, the disappearing lakes, and the increasing claustrophobia in our lives. Instead, we are going to look at ways you can have a healthier, and more eco-friendly lifestyle.

First up, what does one mean by 'green living'? Simply put, it is the process of incorporating some environmentally sound practices into one's lifestyle to improve one's state of mental and physical wellbeing. This is about reclaiming some of the things we've lost in the process of catching up with the 21st century.

I like to move it, move it!
While the city air continues to get polluted, what with the rise in the number of vehicles, the urbanites living in the city continue to battle health problems like obesity, high blood pressure and heart problems. Part of this can be contributed to air pollution, and part to a sedentary lifestyle that involves parking your posterior in front of the television or computer or gaming console for hours on end.

Joining a gym, or taking up a new sport is one option to remedy this, but more often than not, people lack the will-power to stick to the routine, or the finances to spare. Consider this, though: money invested in exercise has sweeter rewards than money spent on expensive physiotherapy and doctors' bills, which is inevitable for those leading the couch-potato lifestyle.

There is a simpler, less expensive way out though, and it's called walking. If you have a short distance to travel, don't bring out the car, just walk there and save up on the fuel. Take an hour out of your busy daily schedules to take a brisk walk. If you live near a park, well and good, if not, a few rounds on the rooftop will suffice. It's good for the heart, burns off calories, and keeps you healthy, and the only accessory you really have to spend on is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Demanding academic schedules and the lure of the telly-tube and internet have worked together to bring about an alarming rise in obesity in children and adolescents. That, combined with a lack of entertainment and sports facilities have pretty much sealed their fates. Don't give in without a fight, though. If you can't get the kids to join you for your daily walk, get them enrolled into some sports programme or activity, be it swimming lessons at the nearby club, or karate classes. Encourage them to team up with neighbours and flat-mates and engage in team sports and competitive games like badminton. This serves the double purpose of ensuring that they get their regular workout as well as promoting community spirit.

Packing in a generous helping of exercise into their lifestyles will not only keep them healthy, but help them develop confidence and discipline, which will boost their academics as well. Moreover, every minute not spent in front of an inanimate screen is a little more electricity saved, and a little less exposure to radiation.

Go green
As individual housing gives way to apartment buildings, the first thing to disappear are the gardens. Depending on the type of garden (lawn, orchard, flower garden, etc), these precious patches of green serve important functions as natural carbon sinks, habitats for birds, etc, as well a refreshing retreat for the owner.

Rooftop gardens are the flat-owner's answer to the dilemma of disappearing greens. You can experiment with bonsai and cacti, or have your own little fruit/vegetable garden, the produces of which you can use to try and lure your family into adding some fresh greens to their diet. An added bonus of growing your own fruits and veggies is that you're safe in the knowledge that these haven't been exposed to chemical hormones, fertilizers and pesticides.

Growing plants on a rooftop in a city takes some knowledge, however. Considerations include the structure of the outdoor area and its ability to hold the weight of pots, soil and water. Wet soil can be very heavy, especially when plants and pots are added. It is often best to fill the bottom of the containers with lightweight material such as styrofoam. Other considerations for which plants to use will be your hardiness zone, the sun and wind conditions (wind dries out plants) and access to water. Drip irrigation systems are often a must. You may even need permission from your landlord as there might be weight/space restrictions.

If an elaborate rooftop garden is not an option, bring the potted plants inside! Studies have shown that potted greenery can combat indoor air pollution (which is sometimes more severe than outdoor air pollution) by absorbing chemical pollutants. These harmful chemicals are released from a wide range of household sources that include synthetic carpeting, particle board, foam insulation, air fresheners, furniture, household cleaners, tobacco smoke, plastics, inks, oil, detergents, rubber, adhesives, paints and many more.

Pick and choose from aesthetically pleasing varieties such as Boston Fern, English Ivy, Spider plant, Striped dracaena, Chinese evergreen, Sansvieria (snake plant), Gerbera, Areca palm, Chrysanthemum, Bamboo palm, Aloe Vera and Spathyphyllum (Peace Lily). You can have your own mini-garden in the veranda, and place a small wooden plank horizontally along the grill to make a mini bird-feed station to entertain your feathery friends. Add a few chairs, and you can get in touch with nature sitting in the comfort of your own home.

Further ways to keep indoor pollution in check is to dust furniture thoroughly, change the bed linens twice a week, and if you have a pet, to groom it regularly to prevent it from shedding all over the place.

Reduce, re-use, recycle
It's easy, when living in a flat, to just let the cleaner take away the garbage and not worry about it, but waste-management problems eventually come back to haunt you. It could be as simple as your car getting stuck in a jam right next to a huge garbage dump, to something more serious like chemicals from a landfill being absorbed by the soil, and getting washed by the rains into the water bodies, thereby contaminating your water supply.

There are some very simple ways you can combat the problem in your own way. Biodegradable kitchen wastes can be recycled as compost for your potted plants. Simply dump it all into a large earthenware pot, cover with dry leaves and a thin layer of potting soil on the top, and keep it outside in an airy place where fumes cannot gather (rooftop, verandahs, etc), and you'll have your home-made compost in no time.

Paper shopping bags, glass and plastic containers can be re-used, thereby reducing the amount of waste you generate. Old newspapers, in particular are versatile in their utility. You can use them to wrap objects for storage, as linings for shelves, etc.

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic soda bottles can be re-used to store drinking water, juice etc. for a short time. Please note, however, that filling them with hot liquids can cause chemicals from the plastic to dissolve into the liquid and contaminate them. Also, discontinue use of these bottles for storing drinking water if the plastic becomes cloudy.

Many of us sell off old newspapers and bottles to the shishi-botol wallah for some quick cash. With scent and shampoo bottles, please ensure you have scratched off the labels and punctured the neck, so that unscrupulous individuals may not just bottle their own counterfeit products and pass them off as
the real goods.

These are but a few simple ways you can take your life back and live life the green way. As Captain Planet puts it, 'The power is yours!'

By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photo: Amirul Rajiv


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