India’s population has been exploding for a few decades. Its cities are overpopulated and the burden on its ecology has never been closer to breaking point. Water shortages and power cuts are common in the summer months, and these problems appear to get worse every year.
The good news is that it's pretty easy to make changes to your lifestyle to reduce the burden on the environment - these are small changes that won't make a huge impact, but if enough people start doing these things, it can make a big difference. And as an added incentive, although you might have to spend a little more cash to begin with, over time you can also save money by bringing down your electricity and water bills.
Saving on power bills
Upendra Singh, a Bhopal-based businessman who deals in solar water heating systems, spoke with Gadgets 360 about one easy way to reduce the load on the power grid. He has been working in the non-conventional energy sector for over 20 years and has had his own dealership called Silverline Associates since 2002.
“A good electric geyser will cost you around Rs. 7,000, apart from what it adds to your electricity bills,” he says. “A solar water heater that can heat 150 litres of water per day will cost you Rs. 25,000 and you’ll have no electricity bills for it.”
The upfront cost may be higher, but solar water heaters do work out to be cheaper over time. There are various options available, and you ant to get the right size for your requirements - this site has some good suggestions on that front. Singh says most places in India receive adequate sunlight for around 350 days every year.
“A solar day (when solar cells on rooftops can receive and store sunlight) is from 9 am to 3 pm. That should be enough to provide hot water until 10 am the next morning,” Singh explains.
Solar water heaters are available in higher capacities and even have a provision for an electric water heater as a backup when solar power runs out. The one drawback is that you require access to rooftops, which is becoming harder with apartments, but it's still possible - after all, people have been able to grow food on rooftops, which takes up even more space.
Effective use of water
Water is another crucial resource that we waste in huge quantities every single day. If we’d simply fix all the leaking taps in any city, that alone could possibly end up saving enough water to tide it over the dry season, according to Janak Daftari, a water activist based in Mumbai, who spoke with Gadgets 360 about simple ways in which people can save water.
“Through rains, by and large you get free and pure water. You have to catch the rain instead of asking for more water,” Daftari says. While water harvesting is a great way to reduce the load on nature, Daftari says recycling water is far more important. You can only harvest water when it rains, which is for hardly 90 days in a year.
There are two ways recycle your water — one is via the conventional inorganic sewage treatment plants. Daftari says this creates sludge and uses toxic chemicals to treat water. Instead, he recommends using biotechnology to solve this problem. “A biosanitizer needs 18 hours or so to treat water. You can use the treated water for gardening, groundwater recharge, or washing cars,” Daftari says. “We installed it in our building in 2009. Till date it has given us 10000 litres of recyclable water,” he adds, stating that it needs no maintenance.
“If you buy water from BMC (Mumbai’s municipal corporation) it will cost you around Rs. 9 per kilolitre. Tankers supply water at Rs. 60 to Rs. 90 per kilolitre. The cost of treating water using the biosanitizer works out to Rs. 2.2 per kilolitre,” Daftari says.
According to Daftari, it can even be used to purify drinking water at home. “The entry level package is just Rs. 10,000 for a family, as compared to UV and RO water purifiers that cost upwards of Rs. 12,000,” he says. Conventional water purifiers also require regular maintenance but the biosanitizer does not, he points out.
Daftari adds that the real challenge lies in changing people’s attitudes, something he believes is best accomplished through education at an early age, as early as third or fourth standard in schools.
Waste segregation and recycling is something most people don’t think of. We’ve all studied composting in schools but few bother to follow that. Arijit Mitra, who runs a company called Greentechlife, had spoken with Gadgets 360 about a ‘smart’ dustbin called Smartbin that his company sells.
This dustbin helps people compost waste and has been a very popular product on his website. “Composting is a big driver (for the business). I’ve sold over 10,000 Smartbins over the past four years,” Mitra says. “When we started off, most people who approached us didn’t know what compost is. We’d set up shop at exhibitions and nobody would come to our stall.”
Mitra adds that things have changed a lot over the years and he’s now shipped Smartbin, and Smartbin Air, all over India, including to several villages. There appears to be a growing awareness about the importance of composting.
If these steps are too small for you, then you could think about getting your home a green home certification or buy a flat in a certified green building. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has a certification program for buildings called Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA). GRIHA certification takes into account factors such as the state of the construction site, the soil, flora and fauna on the land, before construction begins. It also looks at how resources are used in the planning stage, while the building is being built, and in its operation and maintenance.
The GRIHA rating helps builders reduce energy consumption, and ensure that the ecology is not harmed during construction or after it. You can only get the certification if the building shows reduced air and water pollution, manages water consumption, and if you focus on reducing waste generation and recycling.
Then there’s Indian Green Buildings Council’s (IGBC) green homes certification, which applies to both existing and new homes. According to IGBC, a green home has several benefits, with lower energy and water consumption being the chief among them. This can be as much as a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption. Over 1,600 green building projects across India use IGBC’s rating system. These rating systems recommend use of thermally insulated walls, reflective roofs, use of salvaged materials for construction, waste water treatment, and the use of energy efficient appliances.
Even if you can’t do all of these things, you can always start being a bit more environmentally conscious by using appliances that consume less energy (look for the 5-star BEE energy saver rating) or switch to appliances powered by renewable resources. When it comes to helping the environment, every little bit counts.