Recycling: Traditions that respect resources

A Buddhist tale relates how some monks in a monastery used old worn out robes to make cover sheets then floor rugs then foot towels and finally when even these were beyond repair they would get plastered into the walls!
In many cultures, where antiquity is valued, objects and possessions are handed down with love from generation to generation and increase in value simply because so many years go by in their use. In European cultures, antique collectors frequent flea markets to look for old objects of beauty and reassign a value to them.
In India, the kantha tradition which uses layers of old sarees to form quilts is another such practise.
These examples speak of how cultures traditionally valued resources, and the effort and energy that went into crafting objects. Even after the function of the object was served it then became an icon of other values, carrying stories and connecting groups of people over time and space.
The shift from this value system into a throw away culture, where even watches and radios started becoming disposable is evident of how the attitude towards resources has drastically changed.
Whether the force that drove this change was commercial or cultural, younger generations are now growing up with the term ‘obsolete’ and ‘redundant’ more commonly used. Even people become redundant in modern day workplaces and ‘lay off ‘is just another word for ‘throw away’. Extreme as this might sound, the change is all pervasive and the situation we face with our waste management today, is simply a reflection of how we have come to devalue our resources, be they physical or human!
What is this obsession with the new? Recently at a ritual for renovating an apartment the priest blessing the place spoke of a Sanskrit term called ‘ Navinikaran’ or Renewal. He pointed out the need for renewal and the desire to refresh as being quite natural to all life. Nature herself periodically refreshes herself be it in the moulting of old skin by some species or in the season of autumn when old leaves gracefully give way for the new to come later in spring.
So renewal in itself is not an unreasonable phenomenon. However the way in which this ‘throw away’ culture is approaching resources is fraught with unnatural agendas, mostly driven by profit and greed.
How soon should something be thrown away? Should one be forced to throw away by designers who create items that are irrepairable? Does the updation of technology also take cognizance of the waste being created by obsolete ideas? Can not design be progressive , including and absorbing the old in the creation of the new?
The system of the raddiwallah in India has been much spoken about and lauded by waste experts. This system has been in place well before the West recognised the need to recycle and before recycling became a ‘fad’ so to speak. Similarly the prevalence of barter, even in urban communities, where old clothes were exchanged for steel utensils shows that Indian markets gave concrete value to the old and an economic exchange could happen without the use of cash even.
However, there is a large economic divide in the people who engage with these systems and those who remain unaware of them today. In the past, people recycled for economic need and it is the poor that wear hand me downs. In an upwardly mobile country, affluence has taken away the tradition and it is now a matter of pride to say that one has the latest model of the latest watch, car or mobile phone, even if one doesn’t need it.
Traditions originate in consciousness. When a culture is aware of something, it assigns a space to it and might evolve a ritual that ensures that it is maintained. Recycling consciously as a choice, is as needed as recycling that is forced economically. In fact, we have now reached the point where we don’t have a choice BUT to recycle. So we may as well evolve new traditions that ensure this will happen consciously in the generations to come!
These articles form a series in the Green Idea campaign called The Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. They aim to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling. To read more visit

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