Let us pledge for an eco-friendly and ailment-free Diwali
November 4, 2015
by Viji Athreye
Diwali or Deepavali, also known as the festival of lights, is a major festival in India and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervour. Celebrated on the 14th day of the Kartik month as per the Hindu Lunar calendar, it is believed that on this day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. The people of Ayodhya celebrated the joyous occasion of the return of their favourite Lord by cleaning their house, distributing sweets and lighting the houses with earthen diyas. Thus the name Deepavali, where Deep means earthen lamps and avali means a string. Over the years, firecrackers were also included in the celebrations.
Read:10 ways to celebrate eco-friendly Diwali
Unfortunately, in recent times Diwali has lost its original connotation, and now the celebration is mostly about burning firecrackers. Firecrackers of different varieties are easily available in the market, and the people of India spend thousands of rupees over the same without realising that this is affecting the environment as well as the health of individuals. Here are a few ill effects of firecrackers which one should know about:
Firecrackers have the following constituents as per Bombay National History Society Laboratory, Mumbai:
• Highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead, copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium.
• Few of the aforesaid metals are in the form of nitrites and nitrates.
• Sulphates and phosphates
For the layman, the following are the ways in which the aforesaid chemicals harm the environment:
• Barium, Cadmium, Sodium, Mercury, Nitrate and Nitrite are major air pollutants.
• The smoke that emanates from crackers pollutes the air as well as the environment because of the chemicals used in manufacturing them.
• The smoke contains tiny metallic particles and produces smog.
• The RSPM, Respirable Suspended Particulate Material level goes up during Diwali making the air unhealthy to breath.
• The Carbon Dioxide emitted while burning firecrackers is a major cause for global warming.
• Diwali also sees a great amount of non-biodegradable dry waste in the form of papers, plastics and firework covers causing soil pollution.
• Recent studies have shown that the chemical particles also contaminate the water bodies. They penetrate the soil and even result in the contamination of the ground water making it unfit for consumption.
Noise is unwanted sound and measured in decibels (dB). It is indeed a dangerous pollutant which is hazardous to the environment. Firecrackers produce sounds which are much higher in decibels tolerable for the human ear. During Diwali the decibel levels go up to 125 dB which is equivalent to the noise produced by a military jet at the time of take off. The noise level allowed by the Government is only 55 dB during daytime and 45dB during night, but these limits are crossed by a great extent causing environmental hazards.
Diwali, a joyous occasion, has now become a source for ailments because of the following reasons:
• The suspended particles in the air because of burning firecrackers cause allergic conditions to skin, eye, throat and nose.
• Diseases like Bronchitis and Asthma get aggravated due to the suspended particles, Sulphur Dioxide, and Nitrogen Dioxide. In recent times, people suffering from these Chronic Pulmonary diseases have started taking refuge in hilly places or even hospitals.
• Children from the age of 6 to 16 are more susceptible to breathing problems because of the smoke.
• The heavy metals used in the firecrackers will leave a residue in the lungs of people causing permanent damage.
• The Sulphur Dioxide emanated by the crackers also affects plant life and their productivity.
• The Carbon Monoxide produced in the process of burning crackers hampers the Hemoglobin content in the blood causing it to malfunction in the process of transporting oxygen in the blood. Thus various parts of the body suffer from oxygen deprivation.
• Noise pollution results in hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleep disorder.
• The chemicals used in the firecrackers also indirectly result in stomach disorders, for if the hands are not washed properly before intake of food it may cause food poisoning.
• Unsafe practices also result in many burn injuries which could have been avoided.
• The firecrackers are normally handmade and the people making them are exposed to harmful chemicals which result in irreversible health damage. Most of the factories employ young children making it even more appalling.
• Last but not the least, the effect of firecrackers on birds and animals is cataclysmic. Animals like dogs and cats have a more sensitive sense of hearing than humans. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a non-profit organisation, awareness should be created for the masses.
Keeping in mind the aforesaid negative impacts, the Honourable Supreme Court of India has issued certain guidelines:
• Manufacture, sale and use of firecrackers exceeding Noise level of 125 dB has been prohibited.
• Bursting of fire crackers between 10.00 PM to 6.00 AM is not permitted.
• Bursting of fire crackers are prohibited at hospitals, educational institutions and places of worship.
An Eco-friendly Diwali
Let us re-establish the essence of Diwali by being sensitive to the environment. Diwali can be celebrated with earthen lamps, sweets and togetherness. It is time to go green this Diwali. Pollution-free crackers are also available, though very expensive. This year let us burn these crackers in small quantities just for the spirit of Diwali. Communities can also opt for laser shows on Diwali evening. Instead of spending on firecrackers, the same money could be used to make some capital investment at home, or buy a book and new clothes. This Diwali let us spread the joy and celebrations to the under privileged by donating text books, new clothes and sponsoring a lavish meal.
Here is wishing everyone a Happy and a Green Diwali.
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Dhanteras And Diwali Expectations
Deepavali, meaning a ‘series of light’, we say, is the triumph of good over evil and of right over wrong. Traditionally, this festival widely celebrated in India across communities, is a time of family bonding, conversations and thinking beyond oneself. Lamps are lit, sweets made, shared, and savoured, gifts exchanged and relationships nurtured.
However over the recent years, this auspicious day has also turned out to be a strain on living standards. As the celebrations ensue, we are coerced into shopping, spending and wasting more during this festive occasion. Air quality levels dwindle to dangerous numbers, vehicles are jam-packed on the road, plastic and food waste increased by mounds and strewn across the streets. Rather than goodness prevailing, there are signs of distress on the things that we value – people, animals and the environment.
If we stop to think about the far reaching consequences our actions bring on this day, we may be able to create some positive changes that will benefit every being and lead to brighter festival.
1. Use oil diyas instead of candles
Image Source: slodive.com
Diyas can be re-used multiple times and are made from earth-friendly material. Try to avoid the painted ones that have chemical colours smeared over them.
Candles, on the other hand, are for one-time use, require energy in their creation, are petroleum-based, and release toxins during burning to affect the air quality. Some of the toxins are benzene, formaldehyde and lead which are harmful to human and environmental health.
2. Make your rangoli with flowers, natural colours, or rice flour
Image Source: www.akankhanewtown.com
Kolams or rangoli was a way of sharing our food and life with insects and birds. Even today, in villages down south, the Kolam is made with either rice paste or dry rice flour and becomes a feast for ants and small birds. If you have to include colours, try using turmeric, coffee powder, and kumkum for yellow, brown, and red. You can also use flowers such as chrysanthemum, roses, lotus, and some leaves to brighten it further. Not only is this eco-friendly, you can clear it the next day and put it into your compost bin directly as compared to a chemical-coloured rangoli.
3. When buying sweets re-use existing carboard boxes from home
Image Source: Flickr.com. Clicked by Arbindo
A “kuch meetha ho jaye” feeling becomes overwhelming during the festive season. Sharing sweets and spending time with the neighbours is a common ritual of the day. While it is convenient to pick up good sweets from a neighbourhood store, spare a thought for the packaging that comes along with it. You can avoid this by either making simple sweets at home and distributing them or carrying available packaging and plastic packets from home.
4. Give a handmade gift
Enthusiastic about giving and receiving gifts? Choose gifts that are made from natural materials like a jute or cloth bag, cloth purse, a cotton kurta, or a saree. I bought a kid’s backpack completely handmade with cloth for my niece from The Green Bazaar last time. She loved it. You can also make gifts if you have the time for them – they are personalized and add a touch of love to the person it is given to.
5. Wrap your gifts in newspaper
Make it trendy to pack your gifts in newspapers instead of shiny plastic wraps. These wraps combine plastic and metal, thus making it difficult to recycle. For children’s gifts, you can use the comic strips section of the newspaper to make it fun and interesting. Calendars with pictures can also be used.
6. Shop for your festive needs at your nearby local shop rather than the online store
Image source: www.slideshare.net
My neighbour had once ordered for a cricket bat for her son over the internet. The bat arrived safely tucked in a cardboard box 5 times its size and stuffed with plastic bubble packaging. The next day, this ended up in the garbage truck. The same bat is available at our corner store but for a slightly higher price. But as consumers, we tend to evaluate only the cost that we pay at that instant and not the long-term environmental cost.
The plastic packaging will most probably end up in a landfill or get burned somewhere midway and will result in toxins being released into the air. This has an indirect effect on human health but we are unwilling to consider this during our shopping.
Some information from: http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/P1009BZL.pdf
Looking for tips on how to celebrate a greener Diwali this year? Check out our My Eco-friendly Diwali section for more such helpful articles.