Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Woodbridge River Watch

Do you know that Woodbridge township has a green oasis? How many are aware of the existence of Woodbridge River and 97 acres of tranquil forest in the township of Woodbridge?  If you are a resident of Woodbridge and happen to be in Omar Avenue – you will be able to see the wooded area. A wooded area in Woodbridge?

Surprised? I bet!

Map picture

Way back in 1988 a group of six individuals of the township formed a small organization called the Woodbridge River Watch. The group grew in strength to about a 100 volunteers at one time. Several enthusiastic clean-ups were undertaken and you won’t believe the things that they pulled out from the Woodbridge river! Tires, shopping carts, bottles, cans amongst endless other things!

The WRW has shown that what a group of dedicated people can do to conserve the natural resources even in an urban environment. The  Woodbridge township has recognized the efforts of the group and has allocated $15,000 to have engineers delineate the wetlands.

The objective of Woodbridge River Watch:

Cleanup and Restore all waterways in Woodbridge Township

Provide passive (natural state) recreational areas, such as:

    • Nature Trails
    • Canoe Launch sites & rest areas
    • Bird Watching Stands
    • Animal Refuges

Latest activity by the group is the butterfly garden @Omar Avenue. Work in the butterfly garden started last year.

Thanks to the dedicated members of the WRW group and volunteers the waterways have been restored largely. More work needs to be done for which volunteers are required. The forthcoming cleanup has been planned for 24th of October 2009 (rain date 31st of October). Please visit the organization website for contact information. We need to ensure that the work of all the senior members of the group is carried on by the younger generation.

So pass this post to as many Woodbridge residents you know – As for me I am amazed by the spirit of the group and each meeting inspires me to do more than what is required for our earth.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success." Swami Vivekanand

The work by the group shows just that! They never fail to inspire me!

CIAO – till the next post!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Car-less in Mumbai, London and New Jersey

autoexhaust pedestrian

Hi – To all my readers who have been following my blog(I presume – they have been ;-) ) I have a bit of news.

I had an accident on Wednesday. No one was injured – my son was with me and I was unnerved that’s all. Or that’s what I thought! Anyways what has a car accident to do with a green lifestyle?

No - I am not car-less trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I am car-less because the left blinker is not working you see. The whole thing will take about a week to fix. Till that time – I am car-less. 

Well, given a chance I would like to live car-less. Two legs, bike or a scooty(fuel efficient and/or preferably battery operated) is my kind of vehicle.

The pedestrian and the vehicle drivers are not mutually exclusive groups. Each one of us is one or the other in course of our daily lives. But it is the human tendency to assume a sense of power depending upon the vehicle we are driving. Hence in the human mind – owning a car is empowering, physically as it allows us to travel further and socially as it tells the society about our buying power.

I came to Bombay from Nagpur(I biked and rode a two wheeler in Nagpur). The first thing I felt in the first couple of days is the amount of walking I was doing in Mumbai. I have lived in Mumbai for several years without a car. I lived in IIT Powai campus which is pretty and very much walkable (i.e if you are not bothered by stray dogs and the late night visitors – panthers) and I would venture out at the most to the shops just outside the campus. Most of my shopping needs were met within a radius of 5 km of my place of residence. Mumbai offers the carless many means of travelling – mostly the city offers the option of bus, train and three wheeler autos and taxis. Not all modes are the best of the world – but they work, they handle endless crowd and somehow the chaotic system manages to take people effectively from point A to point B. Not the best of roads or footpaths to walk on though..but people walk anyways. Many times hordes of pedestrians cross the roads together and bring the road traffic to a halt. What hits me is the absence of safe pedestrian crossing. Pedestrians in Mumbai also do one more thing – they take the path of least resistance. For example hordes of people just get down from a train and cross the tracks together. Often you may find a big opening in a wall between the tracks and the road on the other side – you see path of least resistance. In India the term pedestrian often is synonymous to the common man or the poorer people. As smaller cars are becoming more accessible more and more Indians are moving on and acquiring that ultimate dream of owning a car. Urban planners need to cater to the needs of the pedestrian in the developing countries. Often this segment is neglected as we move on trying to emulate the west – more highways and freeways..enough to deter anyone even daring to cross them – example the western and eastern expressways. In India pedestrians often cross wherever they feel like…not where they are supposed to. On a busy road one many times can see a person whizzing past. That’s how one has to cross a road in India – superfast. Why – one may ask? think and let me know. And the pedestrian mind you can be inconsiderate too – whizzing past at the cost of the bewildered car driver! One thing though..without a car one does not feel helpless in Mumbai.

Many places in India you will see pedestrians walking on the road and not on the footpaths even where they exist. What is so disheartening to see is that – municipalities  spend time and money building footpaths..but height of the raised footpath – is almost a foot high. The design of the footpath has no allowance for people walking with prams or the like. Enough to deter old people or people with leg problems off the footpath. Often, open drains on footpaths and vendors or squatters hogging space deter people off the footpath.

After Mumbai, walking in London felt wonderful. Lived in London for 4 years. Not once did I feel the need to buy or own a car. For me, if I were to compare Mumbai and London – London to me is a walking heaven. One can walk really here. For the first time in my life I saw these quaint little buttons on poles near crossings. These are the pedestrian cross buttons. When I went back to visit India I told people about such buttons. One person said to me, “You mean the traffic actually stops because one person wanted to cross the road?”. “Yes it does”, I replied. London also has a very effective bus, train and tube service which makes walkability practically a cakewalk. I walked to my hearts content. I did not visit a gym during the course of 4 years of my stay there. Many European cities I have noted have infrastructure which support walkability.

The US is completely different story. For the first time in my life I felt utterly helpless, hopeless and useless. Initially I didn't have a license nor a car. When my son fell sick I put him in a pram and walked him to the doctor’s office. The footpath suddenly vanished and I was contemplating how to cross the big road. You wouldn’t want to know the frustration I felt that day. Everything here is driven by the auto industry and insurance. Living without a car can be pretty tough, especially here, where public transportation is frequently lacking and where questionable urban planning has caused the average person to live far away from workplaces, schools, and markets.

That said, it's certainly possible, as long as you're willing to change your lifestyle. Many townships(Woodbridge for instance) have identified that the issues surrounding air pollution, green house gas emissions and walkablity, sustainability are all interlinked. A lot of thought need to be put into making neighborhoods sustainable.

Improving walkability could translate into :

1. Thriving local economy – walkers tend to stop more at local stores

2. Reducing carbon dioxide emission(33% of all US CO2 emissions come from cars)

3. Reducing air pollution (common criteria air pollutants from cars are PM, NOx, CO)

4. Healthier population – walking each day for 30 minutes..everyone knows it is good for you.

5. Curb unnecessary expenditure (in other words help lead a more austere lifestyle) since without the car, one would not visit far flung shops or malls!

Here are a few links :

Calculate your carbon emissions due to your car – at

Read about : The global walkability index :TALK THE WALK AND WALK THE TALK


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Buy Local?

To all my readers – as you know I have been keenly following the green initiatives of the township of Woodbridge as I am a resident of this township. Woodbridge comprises of the following communities.

The Township has announced “Buy & Shop Local” and the “Green Business Recognition” initiative. According to Caroline Ehrlich, Chief of Staff and architect of the “Sustainable Woodbridge” initiative, the “Buy & Shop Local” initiative – part of “Greenable Woodbridge” – is geared to encourage Township residents and consumers to support locally owned, independent businesses that provide unique services and commodities to the community.

“Buy Local” contributes to the overall Township economy, maintains the character of the community and provides continuing opportunities for local entrepreneurs and businesses by building economic strength throughout the Township. “Buy Local” also encourages environmental conservation by reducing travel and fuel consumption and advances health and wellness by allowing residents to walk to local merchants and stores for all their shopping needs.

The township has announced A BUY LOCAL CHALLENGE which challenges residents, shoppers and consumers to shop locally the week of September 20-27.

For a resident the first and foremost question that would arise to meet this challenge is to know what are the local businesses in their area. FREE on-line business listing in the WOODBRIDGE TOWNSHIP BUY LOCAL directory is up at the Woodbridge Township web page(

One can think of buying local in terms of concentric circles. For example – for your food requirements – local starts with growing your own food, the next concentric ring is local farm, next farmer’s market, next state run grocery food chain, next might be nationwide grocery chain.

People should be aware that buying local need not imply that goods you buy are organic produce or sustainable. For that “buy local” and “green businesses” have to run in tandem. What buy local does is supports the local economy and help save fuel. For more information refer to the Top Ten reasons to Think Local - Buy Local - Be Local. Also take a minute off your time to see what the main street of your town looks like. You might find an interesting cafe or restaurant with a lot of character. Our car dependency hampers exploration by foot and robs us of exploring a town – stopping at will at a local store when you are passing by. The next in line of efforts from the township – should be making the main streets walkable and pedestrian friendly.

So to all residents of the township – do your part in helping the local economy – try and meet the challenge of shopping locally – at least during the week of September 20-27 2009. Pass on the message to all people the residents of Woodbridge.

Till you hear from me again – Happy Shopping.

BWT – when you visit the Woodbridge YMCA – pick up coupons – @ ‘Your Passport to Woodbridge’ in the entrance lobby.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Still no bottled water for me!

My last post on bottled water had generated a lot of interest. This is a follow up post on the same subject. I got a bunch of interesting comments from my readers. For those who could not post their comment..I have fixed that.

Would like to share this video with all my blog readers :

Seen enough I guess?

I was scouting for options to carry water without using glass or plastic and we recently acquired this bottle from SIGG. The other bottle which we got was from Klean Kanteen. If you are in North America or Europe – these would be viable options for you. However these are good value for money. And there are others like EcoCanteen too.


kleen kanteen

Developing nations may still not have these options – I would expect people to put their heads together to come up options to make portable water bottles with copper, steel and glass(something like capped beer bottles?) – anything but plastic…and I would probably even look for light weight aluminum bottles.

I did find good portable steel flasks to carry water in India – even the old fashioned glass flasks are options – though these break very easily. Water kept in copper containers are supposed to be good for health – and I have seen them at my mom’s place and store water in one myself here in US. But these might not be good options in local travel as compared to the stainless steel bottle below. This makes me nostalgic of the times when we would carry water in earthen pots for long distance train travels.

216rPrFiCrL__SL500_AA150_ copper jug stainless steel

People in India please read the report by CSE on the occurrence of pesticide in bottled water. The only company that did not have any traces of pesticides was Evian – which is bottled in France – why the hell did they choose to transport it to India for sale…no market in France? What about GHG emissions associated with all their operations – never head is aching!

Why would people prefer bottle water even if they are aware that bottled water is the single largest marketing gimmick by private companies?

I had posted my post on the "Climate Change- I care" group in linked and it ended up being a lively discussion. I am reporting it say it went - their arguments in quotes and mine without.

From Netherlands Saskia wrote, “The water company in Southern Limburg Netherlands has great difficulty in getting tap water clean. Especially antibiotics and medicines are difficult. This is a problem in the US too.”

I understand that antibiotics and medicines are difficult to remove from water...strict regulations to ensure the safe disposal of these hazardous wastes - so that they do not enter the water cycle - must be put in place. US EPA is working towards that....I will highlight that in my next post. In fact if bottled water is many times tap water bottled - i would not be surprised tests show traces of antibiotics in them.

Marcio Rossa from London says, “In lots of countries bottled water is a means of survival and the tap water is undrinkable.”

Poor people in these countries many times do not have access to clean water at times and no means by bottles water is my response to the above argument. Bottled water is a luxury which many people cannot afford.

Marcio continues, “Bottle water is like wine or other drink. Different countries and different regions in the same country have different types of water due to chemical components in the rocks, etc.
I do have a preference for a certain type of water. A taste I prefer or a more adequate type of water, adjusted to my health. Saying that banning bottled water is the best... hum, would make me very sad. I think I would stop drinking water all together, so being obliged to buy juices, then get fat and with diabetes because they have about 40% sugar, etc.
And believe me, I would never drink water from the Victorian pipes of London... They are very old!... if bacteria survive in extreme basic and acid (ph) environments, don't tell me that the 'treated' waters of London (where I study) are safe. The river Thames looks very dirty to me!
In Portugal, where I'm from, bottled water is a big industry. It is collected where the spring is being less processed, transformed, or whatever we want to call it.
Of course I do care about the poor countries and the people that have no money to buy water. I do care a lot, but is not by stopping (what we call) developed countries having their water that they will be happier! we need to find solutions and maybe exporting (traded or not) bottled water might be the only solution. That we know is not.”

Bijoy Nair from Gulf writes
“But there is no other choice for people like me who are living in Arabian Gulf. We are paying more for water than gasoline!
We are not away from wars for which water is gonna be the cause :("

From Saskia again

“I am secretly happy to hear that you pay more for water than for gasoline. As gasoline is soooo cheap over there... The prices in the Netherlands with special taxes on gasoline are terrible... but good for reducing CO2 emissions.
Sunita, how do you propose strict regulation on keeping antibiotics an medicine out of the water? Its in feaces and urine... that's the problem. We can hardly forbid people to use their restroom/loos!? When the toilet is flushed it comes into the water cycle, also with closed sewer systems as we have throughout the Netherlands.”

My response to the above two :

I have mentioned that incase you have to drink water from reliable sources and which come under the category of bottled water - you could use 3 - 5 gallons refillable, reusable, recyclable bottles - which can be returned back to the water supplier in lieu of newly filled water containers.
I too am worried about the antibiotics and medicines in water - however treated STP water is many times not recycled back into the city water distribution system - let me know if I am wrong..
Rain water harvesting, storage and use - is a good area for homeowners to investigate.
Also one have to weigh what poses a greater health threat - BPA or traces of antibiotics in water.

I have lived in London for several years - totally agree - that the Thames is doubt...but it used to be dirtier believe me it was the sewage carrier for the city of it is much better.
The source of drinking water in London are the lakes - I have drunk tap water - filtered using Brita - and not fallen sick any time during my several years of stay in London.

Another interesting reason where we would need bottled water says David Gross ,“About the only reason I can think to have bottled water is for national disasters. When the power goes out so can the water/sewer. Having sat through hurricanes Francis and Jeanne in Florida in 2004, I can say that bottled water is useful to have around during an emergency. Filling up the bathtub is a good plan for occasionally flushing the toilet, but I would not want to drink that.”

We would definitely not want to add to the burden of disasters – water supplied by tankers and filled in containers by affected people is often practiced in countries like India in times of nature afflicted disasters. – But what works for some countries might not be true for other countries – we all tend to follow one rule in life diligently – we follow path of least resistance – we all do what is the easiest and most convenient for us!

For such events we could think of bottles made of Taterware and Novomer.

Novomer is a company that makes plastics from CO2. SO no oil, and it helps reduce CO2; sounds too good to be true.

Did you know that offering water in glass bottles is becoming a gourmet thing in restaurants! Its a shame…at present there is no single company that is offering water in a glass bottle – though beer a very popular drink is routinely sold in one.

Enough on bottled water I guess. As you can see there are two sides of a coin - but the environmental impact of plastic bottles far outweigh any other concerns. We have a long way to go! CIAO till the next post...will do more on water pollution and how you can be involved.