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What a Middle-Class Mom Can Teach You About Recycling That No One Else Can

“I dismiss her suggestion every time. But when I compare the dustbin at my hometown to the one that is in my rented place, it begs the question- ‘isn’t Aai’s way much more economical?’,” writes a daughter about her ‘Mother of All Recycling’.

The doorbell rings exactly at 7 am. As I try to pry my eyes open, I wait for Aai’s, ‘Tanu, get the milk pan.” Even if you fly the coop and make a nest for yourself wherever your livelihood takes you, it does not take a long time to fall back into the old routines. Rituals are comforting.

Suresh, the milkman has been delivering milk since I was born. Years have passed by and everything is available at the click of a button, but my mother will never give up the “rituals” that are followed at home. “Where will I stack so many packets of milk?” she asks when I suggest why we don’t switch to buying milk only when we need it.

As a child, it was annoying to get up early in the morning, especially on the weekends, just to open the door for the milkman. Aai would be busy preparing the breakfast and in hindsight, this was perhaps her way of waking us up. Today, as I look back over my mother’s idiosyncrasies, I arrive at a startling realisation. She wasn’t the only one. These “rituals” or whatever you may want to call them, are generally followed by mothers all over the country.

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It wasn’t the refusal to change that makes moms—like mine—stick to old habits. Rather, it is the middle-class mom’s way of being economical and environment-friendly at the same time.

From small bottles to big drums. Aai can use anything to grow a plant in. Courtesy: Pushkaraj Patel.

What is taught to us about refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling, a middle-class mother not only subconsciously follows but also teaches her children, if they just care to observe. And these eco-friendly habits come to moms as a second nature.

Riddhi, a 37-year-old mother from Gurugram tells us how her son’s notebooks stand out from the rest of the class’. “My son, who will begin his second standard soon was asked to cover his books in the brown paper cover that we are all too familiar with. I thought, why not use this opportunity to recycle the glossy newspapers that are delivered every Sunday? I spoke to the school too and they welcomed the idea of covering his journals in newspapers instead of newly bought brown paper cover.”

A similar story echoes in my house too. I am the eldest child in my family and so, I had the pleasure of buying new textbooks every year. My brother, just two years younger, had to make do with my books, spending a week before the school started in erasing all my notes and doodles.

Funnily enough, Aai would have already started taking out the unused pages of our notebooks and getting them stitched together. These new ‘notebooks’ were either used as rough books or account books in the house. When she discovered a shop that re-stitched stray pages into hardbound notebooks, the newly made notebooks were given to the maid’s children.

Aai never thought much about these things. “Why waste the pages?” was her only acknowledgment to the praise we now shower upon her.

Birthday gifts/return gifts wrapped in newspaper with reused ribbons from gifts, flower bouquets. Courtesy: Ashima Palaha Babbar.

Let’s take another example of middle-class mom’s daily eco-hacks. Whenever I compare the dustbin at my hometown to the one in my rental place, it begs the question, “Isn’t Aai’s way much more economical?” My dustbin is filled to the brim with all sorts of cardboard and plastic packaging. The second one has all the green remains. Every third day, I throw out the dry and wet garbage bin in separate bags. Aai collects all the wet garbage in a container—everything from tea and coffee dregs to egg shells and right after wiping the dinner table clean, dumps the contents of the container in the garden.

For those of us who do not have the luxury of keeping a garden, I can understand, but for the ones who already have a garden, this is a way to give some organic food to your plants. That too, for free!

Is my mother really any different from a quintessential middle-class mother?

For 38-year-old Ashima Palaha Babbar, it’s all about reutilising packaging materials to make cool show-and-tell projects for her toddler.

Car garage made from Amazon boxes.

Ashima uses her recycled project work to impart important life lessons to her son. “To teach him space and parking management. Respect others’ property, so the trick is he cannot park any two cars on top of each other, they have to be neat. It’s a game with a lesson,” says Ashima.

“I save all the gift-wrapping paper and all the delivery cardboard boxes for my son. Most of the boxes go in making storage for his toys and “garages” for his cars. His room is filled with pretty storage boxes and these home-made toys. So it’s always a thing of intrigue for him to go through each of the boxes and learn which of his toys are kept where. I reuse so much gift-wrapping paper, he believes that I own a wrapping paper shop!”

Ashima reuses the gift-wrapping paper that she gets, but for the gifts that she sends out, Ashima falls back on her old friend—glossy newspapers. She wraps the presents, and attaches a disclaimer to them, that says, ‘I am sorry. Don’t mind the packaging but this is for preserving nature.’

“The newspaper covers have now become a trademark and even the children know that a box wrapped in the paper is a gift from Ashima Aunty!” the full-time mum tells us.

For a middle-class mother, the beauty of running a home is in creatively using every unconsumable product at least twice. If you can’t eat it, use it as many times as possible. Some ideas are unique to each household and some we can all relate with. For instance, as summer arrives, in most homes across the country, the soft-drink bottles are washed clean, filled with water and stored in the refrigerator.

Aai goes a step further. She spends her free afternoons cutting parts of the water bottle and upcycling them as pots for plants. All our windows are now adorned with pretty creepers and have become flower beds all thanks to my mother.

Even during summers, our terrace looks lush. Courtesy: Pushkaraj Patel.

I attach sentiments to objects, I guess I get it from my Aai. “Souvenirs to pin time well-spent with,” as I like to call them. School uniforms, my favourite dress when I was five, the nightie that my grandmother had stitched for me are some of the keepsakes that I would never throw out, donate or pass on. Aai has a solution for this too.

On one of her trips to Rajasthan, she found these stools that should be filled with clothes. Oh, you should have seen the glitter in her eyes when she realised that this one product can kill two birds! Essentially, anything that can be used in a variety of ways or can solve two purposes is what my mom loves.


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The clothes that cannot be passed on or need to be saved are stored carefully. Aai will let a heap of them accumulate before asking the domestic help to spare an afternoon for a special weekend project. Together, they will take out every button and zippers from them, cut them into squares and stitch them together to make quilts. Warm, comfortable and extremely soft, blankets of such quality are worth thousands in the market.

Fashioning something useful out of old clothes, or clothes with sentiments attached is what most middle-class moms can relate to. Take for example Ashima. “The clothes that I don’t wish to give away and those made with soft fabric are made into patterned blankets for my son. This way, I get to keep the sentiments of the attire alive and still reuse it in a green way.

Adult clothes are remade into shopping bags. Cotton skirts and dresses, especially, are quite strong and so, we take these bags along with us when we go grocery shopping,” Ashima tells TBI.

(L) Ashima Palaha Babbar. (R) Mrunal Patel.

I must make a mental note to introduce Ashima to my mother. They would get along like a house on fire.

If you can’t relate to this, think about the cookie boxes that become a box for sewing paraphernalia. Now, who could have taught all of our mothers about this? Either their own mothers or they just have a knack for such ideas.

I mean, we are all too familiar with adding water to the shampoo bottle to utilise every last drop of it lest it went unused to the drains or stuffing a dozen plastic bags in one so they can be carried when we go grocery shopping.


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We are not a deliberately zero waste family. But subconsciously, we are just steps away from being one. Installing solar water heaters because they save money, leading the sink pipes to our garden and planting vegetables in the backyard because “the market quality is falling day by day” are just some examples of how Aai has made our home eco-friendly.

Women like Riddhi, Ashima and Aai really are a great example of how middle-class moms can teach you about the four Rs better than any book or social media post.

Do you have any such unique examples? Share them with us!

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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