Boiling milk, freezing ACs: Why are we so callous about resources?

We waste a lot of resources. The long showers we love to take in warm water are a waste of electricity as well as water. The taps we leave open while brushing our teeth or shaving or even when scrubbing the vessels in the kitchen sink also mean wastage of water. Think of the petrol or diesel consumed by vehicles while idling at the signals or speeding beyond 40 km per hour and leaving the lights and fans switched on while vacating a room.

Water, petroleum products and electricity are precious resources. Let’s face it, we have been too casual about these.


When travelling on air-conditioned buses, have you noticed how one gets chilled to the bone? The thermostat is set so low that it hovers around 13-15 degrees centigrade. As the conductor to reset it to something more comfortable, he says “AC ka effect nahi rahta” which means, we have an AC and you better enjoy it. The idea is not to make you comfortable but chill you out: paisa vasool – value for money!

When energy was in short supply a few years ago in Mumbai, Tata Power ran advertisements saying that thermostats set at 24 degrees were good enough and saved money as well. No one took them seriously. But they would probably pay heed to the Nobel laureate philosopher-economist Amartya Sen.

At a convention in New Delhi recently, he spoke of how air-conditioning in India gave the impression that India had no power scarcity. They are, as Business Standard reported today, at a ’‘bone-chilling 16 degrees” unlike in other Asian countries where the norm is 24. At 16 degrees you spend more power and at 24 degrees power usage and cooling are balanced best.

Then why do you need to boil milk? Yes, my grandmother, then my mother, always heated it to a point when it was ready to boil over to use it through the day for tea, for coffee, and making curd out of it. They did so because the milkman who came to the door, mostly with his buffalo, or the milkman to whose place we went to collect the milk from did not believe much in hygiene.

The milk was contaminated by a poorly washed bucket in which he collected the milk from the cow or the buffalo. Even if he had cleaned it well but had used not so clean water, the milk would not have the shelf life to last the day. It needed to be heated. This was the way to pasteurise the milk.

This, of course, was before India became the world’s largest milk producer and had proper technology to process it for good shelf-life. That processing consumes energy, pasteurisation being the main part. Milk is heated for a moment up to 135 degrees centigrade and then rapidly chilled, sealed in pouches to ensure that up to 90 per cent bacteria are killed. That gives it the shelf life.

In most households, India being a country of phenomenal tea and coffee-drinkers, the treated milk delivered in the morning is consumed by the evening and it lasts longer in a ‘fridge. Yet we reheat milk from the freshly delivered pouches before we use it. It is a poor attempt at re-pasteurisation using up so much of energy from the stove. Imagine the needless fuel consumption across the country for this.

It is surprising that the Petroleum Conservation Research Association has barely given a thought to it. The PCRA’s mission is `Efficient energy utilisation and environment protection leading to improved quality of life’. It could get active in promoting use of milk-as-delivered to avoid needless fuel consumption. It once in a while advocates other simple ideas: put a lid on the vessels to cook quicker and save fuel.

One believes the poor who scour for firewood and stand in queues for their quota of kerosene at the public distribution system (PDS) outlets unconsciously waste resources. The cook who comes in to help with your meals, after having been careful at her home, sees LPG or natural gas in your kitchen in plenitude. Even if the wells in her villages are dry, the water at the turn of the tap implies the same: plentitude.

Published Date: Jan 10, 2013 05:34 pm | Updated Date: Jan 10, 2013 05:34 pm