The Zero-Waste Brigade

And if you’re still not sure how to go about it, meet these six eco-warriors who are leading by example.

Do you think you could live in a way so as to generate little or no waste? Sounds impossible? Well it is not, say few urbanites who are trying to lead a zero-waste lifestyle. If one is mindful of what he buys, what he consumes, and what he leaves behind, it is possible to generate little to no long-term waste. From buying vegetables and groceries sans packaging to using non-toxic cleaners and bamboo toothbrushes, there is a lot one can do. And if you’re still not sure how to go about it, meet these six eco-warriors who are leading by example.

Kalpana Manivannan (44), Chennai
“When you grow your own food something changes within you”

A high-school biology teacher, Kalpana thought living in a city, living a zero-waste lifestyle was absolutely impossible. After all, everything we buy from milk to groceries comes in plastic packaging. So she started looking for sustainable options. About five years ago, she started off by looking for organic produce and soon decided to grow her own food. Living on a busy Chennai street, the family bought a half-acre plot 45-minutes away, which Kalpana calls Kalpavriksha Farms. “Once you start growing your own food, that’s what starts you off on a journey towards healthy living.” This led her to attend a series of workshops where she understood how much chemicals we regularly ingest through food, cosmetics, cleaners and more. “The floor cleaners, toilet cleaners we use are not just harmful to the environment but they harm our gut bacteria,” she states. “There are few harmful bacteria, but most are not harmful. So, we don’t need to get rid of all bacteria in the home with chemical anti-bacterial cleaners. Also, living in a sterile environment is bad for our own immunity,” says Kalpana, who was recently conferred with the Karmaveer Chakra award.

She soon started making bio-enzyme based home cleaners and even learnt to make soaps without any chemicals at home. She also started carrying a small pouch with a steel spoon, steel straw and a handkerchief.

Simply put, she does not use disposables like tissues and plastic straws even when she is out for a bite. She says finding a micro-community that caters to different needs is an effective way to reduce buying packaged goods. “I go to farmer’s market for groceries and I grow my own vegetables. I also have a cooking community network, so when I feel like eating out, I can get in touch with them and get authentic Maharashtrian or Konkani food without packaging."

Sameera Satija (46), Gurgaon
“If your money is your right then your waste is your responsibility”
If you want to have a zero-waste event in Gurgoan, Sameera Satija is your go-to guy. With steel plates, tumblers and other steel vessels on hire for no cost at all, she has been trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is generated at events for over a year. “It was purposefully kept free of rent as I wanted to motivate more people to use this service,” says Sameera. “Many similar banks have started all over India. With collective efforts we have been able to save 3,25,000 single use items from being sent to landfills.”

Sameera, a citizen volunteer in the field of waste management, sustainability and other environmental issues says that single use plastic waste is a big demon. “It is harmful for water bodies, animals and for our own health as it is made out of styrene which is said to be carcinogenic. As it is not recyclable, it ends up in landfills where it gets burnt because of landfill fires and it release toxic gases into the air.”

For Sameera, a zero-waste lifestyle is to reduce your waste and ensure very little goes to the landfill. Consume and use the stuff, which is recyclable, reusable, refurbishable and repairable. “If we start managing out waste wisely, we can bring down the size of landfills drastically. Ideally only 10-15% waste should be going to landfills. Rest can be beautifully managed.”

Akshay Agarwal (27), Kolhapur
“A clutter-free home calms the mind”

Living in a small town called Ichalkaranji in Kolhapur, Akshay, follows a zero-waste lifestyle. He has today touched the lives of over 8,000 farmers in 14 states across India. A chartered accountant by profession, he quit a high paying job to start an organic food store – Satvyk. “While we sold organic produce, we got enquiries if we can look at sustainable packaging,” he says.

Akshay and his partner Gajendra Choudhary opened their first zero-waste store in Pune called Adrish. Adrish has organic produce, range of earthenware, cleaning solutions range, steel straws and more that can help anyone make the transition to a zero-waste lifestyle. “People are expected to bring their own containers and cloth bags to take the products,” he says. “We did not want to replicate the zero-waste stores of the west. We wanted Adrish to be a reminder of Indian culture. The reason why we have earthenware and bronze vessels that were earlier used in our country. If you cook in aluminium, 87% of nutrients are lost.” The chemical-free shampoos at Adrish are in dispensers and one can take a can and fill it in. “Last year we had about 35,000 orders that were without packaging. We saved 156 to 20 tonnes of plastic,” he says.

Akshay has always been a minimalist at heart. “During my wedding I just had a few shirts and pants and a pair of shoes. My house is becoming minimalist and zero-waste too,” he says. “The first step at home was to reduce plastic and we changed to glass jars. We then moved to cloth bags. We have started composting recently. My mom was sceptical of the changes but she recently told me how nice the house was looking. A clutter-free home makes the mind feel calm.”

Vani Murthy (58), Bengaluru
“The first step to waste management is understanding your waste”

When Vani decided to host a wedding reception for her son in Bengaluru, she wasn’t sure how to go about it producing little to no waste. But not only did she manage a zero-waste event in Bengaluru but even the wedding ceremony hosted in Chennai was zero-waste, thanks to the efforts of her in-laws. “We kept plastic bottles away. Big water containers were placed everywhere and steel tumblers were used. Instead of tissues we kept reusable cloth napkins. We even gave sustainable clothes and chemical-free make-up to the bride.” They also had a waste management company on board to handle whatever waste was generated in a sustainable way.

Vani’s zero-waste journey began over a decade ago when she visited a landfill and realised how the trash collected contaminates the three components of life – air, water and soil. She became passionate about waste management and has over the years helped spread awareness on waste segregation, composting, terrace gardening and more though different projects like Swachagraha and 2bin1bag. She is a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) and they have worked with the government to promote segregation throughout Bengaluru city. “The first step is to start looking at your waste. Kitchen waste is an amazing resource for the soil. I started composting and at every step learnt how to deal with waste in an effective and sustainable manner.” She even started terrace gardening and grew a few of her own vegetables. She avoided anything that comes in plastic packaging. She switched to bamboo toothbrushes and tooth powder and even bamboo bottle cleaners. Vani even practises zero-waste travel. “I carry a kit that has a tumbler, steel spoon, steel straw, steel plate and bottled water. So much of the food served on flights is in single-use plastic.”

Sahar Mansoon (28) Bengaluru
“Many Indian traditions are actually rooted in zero-waste practices”

We live in a world with landfill-destined products. Toothbrushes — 4.7 billion of them end in the landfill every year, and take 200-700 years to start decomposing. So every toothbrush you and I have ever used is sitting on our planet somewhere,” says Sahar, founder of Bare Necessities, a company that sells a wide range of zero-waste, organic and chemical-free products. Sixty per cent of the waste generated in India is compostable. And from the dry-waste generated, a lot can be reused, recycled or taken to our local dry-waste centres. Sahar, who has studied environmental planning, policy and economics, first started making personal care products in 2015. Personally, she does live a zero-waste lifestyle. “If you think about it, everything around us can be either bought with no packaging, or can be made at home. I make it a point to conduct my research and support local businesses to source my vegetables and other supplies. When I go grocery shopping, I carry my own bags, and buy products that are not packaged!
The more you buy products that are not packaged, the healthier you start living as you begin buying more whole foods.”

Divya Ravichandran (33), Mumbai
“Reducing the waste you bring in is minimising your waste”

If you recently attended a Mahindra Blues festival or the NH7 weekender, you may have been surprised by the bring-back-your-cup policy at the bar or the water dispensers instead of plastic bottles. At the 2019 Mahindra Blues festival in Mumbai, 94 % of all the waste generated was saved from the landfill. It sent for composting, recycling, reusing or conversion into biogas and the Magnetic Fields festival in Rajasthan managed to save 85% of the event waste from dumping grounds. Such large-scale waste reduction was possible thanks to the efforts of Skrap, a company, helmed by Divya, which provides waste management solutions to offices and events.

Divya’s zero-waste journey began three years back when she witnessed the impact of a fire at the Deonar dumping ground. “The fire went on for a week and many people had to be hospitalised due to health issues. I visited the dumping ground and saw how the waste we generate affects people and the environment.” She started off with segregating her waste and taking the dry waste to dry waste recycling units. She stresses that people worry composting at home leaves a bad smell but this is not the case when it is done right. “I place my compost bin near the window sill or in the balcony. There is no foul smell at all.” She also started looking at local kirana stores, farmer’s markets and local bazaars to buy her groceries. Talking of how one can go about starting a zero-waste lifestyle, she says, “First give up the one thing that is the easiest to do – may be just start carrying a water bottle. I took a year to make the transition so start slow, and you won’t get overwhelmed.”

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