Being human could be being zero waste

When Bangalore was reeling under the so-called ‘garbage crisis’, I was blissfully untouched by it. The reason – I compost all organic waste, including garden waste, generated in my house and take all the recyclables to the Dry Waste Collection Centre (DWCC). I love the concept of being ‘Zero Waste’, which has become the new mantra in every aspect of my life. This idea might sound very utopian but after years of segregating waste and encouraging and educating people around me about the necessity of doing so, I have learnt that the easiest way is to drastically reduce the amount of waste that we generate.

Therefore, when I look at garbage piles featured in newspapers year after year, as if it would solve the problem, it tires me out. If we are really serious about tackling this problem, there is one thing all of us can do, and that is to REDUCE the amount of waste we generate.

I believe India could be the best place for waste to be recycled, especially with the support of such vibrant waste picker communities. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. On the other hand, I have discovered that it is a great place to live a zero waste life. From the provision store to the bakery, from the vegetable market to the Hot Chips vendor, fresh ground coffee beans to soapnut powder – you can actually purchase most regular provisions without packaging by taking your own containers for refilling at the shop. A practice that was there not so long ago when all the plastic bags and other packaging were not available. It just needs a little bit of planning and you can’t imagine how good it feels when you know you are not contributing to any of the litter all around, especially the railway tracks used as dumping sites in and around populated areas.

This habit became so much part of my nature that I couldn’t help being conscious about it wherever I went. A few years back while travelling to Coorg, a very pristine place, not being sure where the waste was being disposed I made it a habit to carry all the waste back with me. Later on I took up the challenge of reducing waste as much as possible by avoiding disposables from the food and beverage section at the airport, food packaged in aluminium in trains, bottled water, soaps, shampoos and other cosmetics in hotels. So my recent train journey from Bangalore to Mumbai to attend a wedding with my friend Shyamala was an experiment in a zero waste trip. Before departure, I got a few tips from another friend who had just returned from a long train journey and had attempted a zero waste trip herself.

Here is how we did it…

  • We carried steel plates, spoons, glasses
  • Tiffin boxes with home food since it is was a long journey
  • Knife to cut fruits
  • Carried two water bottles each and refilled them at stations
  • Carried cloth hand towel and bath towel
  • Soap nut powder and lemon to wash the dishes
  • Organic bath soap (free of sodium lauryl sulphate)
  • We carried all our organic and recyclable waste back home
  • We carried our menstrual cups to avoid sanitary waste

However, we did accept food wrapped in newspaper – e.g. chaats and omelettes, and took the newspaper back with our organic waste for composting. We also carried banana, apple, orange peels in a container for 3 days without any issue. Once we reached the hotel we made sure we got filtered water instead of bottled water, and we didn’t use any of the individually packaged toiletries.

The wedding we attended was almost a zero waste event,though with a few challenges since it involved so many people. We made sure that the waste generated was segregated and the organic waste (the banana leaves with food waste) was sent to feed a biogas plant and the plastic table liner was sent for recycling. On the way back at the airport, we managed to get our coffee served in steel cups and food in reusable plates much to the amusement of the employees at the food court.

Any citizens’ initiative to reduce the burden of waste to be handled, however small, might seem like a drop in the ocean but it can go a long way. Many communities in Europe like the province of Gipuzkoa in the Spanish Basque Country in 2011 refused to have an incinerator in their area.

They showed their political representatives that they could be zero waste and handle their own waste responsibly. We should learn to do the same by being conscious of the waste we generate.

Being human could be being zero waste!


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