Meet An Amazing Woman From Delhi With A Zero-Waste Lifestyle
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate the whole nation.” - African Proverb
The idea of a sustainable lifestyle might seem new, but if you go back to our Indian roots, we have always been living that way. Until recently. The speed with which global warming has taken over is close to an epidemic! Yet, it’s possible to reverse the situation, if we act now.
Charity begins at home and so it did with Vandana, the inspiring woman behind The Conscious Desi. She has almost converted to a zero waste lifestyle and in her unique ways, will motivate you to do so too. She talks to us about the possibilities, the consequences and the ease with which you can make that switch.
What exactly is a zero waste lifestyle and what does it entail?
I look at zero waste as a lifestyle where you don’t send any waste to landfills or incinerators. The idea is to refuse things you don’t need, reduce what you use, reuse what you have, repair things that need mending, recycle what cannot be reused/reduced/refused and rot biodegradable waste through composting.
(Also Learn - 27+ Best out of Waste Creative Ideas)
Bulk is beautiful
Have you always been living sustainably?
Not at all. Being a kid from the 90s in a city meant I created trash constantly, whether it was the snacks I ate or the crafts I made at school or the toys I played with.
Until I graduated from college and moved to a small village, I had no idea how much waste I produced at a personal level and where it ended up. It brought me face to face with the waste, because I had to carry it myself and dump it in my landlady’s backyard, who would set it on fire!
That’s when I realised plastic was a problem. So I started segregating waste at home and took all the plastic to an incinerator (which wasn’t great either, but I knew nothing better back then).
I started using a reusable bag for shopping, but that was it. It has been a long journey of sorts, over a span of around 8 years to bring me where I am today.
How and when did you switch to a sustainable lifestyle?
I think for me the aha! moment was this year, when I took the Plastic Free July challenge. Before that, my definition of sustainable living was limited to conscious consumption, recycling, taking public transport, eating organic and being vegan. I’m not saying that all of these things don’t matter, they do.
Taking the challenge opened my eyes to how dependent I was on single use plastic - right from my fridge to my bathroom, it was everywhere. It really made me examine my relationship with the waste I was creating and to take responsibility for it. Two months later, I reached a stage where I no longer have a bin that goes to the landfill. Now, I barely have garbage to give to the waste collector!
It’s not like I am leading a 100% zero waste lifestyle. But surely, I’m getting there.
Waste produced after the Plastic Free July challenge
How much of a lifestyle change is this - any examples? Is it tough or is that just a perception?
I will be honest. In the beginning, it seemed like a daunting task. How am I supposed to buy anything minus packaging? How am I supposed to compost when I live in a small flat?
If you try to go zero waste all at once, it’s not going to happen. It can leave you overwhelmed or frustrated. Small steps, tiny habits and a problem-solving attitude are the keys to zero waste living. Make an effort and plan a bit ahead.
First, I got cloth bags stitched and started shopping in bulk to cut down plastic waste. Then, I learnt how to make my own shampoo and dishwashing liquid to replace chemical-laden products that came in plastic bottles. After a month, I figured out how to compost on a budget in a matka (clay pot) by watching a Youtube video. I’m still learning new stuff every day.
Composting in a clay pot at home
Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share?
I was concerned that my friends might find all this too idealistic. On the contrary, they have been amazingly understanding and encouraging.
A friend from Germany got me chocolate wrapped in paper and cellophane. Another friend, who is a cafe manager, got inspired and decided to buy steel boxes instead of plastic ones, to transport food for her cafe’s catering service. Recently I went to a bakery with my childhood friend and she told me how impressed she was with the fact that I was carrying my steel dabba for the cake.
When I decided to quit packaged food, I was nervous. I thought shop owners and assistants might find it cumbersome to put my groceries in cloth bags or jars. I was proven completely wrong. I think the fear is all in the head.
In a way, my social life has become more interesting ever since I started talking publicly about living sustainably. The truth is, there are a bunch of highly motivated people leading change in their homes, neighbourhoods and through social enterprises.
I’ve organised informal talks, discussions and even a green speed dating session so people who’re trying to live green, can find each other easily. And people show up! Although this community is still very small, it is definitely growing.
I recently did a zero waste picnic in one of the loveliest parks in Delhi, without creating a single piece of trash! Now I’m planning a zero waste potluck sometime soon and people are excited to join me!
I was never much of a shopper, but I do like beautiful handmade clothes. I can easily count more than 15 items in my wardrobe which are hand-me downs from friends, second-hand and upcycled. I always joke that I look great in other people’s clothes!
What are some of the common items at home you exchanged for a sustainable option - a checklist would be great.
Big poly/carry bags for reusable cotton tote bag.
Packaged food for food bought in bulk.
Plastic water bottles for a reusable metal water bottle.
Plastic takeaway boxes for steel boxes. Packaged snacks for snacks bought in my own reusable box.
Plastic packages/containers in the kitchen for steel containers and glass jars.
Fruit and vegetable scraps in the garbage bin for composting them at home in a clay pot.
Store bought detergent and dishwashing liquid for a homemade, all purpose cleaner made out of soapnuts. Shampoo in a plastic container for homemade herbal hair wash. Soap wrapped in plastic for homemade herbal bath powder.
Natural scrub loofah for dishwashing
Toothpaste in a plastic tube for homemade toothpaste.
Deodorant bought in a plastic container for homemade deodorant.
As a woman particularly, have you faced any issues in a sustainable lifestyle?Finding sustainable alternatives for menstrual products was a whole new area for me, a few years ago. I switched to reusable pads and a reusable menstrual cup nearly 3 years ago. It was easy to find these in stores that sell natural and organic products.
Initially, I had my doubts about such products because I was conditioned to believe that a new shiny pad with artificial fragrances was far more ‘hygienic’ and practical than a cloth pad. The idea of putting a cup inside one’s body was simply unnerving at first.
But I also remember trying to dispose off a used sanitary napkin in a village where there are no landfills. People dump these in their backyards or even throw them right next to the stream. All those toxins leach into our water and soil which is completely crazy!
Did you have to give up a lot while making this switch? Or has your normal routine remained the same?
Once you have your zero waste practices nailed down after a series of hits and trials, the process becomes very smooth and efficient in a few week’s time. My daily routine hasn’t changed much, except that over the weekends, I spend an hour or two making cleaning/personal care supplies or a tasty treat. Most things I need in bulk are easily available in my neighbourhood.
For example, throwing a sustainable get together is totally possible, all you need is an open mind and a willingness to try. Two friends came over for dinner to my place last month. We went to the market and shopped together. We brought all the vegetables in my tote bag and cooked a lovely meal together.
But your friends or family might be used to certain habits like using paper napkins or consuming bottled drinks. In that case, you can always come up with alternatives. The solution is to start doing what you can at a personal level, which will eventually create a ripple effect.
Zero waste coffee cake and ice-cream
Can you suggest simple hacks for our community to move towards a sustainable lifestyle?
Natural broom and metal dustpan
Refuse - all single use plastics and paper disposables - bags, boxes, bottles, cutlery, napkins, paper receipts. Find and collect reusables (if they’re second-hand, it’s even better).
Reuse - glass bottles, jars, metal cans, tins, old clothes. Use these for storage in your kitchen. Use old t-shirts to make rags and wipes for cleaning.
Reduce - packaged, processed and imported food, clothing, electronics, online shopping. Cut down on junk food, the amount of clothes you buy every season, collecting gadgets and impulsive shopping.
Repair - clothes, shoes, bags, electronic devices. Simply mend whatever breaks down. If you don’t know how to sew, go to the local tailor. Take your shoes to the cobbler before you rush to buy a new pair.
Recycle - only the paper, plastic, metal, glass which you can’t refuse, reuse or reduce. Recycling is a resource intensive process, so keep it minimal.
Rot - your food scraps to make nourishing compost for plants.
Vandana K is the woman behind The Conscious Desi, a blog about plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle. This tete-a-tete is an insight into leading a sustainable lifestyle. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
*All pictures are by Vandana K.
Do you have any tips of your own to share with us? Share in the comments below!
Y*****I too avoid plastic bags as much as possible and it distress me to see the way the people misuse plastic bags in Mumbai. If there is any such group in Mumbai, I would definitely like to join.
D*****I will also try this
D*****Amazing...very inspiring dear!!!!
N*****Amazing ....keep it up
G*****Great but really difficult to follow hats off to you
N*****Wow! That's great Preeti! Changing the world one step at a time :)
N*****Reusing stuff is such a good idea Debparna, one can come up with quirky decor ideas!
P*****My cousin is doing a similar kind of work and got an award too,she teaches girls how to use these things and they create craft and food items,all organic
D*****Wow.. that's really inspiring. I also try to avoiding wastage of food and make DIY with waste products.
N*****That's an amazing step you're taking towards the environment Archein. Even I try to reduce plastic waste and resort to traditional practices that our grandparents used to follow. That itself makes life less complicated I've realised.
A*****I too make sure I reduce waste by composting biodegradable items in a big wooden box....it need to be kept farther from living area...such as terrace and refuge areas in apartments and can be buried below ground with metal covering in smaller bungalows....apart from this buying good quality products which last longer is very crucial.... however you cannot do away with some amount of plastic and paper products.... especially while traveling....but they can be re-employed to create creatively...such as making products of such compressed plastic items.... Ideally no door mat anywhere should be from fresh cloth.....great to read this....