The facilitator picked up a cellphone and said “What if I say this thing you use every minute comes from soil “ And that’s how it all began for me. This realisation that every single item we use was made using some raw material extracted from the Earth and while we keep taking, almost nothing is being returned back. Why? Because after a point it is ‘Waste’.
What is Waste? “Waste is a resource misplaced from its appropriate place”
It’s amazing how words put together differently can change your whole perspective about something.
Little did I know that this life skills workshop that I incidentally came across and ended up attending would turn out to be such a game changer on my life journey. It opened up a new world of possibilities for me; one of them being – Living a sustainable low waste life.
Thereafter began a journey of observing every little thing and its journey from birth to (supposed) death. For a few weeks after I was back home, all I did was read, research, watch videos and find ways to cut back the amount of waste. At the time, I didn’t even know there was a movement called zero-waste living where people try to live without creating any waste whatsoever and learn little switches they can make in their life like carrying a reusable water bottle or coffee cup instead of buying disposables. I got fired up about it.
First step was to take care of my kitchen waste and so I started home composting.
Other changes were gradual and anybody who’s ever attempted this knows it’s not something that can happen overnight. I started with little things like refusing straws at restaurants , carrying a reusable container for take- aways and pani puri. Yes, the chaatwala bhaiyas are amused most times.
I often travel long distance on trains and here is a huge opportunity to not contribute to the tens of thousands single use disposables. A cloth bag to avoid plastic bags, a reusable water bottle, a reusable cup, spoon and some snacks in your dabba come in very handy. Once on a train from Mumbai to Gokarna, a family watched me getting off at train stations to refill my bottle. They were surprised to see me do this and offered a plastic bottled water they had just bought. It took me a while to explain to them why I am doing what I’m doing. That it wasn’t about saving money (although that’s a great bonus too). And an hour later, the guy offered to get me refill done while he got off to get some food.
These things almost always baffle co-travellers and actually act as great conversation starters or ice- breakers. Sometimes I get crazy stares too especially when they see me brushing with a bamboo toothbrush dipped in toothpowder or when I say no to that plastic spoon while getting some bhelpuri.
Today, my travel kit has a handmade natural body soap, a shampoo bar, coconut oil as a moisturizer, a herbal toothpowder, a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, and a bamboo razor. The idea is to avoid all packaged toiletries offered at home stays/ hotels that end up destroying the very place that you are visiting for its serenity and natural beauty. Most travel destinations in India have no means or systems in place to deal with all the waste that tourists leave and it’s all being dumped or burnt.
So while I manage to reduce my waste by a significant amount, there is still some packaging waste from munchies or knickknacks that you end up buying on long trips. I make it a point to carry all these packs/ wrappers back home. Fortunately, there are dry waste collection drives that happen close to where I live so we hoard all of it for a few months and give it to this organisation that recycles it.
Connecting with other people who are on a similar path and knowing that there are others who get why you’re trying to do this and have these conversations with like-minded people has been awesome. Also, just feeling that I’m living according to the values I talk about and to make actual changes that reduce my impact feels good
My message to everyone reading this is – Just start with one thing. Swap out one thing in your life that’s wasteful for something else. The place most people start is their toothbrush or swapping paper towels for handkerchiefs . Make one small change and then another when it feels right, and once you start doing this, it just turns on your brain to asking, ‘Is this wasteful?’ or ‘Is that waste necessary?’ And that changes your whole perspective every single day.
Because beyond all of the frightening climate change news; beyond the frustrating plastic ban politics; beyond the failed international agreements, there is one question – how do you want to live your life? With fear – or with love? The fear route feels helpless and frustrating. The love route, on the other hand, feels grounded, purposeful and hopeful.