October 2016 By Punya Srivastava This was the norm in India a few decades ago, but today we are careening to destruction on the consumption bandwagon. How about emulating eco-warriors who strive to establish a zero waste lifestyle, asks Punya Srivastava There is a scene in the 2013 blockbuster, Gravity, where debris from a recently bombed defunct satellite comes hurling towards the spacewalkers at breakneck speed, crashing into the space shuttle and rendering them all dead. It was a hair-raising visual. Something in it made me mull long after the movie got over. “As if trashing this planet wasn’t enough, we have started trashing the outer space too,” groused a voice inside me. I pictured a crumpled bag of wafers, a crushed water bottle, an empty soda can, a few broken CDs, and a discarded leather bag, among tons of other debris, languorously drifting away in the dark expanse of the universe. Thank God, this is not the reality yet! Day after day, we are dumping binloads of trash on landfills. The developed part of the world is shipping its garbage to Third World countries; the underdeveloped parts neither have resources nor the acumen to suitably dispose of their trash. Innumerable waste management projects have been deployed to curb the menace of overflowing waste, and yet, everywhere you look, you can see a pile of garbage rotting away to glory. Plugging the source One summer in a village, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying, trying not to drown. He rushed to save the baby. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and all the villagers came to their rescue, pulling them out as fast as they could. However, two villagers started to run away along the shore of the river. “Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers, “We need you here to help us save these babies!” “We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!” This, exactly, is the difference between waste management and waste reduction. A zero-waste lifestyle is an effort to generate less and less waste to be disposed of in a landfill. Such is the cycle of life that the world cannot completely stop production – it has to carry on. We live in a materialistic world where things are needed to sustain us. Yet, we can live as thriftily as we can. The impending need is to keep a check on ‘demand’. The greater the demand, the greater the production, and the greater the waste to dispose of. People experience an apparent sense of power and fulfilment while strolling in the malls at the weekends, buying needlessly. In order to make our lives super comfortable, we have become blind slaves of the market forces who have converted us into a ‘throw away’ society, except that there indeed is no ‘away’ in this world. For, every ‘away’ is the ‘here and now’ of someone else. “I have spent time with different communities _adivasis and farmers. In nature, with animals, on farms, and along the train tracks across the country; you can see all the things people have thrown,” says Mumbai-based artist-activist Neesha Noronha. Shammi Nanda, a Jaipur-based Non Violent Communication trainer, echoes similar thoughts. “There is no such place as ‘away’ on our planet. If traces of pesticide are being found in polar bears and the umbilical cords of newborns, then I cannot get ‘away’ from them. I might be putting toxins directly into nature, or my lifestyle is indirectly creating toxins which are being dumped in nature. Eventually, I will get them back. If I expand the definition of myself to include being an integral part of nature, I can see that by poisoning the earth, I poison myself,” he says. Neesha and Shammi are some of those who have chosen to live a life of discipline and austerity in order to give some respite to this heavily ailing planet. These individuals, with compassion in their hearts for this world, are heroes who, instead of always ‘seeking to satiate their wants’, move beyond their self-centered lives and tread lightly on the land. Because, as well meaning as it is, recycling or refurbishing stuff all the time is just not enough. How many recycled items can one have at one’s home, after all? Everything eventually reaches a saturation point. Instead of managing waste, zero-waste teaches us to manage resources and eliminate waste. Disciplined, not difficult life Committing to a trash-free life requires discipline and a strong will power with some ingenuity thrown in for good measure. And I think it cannot be that difficult to take a U-turn towards a minimalist lifestyle. Even three to four decades back, thrift was the prevailing practice. It used to be a community-based living style where people would collectively own a few exclusive items such as jewellery or silk saris, vehicles and machines, which they would share. “I think most of our parents and grandparents were thrifty. Somewhere it became unfashionable to be thrifty; today, you are considered stingy or laughed at. I think most of those practices are good, and I have never been ashamed of them,” says Neesha. Neesha and her family don’t usually buy new or packaged products. They buy groceries from bulk stores, and fill their bags or containers. “I almost always don’t take the plastic bags they offer and carry extra cloth bags with me,” she informs. The family mostly goes the secondhand way when shopping for clothes, shoes, and electronics, or simply share. “I also don’t throw away stuff if I can help it. Instead, I re-purpose it by turning into something else, or pass it on. Sometimes I even take tiffin-boxes to restaurants to bring back food in. I also try not to buy plastic/nylon-based stuff in general. Moreover, I have used a menstrual cup and cloth pads instead of disposable sanitary napkins for a while now,” she adds. Faiza Ahmad Khan, a Mumbai-based documentary maker, too strives for a zero-waste life by reducing the need to buy products. “I have started using reetha to wash hair, clothes, and dishes. I sometimes make my own body scrubs and mouth cleaners as well, which of course makes me go more organic, and produces less chemical waste,” she says. Dr Anil Rajvanshi, Director of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Phaltan, Maharashtra, has been moving towards a trash-free life since the last three decades. “We buy only those things which are needed, and since we live simply we do not need to buy too many things. We still use our 25-30 year-old refrigerator, and try to get most of our gadgets repaired rather than throwing them away when they stop working. This reduces the garbage production, and at the same time is easy on the pocket,” he says. Hailing minimalism by changing mindsets “Our society hoards countless items, justified by the ‘just in case’. We are so afraid of being in need that we hold on to items that we rarely use, and often never will. ‘What if’ is the number one pretext that I often hear. Has our society become so fearful of the ‘what if’ that it has to apprehend any eventuality ‘just in case’?” wonders California-based Bea Johnson in her blog www.zerowastehome.com. She and her family has been living a zero-waste life since 2008 following the principles of ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot’, in this particular order. To combat the tendency to hoard, one can follow ‘list and bulk’ shopping so that nothing unnecessary gets into the cart, and makes its way into one’s home. One needs to practise awareness to look through the marketing gimmicks, especially the freebies which are quite redundant. Plastic knick-knacks, useless decorative items, multiple dinner sets, mobiles or TV sets, are superfluous additions to our lives. However, it indeed can be a challenge to resist fixed habits and mindsets. The need to ‘buy’ has inconspicuously seeped into our lives, fuelled by food marts and grocery marts. What we actually ‘need’ is a thorough spring-cleaning of our minds. New York City-based Lauren Singer’s experiment makes for an interesting case study in this context. In 2011, when she was a student of environment studies in her senior year in college, 21-year-old Lauren had a life-defining moment. Watching a classmate use and throw items day in and day out drove her up the wall until one evening she opened her fridge and packaged items stared back at her. “This was the first time in my life that I was able to look at myself and say, ‘You hypocrite!’ What had I been doing my entire life? It was in that moment I made the decision to eliminate all plastic from my life. And quitting plastic meant learning to make all of the packaged products myself,” she says. This committed her to lead a zero-waste life and now her annual trash generation is reduced to just a jar full. She hugely recycles and composts her waste. Steps to zero waste Like Lauren, Neesha, Shammi and Dr Rajvanshi, we too can hugely downsize our trash generation by ‘evaluation and transition’. The foremost step is to ask yourself – how much and what do I really need to be happy? According to Minimalist Blogger Hardik Nagar, when we buy stuff, we are usually buying emotions for ourselves. “Whenever I used to buy clothes, I would attach the emotion of comfort and happiness with this buying. I used to feel a momentary rush. I became addicted to that rush and forgot that’s not real happiness or comfort,” he says. Ask yourself the following questions: How much and what kind of garbage am I currently producing? What do I actually use on a daily basis and what do I not use or need? What products do I use that ca
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