The relevance of a zero-waste lifestyle in the present times

With the pandemic as a trigger, the conversation around sustainability and zero-waste lifestyle is gaining steady momentum. Those who actively made the switch, weigh in

Surabhi Jain, a Gurugram-based brand consultant, has spent the last few years working towards a zero-waste lifestyle. “There are practitioners who produce barely a glass-jar amount of waste over a five-year period,” she says. This lifestyle choice ties with living sustainably, being environment-conscious and making choices based on what is good for the environment. Over the last few months, the ongoing pandemic has heightened conversation around sustainability, and the zero-waste movement has gained momentum.

COVID-19 has compounded ‘eco-anxiety’ making people conscious of their choices. Eco-anxiety refers to a fear about the state of the environment.

“It probably started last year with Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations and Fridays For Future (FFF), the international movement by school children demanding action against climate change. The pandemic gave people more time to think about it and have conversations,” Surabhi says.

Surabhi Jain  

Surabhi noticed the increasing interest in this lifestyle over the last eight months. Her observation is based on the queries she gets on her Instagram handle zerowaste_india, where she discusses the topic and her journey.

“The pandemic has taught us that if society gets together, change is achievable. With everybody being at home during the lockdowns, there were perceptible changes in the environment,” she says.

Malayalam actor Chinnu Chandni made the switch in March. “The wake-up call, for most, would have been the news that the earth was healing itself during lockdowns across the world,” she says.

A homemade moisturiser by Thankam Kumaran 

The Thamasha actor, currently at home in Thiruvananthapuram, started by generating less waste: a vegetarian, she has stopped consuming milk and is growing food at home. “Baby steps,” she says.

The eye-opener for her was an online event. One of the participants’ conversation point was a revelation or rather a reminder, “She said that Asian cultures have always been sustainable and ‘zero-waste’. Our mothers and their mothers, always recycled and reused. Remember… plastic bags and Horlicks bottles?” she asks. She adds she has not shopped for clothes in two years.

A zero-waste lifestyle is about more than avoiding plastic; it revolves around five Rs — refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (composting).

One step at a time

Echoing Chinnu is Gayatri Joshi of ecoSansar (ecosansar on Instagram), which supplies organic groceries in Bengaluru and has a strict no-plastic policy, “This is not new. We have lived that life — up-cycling and reusing. We just lost our way over time,” she says. Gayatri encourages customers to use their own containers; cloth bags made of tailoring waste and clean glass jars collected as donations become packaging for provisions bought loose.

ecoSansar founder Gayatri Joshi  

She has been running the business for the past two years and says since the COVID-19 outbreak, responses have picked up.

“People are now willing to take the extra step to make a difference,” she says. Bombarded with questions about this new, unfamiliar lifestyle, Gayatri handholds those wanting to make the switch.

Thankam Kumaran  

Singer-photographer Thankam Kumaran from Delhi on the other hand has been working toward it for the last three years and documents her journey for a curious audience on Instagram (thankam_zerowaste_artist).

“Being 100% is not possible if one is buying things like electricity,” she says. Nevertheless, she comes close, by growing her own vegetables, shopping from thrift stores and making her own skincare products, soy milk and even sanitisers.

“Potato juice, egg white, honey, turmeric, flax seed, coconut oil — I use what I eat to make skincare products. I am my own guinea pig” she says.

Very vocal about the need for conscious consumption, Thankam says, “The ‘chalta hai’ (everything goes) attitude has to change. We have to create a sense of being responsible.”

She regularly writes to brands to change policies and advocates using social media to create awareness. According to her, besides the obvious, there are two key benefits of this lifestyle — money saved and the health benefits of consuming what one grows. “I reduced my expenditure by 80%.”

Fashion designer Jebin Johny (Jebsispar) showcased his collection, Kintsugi, made of leftover bits and pieces of fabric at the Lakme Fashion Week 2020. The designer from Muvattupuzha, near Kochi, has been saving pieces of leftover fabric, printing on yardage gone wrong from the last five years since he launched his label. “The effort and the money spent on the fabric — weaving and printing — is not small. I couldn’t throw away all the effort,” he says.

From Jebsispar’s Kintsugi collection  

This ‘most difficult’ collection came together organically. He says, “I had been thinking of it for years but it happened only now. It was difficult reaching out to our artisans to create a brand new collection, so I worked on this. It made sense in the current situation, and I was able to generate work for all of us.” This is an extension of his zero-waste design process. Conscious consumption takes into consideration not only the processes but also the packaging — He wants to work on the carbon footprint of shipping the product too.

Surabhi’s advice for those seeking to make a change is simple — pick one small step. One step at a time is an easier approach, “It is not easy if you want your life to change completely overnight. You will end up getting stressed. Make one or two changes and go from there,” she says. Carrying cloth bags to shop or your own cutlery while eating out, for instance, are small but significant steps.

“We don’t need to be that one person who does everything perfectly,” Chinnu says. She adds. “If 100 people make small changes imperfectly, that is enough.”

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