What images do you associate with the word “waste”? I asked this question to a few friends and was amazed at the range of responses. For some, it was food wasted at restaurants while for others it was the resources wasted at weddings and other social gatherings, electric lights that are left on in showrooms after business hours and during the day on streets, water flowing from overhead tanks, single-occupant cars and gas wasted in kitchens. A few came up with images of people wasting time either sleeping or doing nothing useful.
Most people associated the word “waste” with images of garbage piles. The vast range of responses is a clear indication of the wasteful and as a result unsustainable lifestyles that we are forced to lead or being constantly exposed to.
I have been dabbling with the sustainability issue for a few years now. What started as an occupational pursuit has now seeped into my everyday existence. This pursuit has taught me that sustainable lifestyles are also naturally less wasteful. There are a few simple rules that I follow when making everyday life choices.
1. Avoid non-biodegradable disposables– plastic covers, spoons, straws, paper cups – basically anything that cannot be composted at home. I never buy bottled water unless it’s a life and death situation.
2. Support local economy –
a. Buy locally-made and preferably small-scale/home industry products. The logic is simple and holds well in most cases: Bigger the industries involved in making any product, greater the pollution.
b. Buy products from local stores instead of buying them online or from malls.
3. Buy products made of natural materials. Such products are not only easy on the earth, but on the eyes as well.
I hold these rules quite sacred and have followed them as much as possible on different occasions – at home, for my wedding and while setting up my little office. This year I had the opportunity to test these rules while being away from the comfort of home. For my birthday in October, I gifted myself a long backpacking trip. On this trip, I carried a water bottle, a steel tumbler, a spoon, a bowl and a knife. Though I did accept a few plastic/styrofoam plates, I managed to reduce the use of non-recyclable materials considerably. To avoid buying water, I refilled my bottle wherever there was a filter including at railway stations and by drinking fresh fruit juice and eating juicy fruits.
Since air-conditioning is highly resource-intensive and impacts the environment significantly, it was out of my list. I travelled largely by sleep-class trains and stayed in non-a/c dormitories. I also travelled locally by public transport and walked a lot! Among the small list of souvenirs I bought on this travel was a naturally dyed woolen blanket and muffler directly from a weaver in Himachal Pradesh, a tea-light holder in Gujrat, a few soaps made from camel milk and a book made of camel dung from Rajasthan. The catch being that all these products are handmade from natural materials.
To sum up, the numbers were: 6800 km, 29 days, 14 towns/cities in 5 states, 5 trains, several buses, 4 auto/taxi rides, zero bottled water and waste!