zero-waste practices in India
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10 zero-waste practices you may be doing already

And why you should continue to do them!

By Sanjoli Arora

The idea of going zero-waste can be very daunting. We live in times where inevitably, everything is made and designed to be discarded in the dustbin. When someone tells that they are living a zero or low-waste lifestyle, there are so many questions in our heads. Do you stop buying things to go zero-waste? Is it a compromised life? Is it even possible to go zero-waste on planet earth?

While this article may not be able to answer all your questions, it will break the myth around the subject. How may you ask? Zero or low waste is not a new concept, especially to us Indians.

Zero-waste practices and India

Ancient Indian civilisation always believed in living in harmony with nature. From our ancient literature and Kautilya’s Arthshastra, it was mentioned that maintaining a habit of sanitation was essential and inevitable.

The waste management techniques used in Ancient India were successful in recycling household waste. Burning wood or coal for cooking purpose led to carbon being decomposed underground. People used to consume freshly prepared food, and thus no packaging was done. Similarly, villagers dug a small hole in the backyard to collect daily household waste. Once full, the pit was levelled using mud or sand. After a few months, this land was used in the farms as compost. Returning of food waste to soil was a common practice since Vedic times.

The real problem of waste started through the invention of plastic in the name of modernisation. Similarly, the ‘buy me once’ approach may be leading to the generation of more waste, than ever before.

We could sit and blame the system for making us generate more waste, or we could take small steps and be the change. What is remarkable is that we are already making a head start in this direction through some daily life practices.

So here is a list of 10 zero-waste practices that you are doing right now and why you need to continue doing them. Maybe encourage others to do the same as well.

1. Carrying a bag wherever you go

The first step every zero-waste influencer asks people to take is to bring a bag wherever they go. Carrying your bag is the easiest way to ditch the polythene bag and help reduce waste. One person using reusable bags over their lifetime would remove more than 22,000 plastic bags from the environment.

Carrying a bag is not a new habit to us Indians. Whenever we were asked to go for a quick grocery run, our mother’s didn’t just hand us loose cash but also a bag that can carry all our purchases. So, now most of us have a spare bag in our vehicles or office bags. While you are continuing this habit, don’t forget to use a reusable cloth bag as it lasts longer and looks cooler compared to the plastic alternatives.

2. Using refill cups and bottles

Waking up early, carrying your stainless steel milk bucket and heading out to stand in line at your nearest diary station. Memories from a time not long ago.

The practice of refilling was a commonality in every Indian locality. Diary shops were designed to have a separate refill station. They were also a meet-up spot to catch up with your neighbours every morning.

While our milk delivery system may have changed, the idea of refills hasn’t been lost entirely. Reusable cups for our morning beverage or carrying a refillable water bottle is still a practice most of us indulge in. A reusable water bottle reduces both our carbon footprint and helps reduce the plastic burden on landfills, oceans, streams and other places that plastic waste ends up.

3. Repurposing old, discarded clothes as cleaning rags

We should have probably put this one first on the list since this is a habit for us Indians. It is like a second act for our clothes. When the cloth has been used to its maximum wearable condition, it gets another life as a cleaning rag. Dusting, window cleaning or our car wash kit, a small, old piece of cloth rag can be found in every nook and corner of Indian households.

Reusing and repurposing old items is such a common practice that we fail to understand the significant impact it has on reducing waste. We manage to reuse, repurpose and reduce with this one simple act, and that is why we need to continue doing it.

4. Using food peels as D.I.Y. skincare scrubs

Separated papaya from its skin? Peeled an orange as a snack on a sunny, winter afternoon? All that waste is first rubbed on our skins before tossing it in the garbage bin. Not just fruits, vegetable peels like tomato or potato (a everyday staple in Indian cooking) are used in the same way as well.

Indian skincare believes all answers to be in our kitchens, and this is probably the easiest, cheapest way for bringing back that glow on our face. If we are feeling too ambitious, we do manage to store these peels in a powder form and use later. That is, the true beauty of zero-waste practises in our homes.

5. Rice water = plant fertiliser

Another zero-waste practice from our kitchens is the habit of using cooking water as plant food. Everything is reused ranging from water to clean rice, discarded water from boiled rice or pulses and even extra vegetable stalk. If we can not reuse it back in our cooking, it is diluted with more clean water and given to our plants or trees nearby.

Our creative brains come into action to think of ways to not to let this nutrient-rich water go down the drain. Rice water is not just good for our green friends but also a secret beauty ingredient. So, let us continue to be creative in the kitchen, shall we?

6. Add water: Our solution to make anything last longer

There are several videos by content creators mocking our parents’ habit of handing us an old shampoo bottle back by filling it with some water. They extend this habit to all liquid soaps, bottles of ketchup and practical any liquid item. While this may be an annoying desi household practice, it does help make things last longer.

Diluting liquid soaps with water does not severely affect the product and at the same time reduces our water consumption. How? A diluted soap creates less lather (which does not mean it is not useful), thus requiring less water to wash it off. Guess, we need to carry forward this habit into our future.

7. Reusing gift boxes as storage units

Wedding invites, birthday gifts or even an online shopping order comes in boxes. Boxes of different materials- wood, cardboard, paper or sturdy cloth. Whatever the material, Indian households make sure to reuse them creatively. Jewellery boxes, sock holders in wardrobes, organising space in vanity cabinets or storing old memorable items – a gift box somehow finds a niche space in our houses.

8. Borrowing books, buying second hand or switching to e-books

Fiction, non-fiction or even academic reads- borrowing or hand-me-downs is the first thought when it comes to books. Every Indian city has a second-hand bazaar or store where books are exchanged. The idea of sharing our favourite books with friends is a childhood memory many of us are fond of.

With the shift to a more digital world, our paper books got electronic editions in the form of e-books. While e-books may have specific limitations of their own, they are reducing our reliance on paper and the creation of paper waste.

9. Newspapers- more than just a source of daily news

Starting the morning with a cuppa and the newspaper – a common practice across the globe. Yet in India, a newspaper is more than just a source of news.

Newspapers are our magic solution to various problems- wrapping paper to store fragile items or a protective layer in our cupboards and drawers. They are even used as a cleaning rag to get shiny mirrors, as a way to soak the extra oil off our favourite snacks or only as a rough sheet to scribble our ideas on. The list of ways we use newspaper is endless. While our news consumption may be going digital, newspapers are much more than just the news in our households.

10. Using broken cups or mugs as planters

Got a broken mug but it is too cute to be discarded? Why not use it as a planter? Or at least that is what we have witnessed in various homes and our Instagram feed. Not just plant holders, old cups are used as pencil holders or storage units. When it comes to our relationship with a mug, it is hard to let go, and only a big blow can make us throw it away.

Just like that, we have ten zero-waste practices all of us are doing already. It wasn’t that hard, was it? It may not be a perfect way to lead a zero-waste lifestyle but, it is a start in the right directions.

As Indians, our habit of fixing, mending or repurposing old items around the house leads to less waste generation and thus saves the environment in innumerable ways. Concluding with this quote by zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.


Sanjoli is currently working as a Content Strategist and has a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has contributed to publications like MensXPMindless Mag and Sustain: The Mag in the past. Conscious Charcha is her way of learning more about sustainability and spreading the word about a sustainable lifestyle.

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