Before you scroll further down this story, it is important that we get a few facts right. Such as, what is sustainability and what is a zero-waste lifestyle? Apart from being buzzwords, both the concepts involve ensuring that our planet has a future a century down the line. Sustainability is a complex subject, which impacts and is impacted by socio-economic and environmental factors. The UN World Commission on Environment and Development did define it: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is a way of being sustainable—where the trash or waste generated becomes a resource for someone else, thus creating a sustainable loop.
Emulating these tenets is Sahar Mansoor, founder of Bengaluru-based sustainable brand, Bare Necessities. The 28-year-old has over the last four or five years generated only 500 gms of waste! She, however, is clear that while it is not essential for everyone to follow a zero-waste lifestyle, it is important to introspect and see what small changes you can make. “There is a need to change the consumerist lifestyle that is associated with higher socio-economic class. We need a little bit of rewiring and re-engineering of our own self. So, it actually starts with yourself but extends to making a bigger impact for the nation and the world,” further explains.
Her book, Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life, co-authored by sustainability consultant Tim De Ridder addresses these issues and breaks down the sustainable life with easy DIYs and resources. In a free-wheeling conversation, the young entrepreneur answers many of the burning questions that no one gives a straightforward answer to.
What does it mean to be sustainable in today's world and why is it important?
We know that we are living through the largest global garbage crisis of our lifetime, and we all know that climate change is real. If we really want to make a change, we must dramatically change the flow of how we are doing things to create a more sustainable world that we can give our future generations. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing—that it is possible. In the lockdown we appreciated how nature healed itself—it basically allowed us to think about how our actions have a huge impact. It is easy to get started such as with things in your house, for example, the house cleaners that keep our houses clean have chemicals that you can't pronounce but are actually polluting our water. That's essentially the premise of why we should start thinking about what we use.
How does your book help us in being more sustainable?
The book advocates slow and sustainable living using what you already have. It honestly has all the knowledge that I wish I had when I began. Things that don’t require much investment and can be done sitting at home such as making a bio enzyme, compost, or using old T-shirts to make a quilt and more. The book has insights on which part of your life generates what kind of waste, whether it's your closet, your kitchen or your bathroom. Most importantly, it shows you what you can do to be a part of the solution. It has tips, tricks hacks, and a bunch of zero waste recipes. For example, there are simple steps to start off on a sustainable lifestyle such as using steel straws, using wooden toothbrushes and combs, making soap at home, carrying cloth bags, etc.
How did you manage to generate only 500 gms of waste?
It was a series of ‘aha!’ moments that just stacked up together! My first big motivation in this direction was after I watched a documentary about Bea Johnson. I was 19 then and though I started doing some things, I was not doing it is as a part of my daily life. Later, when I spent some time with my sister who had a baby, we just kept going out to put the trash out and there just so many diapers, and my reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness! The baby just used the diaper for a few hours and it's going to be on this planet for so many years.’ So that was another ‘aha’ moment. Back home, in Bengaluru, I was confronted by our waste and waste pickers collecting and sifting through waste with their bare-naked hands. It was something that really moved me and that's when I thought I'm going to try and live a zero-waste life. The next step was understanding what role do I, as an individual, have to play and what can I do to kind of reduce my waste footprint. It started with lots of experiments in my kitchen, lots of conversations with my nani about her way of life before plastic invaded our economies and our lives.
What are the three things to keep in mind before embarking on a zero-waste life?
To simplify it, I would say:
- Asking questions,
- Evaluating your lifestyle and
- Thinking of the alternatives.
When I started out on my zero-waste journey, there was a lot of research involved. Sustainable personal hygiene products were hard to come by, there was only one Indian company that made menstrual cups then. There were no bamboo toothbrush suppliers here either, I had to wait for my sister to bring them for me—I had tried neem but didn’t like the taste. But it started simple, I started using my own cloth bag, I had to find alternatives to my love for granola bars in a box of nuts and fresh fruits. This has extended to what we offer at Bare Necessities as well such as the beeswax food wrap, to-go wooden cutlery, steel tiffin carrier, dental kits, menstrual cups, skin and hair care products, etc.
Many people are put off by the sustainable lifestyle because of the premium charged on products and services. What is your take on it?
You don't have to buy all of the products, because you can’t buy your way out with sustainability. Our dependence on materials is what got us into this mess in the first place. It is also the reason why we wrote the book; it allows you to do things on your own to live a more zero waste lifestyle. As a matter of fact, you can save money going zero waste, I make my own toothpaste that lasts me three months, instead of buying one for Rs 200. A menstrual cup costs about Rs 700 rupees for 900 repeats, which is as good as a lifetime. But I think as the sector grows, we will see prices going down. There will be alternatives that will be accessible to everyone at all price points.
Sahar Mansoor’s 5 commandments for a zero-waste life
- Be mindful of the way we're living, doing whatever you can to be part of the solution,
- Reducing and refusing single use whenever you possibly can,
- Getting innovative and reusing things,
- Reinventing things and upcycling things, and
- Composting, because that is one of the best things that you can do for the planet.