Are you wondering whether zero waste is even possible in India? Waste is so overwhelmingly visible everywhere in India that you might feel there’s no way to get rid of it all.
According a news report published this year, India generates 100,000 metric tonnes of solid waste every day.
“India is growing and so are the mountains of waste its cities and villages are producing. The composition of waste is also witnessing a major shift as the use of plastics and paper grow with the rise of the middle class and a consumerist culture.”
– Excerpt from Waste Generation in India, 2016, Report by CSE
Right from small towns to large cities, cheap mass manufactured goods have invaded our markets. Things that were never packaged 20 years ago now come wrapped in shiny plastic, metalized film (a mix of plastic & metal) and tetra packs.
And let’s not forget, today’s India is aspirational. As a developing country, there’s tremendous pressure on people to earn more and be able to afford better things. Sometimes we tend to believe that the cleaner & shinier the packaging of a product is, the more valuable it is.
But that’s when we begin to have a problem. A massive problem of waste. And a majority of us don’t know how to deal with this waste.
What if I told you that you could live or travel in India and yet create far less waste (nearly zero waste) than an average Indian or tourist?
Yes, it is possible and there are options. Whether you live in the busy metropolis of New Delhi or you’re backpacking in Dharamshala, in this Zero Waste Guide to North India, I’m going to show you how you can eliminate waste at an individual level.
What you’ll need for zero waste shopping in India
- A sense of wonder & adventure
- Reusable bags
- A big tote bag or backpack
- Reusable bottles (if you want to buy liquids like oil)
- Small jars (to carry spices like ground turmeric which can stain bags)
- Steel boxes (ideal for takeaway and snacks)
Zero Waste Living & Travel in Delhi-NCR
Let’s start with Delhi, the capital of India. Delhi generates around 8,300 metric tonnes of waste every day. So, what does this waste constitute?
The landfills are filled with solid waste from households (a mix of single use plastic & plastic packaging, paper, metal, glass, e-waste & discarded food scraps), shops, small businesses, offices, institutions, construction sites and many other places.
You can easily reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill every day by embracing a zero waste approach. Let’s start with something as simple as making your groceries less wasteful.
Where to shop for zero waste groceries in Delhi NCR?
One can’t live without food and even if our food comes in wasteful packaging, we have to buy it because hey, how can you live without eating, right?! But what if I showed you that there’s a zero waste way to shop for food in Delhi without bringing a single plastic bag home?
There are no “zero waste stores’ in Delhi like you have in the US or some European countries. But zero waste options are present in the form of your local kirana store, wholesale markets, street stalls, small stores and even farmers markets.
Bhogal – There are a many shops on Samman Bazar Road which sell grains (rice, flour), lentils (all kinds of dals), beans (kidney beans, chickpeas, soybeans), dried fruits, nuts, savory snacks and spices in bulk. You can go to Garg and Sons and the whole row of stores next to Mangat Ram & Sons. There is also 2 spice sellers who sell a variety of bulk spices on a cart.
Kotla Mubarakpur – In this market can buy everything from dry fruits to leaf plates in bulk.
Ponsangipur – This is a huge bulk market in Janakpuri, West Delhi. You can get edible oils in cans and even bulk corn flakes here. On the streets, you can find vendors selling bulk biscuits and namkeen (savory crispy snacks) as well. Head over to Sanjay Store for spices and Mittal Store for tea, sugar, grains and lentils.
Hastsal market – This is a wholesale market for bulk shopping near Uttam Nagar & Dwarka in West Delhi.
Tugalpur market – This is a wholesale market behind Ansal Plaza in Greater Noida.
Khari Baoli (Old Delhi) – Now this market is a zero waster’s dream! After all, it is Asia’s biggest wholesale spice market which has been in business since the 17th century! Isn’t that amazing? You can find whole spices, unrefined rock salt, nuts, dried fruits, soapnuts (called reetha in Hindi) and all kinds of Ayurvedic herbs in bulk here.
If you prefer from small stores which support other small businesses, these two stores fit the bill:
Millets for Health – This store in Noida specialises in millets and they also sell millets in bulk at the store. You can buy whole Ragi, whole Jowar, Bajra Daliya, Jowar Daliya, Barnyard Broken Rice / Grits and Kodo Millet Rice. They plan to have a bigger range of millets in bulk very soon. Web: https://milletsforhealth.wordpress.com
The Altitude Store – Although a majority of the items in this store are sold in plastic packaging, you can find organic oils (their own brand), nut & seed butters (from The German Bakeshop) and soy sauce in glass bottles and jars. You can also buy bread, fruits and vegetables without packaging if you carry your own reusable bags. This store is fully organic.
If you don’t have access to a wholesale market or small stores, fret not. There are a handful of supermarkets which do stock food in bulk.
More – Their branch in Dwarka stocks lentils in bulk.
Hypercity – The one in Garden Galleria Mall in Noida sells grains, lentils, sugar, fruits and veggies in bulk.
Easy Day – Their store in Jangpura sells rice, lentils and beans in bulk. They also have paper bags for fruits & vegetables but they’ll be happy if you want to use your reusable bags.
If you’re looking for package free organic grains, lentils, beans, spices, fruits and veggies, go to The Earth Collective farmers market in Asiad Village on a Sunday from 8:30 am to 11:30 am.
Mobile number: You can reach Meenu Nageshwaran, the founder of The Earth Collective at +91 1142657783/81 or +91 9650650333.
Two vendors at this market – Beejom, a farm in Noida and Desi Utpad by Jaya sell dry goods in bulk. All the produce is organic and prices are relatively reasonable. Make sure to carry your reusable bags and bring a big tote/basket. Beejom and Lakshya farms serve yummy breakfast which you can request in your own lunch box. Beejom serves their food in compostable disposables.
Zero Waste Vegetable Delivery Service
If you’re looking for zero waste vegetable delivery service, Beejom provides a weekly basket(tokri) which contains 8 kilos of seasonal produce. None of the vegetables come wrapped in plastic. The price is Rs. 350 plus taxes. Beejom needs to have at least 10 subscriptions from your neighborhood in order to deliver at your doorstep.
Mobile number: You can reach Aparna Rajagopal, the founder of Beejom at +91 9811401260.
How to compost at home in Delhi?
You can easily start composting in a big terracotta pot with some soil and coco peat. Or you can buy a composter and coco peat from Daily Dump and keep in your balcony or terrace. You can find a list of Daily Dump Stores in Delhi-NCR here.
Where to buy zero waste cleaning supplies in Delhi?
Bioenzyme – Beejom makes bioenzyme at their farm in Noida which they also sell in tin bottles (and they take back these bottles and reuse them). A bottle of bioenzyme costs Rs. 260. You can either visit their farm in Noida and collect a big quantity of bioenzyme in your own container or get the bottled version at The Earth Collective.
Mobile number: You can reach Aparna Rajagopal, the founder of Beejom at +91 9811401260.
Soapnuts – Soapnuts are called Reetha in Hindi and you can find them in almost all neighbourhood markets. First, try to find these in the local grocery store in your neighbourhood. If you can’t then, you can find these at Rs.100/kg at Garg & Sons, Samman Bazar Road in Bhogal. For sourcing soapnuts in bulk, you can go to Khari Baoli in old Delhi,
Baking Soda – You can buy baking soda in bulk from Pigmento in Jangpura Extension. You can also buy chocolate chips and slabs in bulk from this store. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pigmentoindia/
Coconut husk – Coconut husk (and ash) was the traditional way of scrubbing dishes in south India. If you want to try this out, find vendors/shops selling coconuts in your neighbourhood market. If you find such a vendor, it’s very likely that they will remove/peel the coconut husk for their customers. Usually, they end up with a pile of husk which they throw away or burn. Ask them if you can have the husk and chances are that they’ll happily give a bagful to you.
Loofah – A loofah is normally used for exfoliating the skin but it can be useful for scrubbing dishes and all sorts of surfaces. If you know a person who has a farm or a loofah tree, ask them if they can spare some for you. A vendor who sits outside Shankar Market (near Connaught Place) sells loofahs.
Where can you get your zero waste kit / basics in Delhi?
Lunch boxes (also called tiffin box in India), bottles and cutlery made out of steel – You can find all this at any store that sells kitchenware in the nearest market to your house. If you are in south Delhi, you can go to National Steel Bhandar in Lajpat Nagar.
Glass bottles – If you’re looking for glass bottles and jars in a large quantity at wholesale prices, try contacting Pigmento in Jangpura Extension or find the wholesale glassware shop (in the basement at the corner) in front of the Amar Colony Furniture Market.
Handkerchiefs and cloth napkins – If you have a sewing machine, sew yourself some hankies from old fabric lying at home. If you don’t know how to sew, take the fabric to your local tailor. Brand new hankies can be found in each and every market of Delhi. You can either buy them from a street vendor or a store. People tend to sell sets of hankies in a plastic packet but you can always ask for them minus the plastic.
Where can you get zero waste snacks in Delhi?
Weekly markets – There’s one day of the day when most neighbourhoods have an open market where vendors set up stalls in the evening. This is when you can buy dry fruits, nuts, chana (roasted chickpeas), peanuts, murmura (rice puffs) in bulk.
There are also many people selling kulfi (ice-cream on a stick), tikki (potato patties), chhalli (roasted corn), shikanji (lemonade) and golgappas (savory deep fried snacks filled with sweet spicy tangy water). Usually the vendors serve these in paper bowls and plates lined with silver foil and a thin layer of plastic. Just take your own container and spoon to eat your snacks without any waste.
Local sweet shops – Every neighbourhood has a local mithai (sweet) shop. Right from Aggarwal Sweets to Nathu’s to Bikanerwala, everybody sells samosas, kachoris and pakoras (savory snacks) and a mind-boggling range of sweets. They’re very likely to pack the hot food first in a paper bag then put it in another plastic or polypropylene bag. They usually pack the sweets in a carboard/paper box laminated with plastic.
To avoid waste, just take your own box and get them to put your food in it. If you can’t fit the stuff in your box, opt for the paper bag and skip the plastic bag.
Hot Chips – Some markets might have a shop called Hot Chips. They stock all kinds of chips (potato, sweet potato, bitter gourd), savory snacks and even sweets in bulk. All you have to do is take your box or a cloth bag and ask them to fill the quantity you want.
There’s one such shop called South Indian Hot Chips on Central Road, Bhogal.
Where can you recycle in Delhi?
The local kabbadiwaala – Your local kabbadiwaala is the real recycler. They usually go around on a bicycle with a bunch of jute bags strapped on the back of the cycle. The only way to get hold of them is when you hear them shouting ‘kabbadiwaala’ loudly on the street or if you bump into one while walking. They’ll take old newspaper, books and plastic bottles, weigh them on an old school scale and pay you for it.
Pom Pom – This is a young startup which picks up your recyclables (paper, plastic, metal, glass, e-waste) at your doorstep and they pay you for it. Currently their services are only available in South Delhi.
E-scrap zone – This organisation recycles all sorts of electronic waste – computers, batteries, copiers, printers, cellphones and more. They have a collection centre in IP Extension.
Where can you buy zero waste clothes, accessories & books in Delhi?
Sisters of the People: Thrift & Book Shop – Right next to the the Moolchand metro station in South Delhi, there’s a place called Lajpat Bhawan. This large compound houses a thrift store with pre-loved clothes, jewelry, knick-knacks etc and a bookstore which sells all kinds of pre-loved books (fiction, non-fiction etc). You can find designer clothes in great condition for as cheap as Rs. 100 and books for as low as Rs. 50.
Sarojini Nagar – Although Sarojini Nagar market (South Delhi) is famous for selling the latest fashionwear at throwaway prices, you can find many stalls selling second-hand clothes like sweaters, coats, jackets, shorts, shirts and even pajamas.
Raghubir Nagar Women Market – Located in West Delhi, this is a huge market for second hand/pre-loved clothes which is completely run by women. The market begins at 2 am and goes on until 8 am. So, if you want clothes or household goods, get you super early and head here.
Zero Waste in Himachal Pradesh
This beautiful mountainous state was the first state in India to ban the use & sale of plastic bags back in 2003. When you go grocery shopping in Himachal Pradesh, the shopkeeper often packs your fruits & veggies in bags made out of old newspaper. However, plastic has not disappeared completely. Most shops still stock polypropylene or non-woven carry bags, which actually are made out of plastic!
So if you live in Himachal Pradesh or are simply visiting, be sure to carry your cotton/canvas bag. Also, carrying your own bottle & a bunch of reusable bags always helps.
Zero Waste Travel & Living in McLeodganj/Dharamshala
The small town of Dharamshala is a popular destination for tourists and travellers from all over India and the world. As you walk around, you’ll see quite a lot of garbage down the hillsides (mainly plastic bottles, packets of snacks etc). You can easily reduce your waste in McLeodganj & Dharamshala by taking simple steps.
- Refill your water bottle – You can refill your bottle with filtered water at these places – Dalai Lama Temple, LHA on Temple Road, Environmental Education Centre and Nick’s Italian Kitchen & Green Hotel on Bhasgu Road and Trimurti Terrace Cafe, House Om Tara & Divine Nature in Upper Bhagsu. At the cafes and hotels listed above, you’ll have to pay Rs.5-10 for the refill.
- Buy package free fruits and vegetables – You can find vendors/shops selling fruits and veggies on Jogiwara Road and Temple Road. They usually use bags made of old newspaper. It’s best to carry your own tote.
- Peanut butter – You can buy locally made peanut butter in glass jasr at the Osho store at the beginning of Dharamkot road.
- Bread – McLeodganj is full of bakeries. You can buy freshly baked bread and desserts at Tibet Bakery on Bhagsu Road or any of the bakeries on Jogiwara Road. Just bring your own box / reusable bag or they’ll give you a paper bag.
Kotwali Bazaar (Lower Dharamshala)
- Dry food – To buy grains, lentils, beans and spices in bulk, head over to Kotwali Bazaar in lower Dharamshala. There are many shops here and you can easily spot a bulk store from outside.
- Reusable bottles, lunch boxes and cutlery – you can find these at shops that sell kitchenware on Gurudwara Road.
Waste management in Dharamshala
Clean Upper Dharamshala Programme
This is an organisation in McLeodganj which helps locals segregate and recycle their waste. They also organise mass public cleanups. Their green workers collect waste directly from households. They recycle paper into beautiful handmade notebooks, lamps, albums, photo frames and pen stands which are sold at their Green Shop on Bhagsu Road.
Waste Warriors and their volunteers clean up the Triund trail and the Bhagsu waterfall every week. They also do weekly community clean-ups, install dustbins, run a door-to-door waste collection in Bhagsunag. They have also set up a waste drop off point at Galu.
Zero Waste in Uttarakhand
In early 2017, Uttarakhand High Court issued Guidelines on Solid Waste Management.
Whether you live in Uttarakhand or you’re doing a yoga course in Rishikesh, you can take simple steps to reduce your waste rather than waiting for these guidelines to get implemented.
This section covers Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand and two popular tourist destinations – Rishikesh & Corbett.
Zero Waste Living in Dehradun
Dehradun produces a whopping 350 metric tonnes of waste each day out of which a daily average of 20-30% remains unattended.
Waste Management in Dehradun
Waste Warriors – Waste Warriors has cleaned up thousands of kilos of garbage from areas like Anekant Palace, Astley Hall, Jakhan, Jakhan Forest and Dalanwala. They clean stretches of the Rajpur Road daily and do a weekly composting workshop in Gandhi Park. They also run a weekly waste collection service in 8 villages in the area.
Zero waste Travel & Living in Rishikesh
A popular pilgrimage destination and the yoga capital of the world – Rishikesh, is located right on the banks of the Ganga river. Chances are that the plastic straw you’re drinking from will get washed away into the Ganga.
If you’re a Rishikesh resident, planning a pilgrimage with your family, a yoga student or a backpacker, please consider creating less waste. Here’s how you can do it:
- Refill your water bottle – You can refill your water bottle for free at Bunk Stay hostel if you’re a guest. You can also refill your bottle at most cafes on request. They might or might not charge you. Many tourist souvenir shops in Rishikesh also sell copper bottles which can be reused.
- Fruits and vegetables – You can easily buy these from vendors/shops on both sides of Lakshman Jhula and Tapovan.
Also, please don’t throw your ritual offerings in Ganga.
Waste management in Rishikesh
Zero Waste Incorporation is an organisation which provides door to door waste collection, segregation, recycling and composting in Rishikesh.
Waste management in Corbett
Waste Warriors Corbett – They collect and manage waste from households, shops, schools, hotels, forest rest houses and even temples in the area around the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
Zero Waste in Jammu & Kashmir
The two capitals of this region – Srinagar & Jammu, produce a total of 770 tonne of solid waste every day. A majority of the waste goes to landfills but some of it also gets dumped near forested areas because there is no infrastructure to deal with it. If you’re heading to this region for a pilgrimage or a holiday, please make sure you minimise your waste and keep the Himalayas clean.
Zero Waste Travel & Living in Leh
A news report reveals that there is a huge mound of garbage outside Leh in Bomb Guard, Diskit Tsal.
- Refill your water bottle – 30,000 single-use plastic bottles are dumped in Leh every day. Do you want to add to that mess? My guess is no, you’d rather be a good tourist/traveller. The best thing you can do is to carry a reusable bottle and get it refilled at local cafes, dhabas, restaurants and homestays.
There are two Dzomsa shops – one on Fort Road and another on Changspa road. In these shops, you can fill your water bottle, drink locally made apricot & seabuckthorn juice, buy dried apricots & nuts packed in paper and apricot kernel butter in glass bottles here. They also provide an eco-friendly laundry service here.
- Buy package free fruits and vegetables – You can buy these Leh Main Bazaar or in the old town in Leh.
I hope this Zero Waste Guide to North India will help you prepare and participate in the upcoming Zero Waste International Week. If you have any questions, comments or inputs that will enrich this guide, just shoot an email at [email protected].
Written by: Vandana K, Founder, The Conscious Desi
A big thanks to Harshita Gupta and Priyanka Jain Nagpal for their inputs.