Zero Waste Week – Southern India

india flag map zero waste week

For Zero Waste in North India, please click here.

For Zero Waste in North Eastern India, please click here.

In this race towards convenience, why should India stop running, pause and listen to what other countries who are further ahead of us have to say about the price they are paying in the name of convenience?

Because it’s not just about the environment anymore.

We as a humanity have realised that whatever is not good for the environment is not good for the human body either. We are one and not separate.

When we are seeing others ahead of us running back to basics, does it really make sense for India to continue with the race? India has a head start towards running back towards basics. Because it’s the land where soap nuts grow in abundance, tea and coffee are made at home with powder that comes in bulk/boxed and not in bags or pods, majority of the population line dry their clothes under the sun, unpackaged fruits and vegetables sold by road side vendors, homes are still cleaned with brooms made of natural fibres and kitchen tops are cleaned with rag cloth, we use water faucets to clean up after using the toilet and not with toilet paper, we are not heavily dependent on processed food/frozen food (read heavy energy consumption) and still cook from the scratch and condiments made at home.

With all of the above headstart, India is grappling with one major issue – Waste Segregation. While the Central and most State Governments are still way behind in their policies with 2 way segregation that fails to address the sanitary and bio medical, hazardous waste; Karnataka Government has managed to address this against all odds with a 3 way segregation system, that is still in an implementation stage, in spite of heavy fines. If waste conscious citizens try and adopt this method and urge the other Governments and civic bodies to adopt the following, India could get started on its journey towards Zero Waste massively

We have many independent help groups, educating and helping citizens manage their wet waste, dry waste and e-waste with their help and being dependent on the government only for sanitary and bio medical waste disposal, which unfortunately reach an incinerator.

Once waste segregation is in place in your own house, we could now look at what Zero Waste is? Zero Waste to me means, diving into my waste bins and see how I could keep on minimising it till I hit a Zero. Overwhelming? Not if we break it down. Let’s start by looking into our trash can for starters and see what can we do to reduce waste one bit at a time. Also, this would include what we throw while we are outside our homes as well. The best place to start is to start identifying what cannot be recycled, single use resources etc. Taking lead from Karnataka Government which has banned the most number of plastics in India, here are a few guidelines and alternatives to start with:

In addition to the above, we all could do our bit by following the below options:

Carry your own – Cotton Bags, Water Bottle, Box, Cup and Cutlery :  Try this out for a week and check the amount of plastic and single use items you can avoid from going into landfills.

Cotton Napkin/Hand Kerchief : Remember the hanky mom would pin on your clothes before you left to your play school? Could we go back to that habit and carry one in our hand bag or back pack? It’s far better than using a ton of tissue paper, day in and day out.

Sip don’t Suck, Say No to Straws : We Indians still have not forgotten the basic nature of sipping on our drink, so can we continue with this primitive way of living, please? The ONLY Indian drink that demands a straw is our good old Tender Coconut, we could carry our own reusable straw for this if need be or finish off the water in the water bottle you may be carrying and ask the vendor to empty the tender coconut water into it for you to sip. All other fancy drinks – be proactive and say no to straws, doesn’t matter whether they are plastic or paper. Single use is after all single use.

Grocery Shopping :  If you look into your trash can, most of the plastic bags come from grocery shopping.  If this one habit can be shifted, about 50% of plastic is out of your way. Most Hyper Markets and Big, Super Markets in India have bulk buying section. And India is known for its local markets, where most items are sold in bulk. Many organic stores have started the bulk, package free options as well and sell unbleached cotton drawstring bags. You could even choose to buy your own cloth or upcycle old strong cloth to make your own draw string bags to put your pulses, grains and spices into. For everything else, you could use your own box. Vegetables and Fruits can be put straight into your cotton carry bags, without any paper or plastic wraps.

Home Composting and Growing your own food : This is the most therapeutic of all the zero waste ideas. In one shot, you can make sure that your wet waste is put to good use and there’s no need to worry about whether your waste collector is mixing your waste in spite of your segregation efforts. Many options are available in the market these days. So do your homework to see what suits your household. Best way to use your compost is to grow your own food. You could start with scrap gardening by replanting mint stems after using up the leaves, replant the spinach roots after consuming the leaves and majority of the tender stem, crush some coriander seeds into two, soak overnight in water and sow them…. the list can just go on… so homework time again…

Snacks, Bakery Goods and Bread :  Next set of heavy packaging comes from this segment. India is famous for its Hot Chips stores that sell various kinds of freshly fried chips, along with a whole array of package free snacks. Also, the local bakeries in India store cookies, cakes and other snacks and will happily pack them in your own containers if requested. Most big box super markets/hypermarkets have their own bakery sections with various package-free snack options and if you crack their system down to when they bake their bread fresh, you could even buy bread absolutely fresh and package-free.

Bamboo Toothbrush :  Every single toothbrush you have ever used, still exists somewhere, refusing to biodegrade and unable to get recycled. So let’s move towards Bamboo Toothbrush that is available with corn fiber bristles by Bamboo India, in organic stores near you or home delivered in a recycled cardboard box.

Move from Toothpaste to Toothpowder:  It’s tough to recycle a multi layered tooth paste tube or for that matter anything that comes in the form of a tube. India is the land of Ayurveda and filled with many options of Ayurvedic tooth powders. If you are used to the paste form, then all you do is buy your tooth powder and add cold pressed coconut oil to it, to form a paste. If you are addicted to the minty after flavor, then add a few drops of mint essential oil. Though most tooth powders come in plastic containers, they are at least easy to recycle. However, lately, there are many brands available in glass jars in certain organic stores.

Bio Enzyme + Soap Nuts : This is a magic potion that can be easily made at home and replaces over 10 products at home at less than 1/10th of the price. Made out of citrus peels (scrap), Jaggery and Soap Nuts. By just playing with various combinations and concentrations this one product can be used as Laundry wash, dish wash, toilet cleaner, floor cleaner, glass cleaner, kitchen counter top cleaner, chimney cleaner, drain de-clogger, Shampoo and Handwash liquid. There is a support group and a community of local produce sellers you could get in touch with on –

If this option seems far fetched, then at least move towards natural detergents made out of soap nuts for laundry and dishwashing available in many organic stores. And even natural phenols are available for floors.

Do It Yourself :  Most items like body wash powders, hair wash powders, body butter etc can be made at home. India is the land of Shikakai, Soap Nuts, Amla, Tulsi, Turmeric, Neem etc and there are so many blends to clean yourself, that one could try out. With coconut oil available in abundance, forest beeswax and natural fragrances like frankincense available in Pooja stores, you could whip up your own body butter and lip butter, in minutes. But if you are particular about soaps, then shifting to handmade package free or paper packaged soaps for bathing, shampoo and laundry are all available in organic stores. There are many brands of body butter and lip butters available in organic stores too.

Bills, Counterfoils, and Receipts : Since we Indians do not have the option of saying no to paper receipt yet, you could choose to write your next week’s grocery list behind the current week’s grocery receipt. This way you’ll also have a track of what was bought recently and avoid hoarding unwanted grocery. And yes, we can always choose to pay through Card/PAYTM instead of using cash that needs paper and promptly ask the cashier, not to print your copy of card payment counterfoil since you anyway receive a message on your phone.

Sustainable Menstruation :  Menstrual Cups are a boon to womanhood. It just needs a couple of cycles to get used to, but once done, it fits like a glove in hand and eases the whole process of menstruation. Research about it, watch a few videos by happy consumers and talk to one if you know one. If you come across anyone with a bad experience, don’t jump to conclusions till you figure it out for yourself. But if still seems far fetched, Reusable Cotton Pads are another excellent option. They come in as panty liners too. There are many brands that offer these options, so naming one would be unfair.

Upcycle your hair : Ever wondered what happens to the hair that hits the ground soon after we get a haircut? Into the bin and out to an incinerator or a landfill. is an organization that makes wigs for underprivileged cancer patients who’ve lost their hair to chemotherapy. If you could manage to let your hair grow till 15 inches, then you could send it to this organization.

Reuse Water : In India, though there seems to be a major debate on RO water filtration method, most of us still continue to use it as we have invested in it. This process throws out a lot of water in the process of filtration. We could just put a bucket under that pipe, collect the water and use it to mop the floor. If we are using bio enzyme as a floor cleaner, we could again reuse the water used to mop, to water our plants. Bioenyme is very good for your plants. If you have a bigger garden, then you could even consume the water expelled from the washing machine – if you are using the bio enzyme with soap nut solution mentioned earlier or any other biodegradable options from an organic store.

Line Dry your clothes :  Luckily India is tropical in nature and most washing machines do not come with a complete dry option. It’s always partial dry and hence energy efficient. In summers, we could set our washing machine to wash and rinse only option, hence saving on electricity used by avoiding dry option. We can line dry the clothes with bamboo or metal clips and it will be dry by the evening or max the next afternoon.

Empower the future generation with “Trashonomics”: Waste Management is an essential life skill that every child should acquire. Trashonomics is a book that has 5 easy chapters with hands-on activities that will help children understand the concepts better. This can be included as the supplemental chapter to Environmental Science. Children are the best change makers and this book aims to empower them to lead the change. So if you care about the future generation, get in touch with this organisation to see how to bring it into your kids’ schools –

For any further information on any of the above suggestions, you could find help on the page below: