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'My journey towards Zero Waste' by Shailaja Rangarajan

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I get varied reactions from people when they look at my lifestyle choices. They range from disbelief, respect, wonder and there are some who think I am a weirdo. How do I feel about all these varying reactions? Amusing is the word.

So what is it about my choices that prompt these varied emotions from people? Two things can sum it up. Minimalism and Sustainability.  I have now come to firmly believe that they go hand in hand.

Before I get into details, let me first introduce the person I was a decade ago. I was a firm believer in Retail Therapy. A successful and well paying career gave me ample opportunities to indulge. I wasn’t  happy with just window shopping. I felt joy and happiness  with every new purchase. A wardrobe that boasted of the best outfits, a wide range of footwear , handbags that  would be the envy of any girl. And of course all branded!

Now a decade later, let me introduce my new avataar.  A firm believer in Minimalism and Sustainability, A complete contrast to my old self.

The first step towards this new lifestyle was Decluttering. This  applied to everything around me and I haven’t spared my family members as well but  thankfully they haven’t been complaining.

Decluttering included clearing out most of the unnecessary stuff in the house.  I noticed that it is always the classic case of whatever I need was always on top of the heap when it comes to clothes. So it only made sense to clear the bottom heap. Footwear and other stuff we gave away all the ‘great to have’ but not needed things and retained only the must haves.  Today I am addicted to the  extra space at home! My eight year old took the brunt of our decluttering exercise! No more plastic toys entered our house again. I‘m very happy that she has adapted to this change very well. Birthday parties in our community are now free of gifts and return gifts and this has greatly helped in reducing plastic waste.

From there, I took one more step towards sustainable living. What does it mean? it means a lifestyle that is based only on NEED. Consumption that is more natural than artificial. Consumption that doesn’t use up new resources when existing alternatives are available.

So what brought about this change ? How did my thinking change so drastically? four years ago I started volunteering for Solid Waste Management activities in and around my living space. My work included helping  my own community establish good SWM practices, I also worked to help other communities handle their waste more responsibly. The more time I spent on the streets and looking at mountains of garbage, the more I was affected by the enormity of the mess we are creating. Was segregation the only solution for this huge mess? The answer was obvious. The challenge was much more bigger. As a child, I had never seen anyone come to our doorstep to pick up garbage. There was simply no need for it as there was practically no garbage at all.  So how did one generation go through such a humongous change?  The answer was in plain sight. I was one of the reasons contributing to this unholy mess.  This realization ushered in a new way of living.

Decluttering  was relatively easy as it was not dependent on anyone or anything and I could do it myself. I realized that a decluttered lifestyle actually  helped declutter the mind.

The next step was to adopt a more sustainable way of consumption.  This was a change that was a bit slower and not so easy. So I made a to do list for myself to make the change easier.

  • Buy only what is absolutely needed.
  • Repair and reuse stuff wherever possible
  • Get stuff that doesn’t use up new resources.

I diligently followed my list step by step. I can’t claim that I am 100% waste free. But this new lifestyle that I've adopted has got me to a point that there is very very little plastic in  mine and my family’s daily routine.

Few things we did to reduce Plastic and hazardous waste

  • Bamboo toothbrush. Even my daughter picked this up without blinking
  • Menstrual cup – zero sanitary waste!
  • Bio enzyme cleaner – no more chemicals going down my drain in the form toxic cleaners

While trying to adopt these systems myself, I also managed to convince my friends and my community to rethink their choices. I am proud to say that My community  uses only  Bio enzymes to maintain all  common areas within the premises. The toxic chemical  sprayed for fumigation has been replaced by the same bio enzyme which is completely natural and safe. Other commercially available chemical laden cleaning liquids are also done away with.  I sincerely feel that this is a good start. If all the communities in Whitefield adopt these chemical free methods,  we can certainly save our lakes from foaming and choking.

I feel happy and  proud to have converted many friends from using carcinogenic sanitary pads to eco friendly and sustainable menstrual cups and  cloth pads.

This passion to encourage and promote sustainable living gave birth to Rimagined, a venture that aims to promote Upcycling as part of everyday living. My need to evaluate better options for sustainability got me into this Green space. Upcycling is already a big movement in some countries but hardly spoken about in India.Traditional Indian lifestyle was all about Upcycling but sadly we have moved away from it. It’s high time we get back to it.

Now through this wonderful platform of Rimagined, I work with many self help women’s groups across the country as well as some amazing designers who create these lovely products from waste.  I also never miss a chance to tell anyone who cares to listen, “Check out Upcycled options before going out and buying new stuff.”  Environmentally friendly choices are easily  available in most segments now, All you have to do is look for it!

Be the change. Make this informed choice today!

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  • Shailaja is an awesome person

    Yagna on

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