I read last week that over 1 million kilograms of garbage had been removed from Versova beach in the last few months by a citizen-led volunteer movement. I found myself there once and immediately wished I hadn't. It was two weeks after Ganesh and the sea had angrily spit back the heads or torsos of a hundred idols, a few thousand plastic bags, and hundreds of thousands of pieces of packaging - wrappers, styrofoam, plastic boxes on top of rotting fish and a headless cat.
It was this sight from last week's story, times the apocalypse.
I joke that we are doing a great job keeping bikini culture at bay by keeping our beaches disgusting but the reality is no joke. Plastic pollution is real and it is wreaking havoc on the environment.
Like most things, we don't care about trash because we don't understand it, and we don't understand it because we are oblivious to it once it leaves our doorsteps. Convenience is all-important to us and it's all too easy to buy inflated bags containing six chips, sip on individual tetra packs of fake juice, make coffee from a non-recyclable pod and order delivery that arrives in neat little white plastic boxes.
I've done it, you've done it. Let's do better, it's the small things.
I've learned a few lessons in trash during my lifetime and all of them came from being face-to-face with it. It all began when I visited a landfill. A few years ago I went to Deonar, Bombay's biggest dumping ground with the writers of Grey's Anatomy (C'est la vie. You win some, you lose some.) It was scarring in the way you look back a few years later and think about how it made you the person you are. Deonar is practically mountainous, over seven storeys tall and often engulfed in flames, causing toxic air pollution in the city's eastern suburbs and very, very frightening.
My second lesson came from living in rural Italy for five weeks where there was simply no garbage collection service. Having nowhere to dispose of garbage is a reality check in any exotic sounding destination. With nowhere to put it, the focus is simply on not generating any.
My third and continued lessons come from citizen-led clean ups. (Vaayu from Issue 1 does them. You can join one in your city through The Ugly Indian.)
Having a relationship with garbage is the best way to stop creating so much of it. In short to make less trash we have to be aware of the impact on waste our choices have. Implement these habits and you can make a difference -
- Start by visiting a landfill or joining a citizen-led cleanup. Get better acquainted with the stuff you create so much of.
- Shun bottled water. Truly the biggest sham of our time, bottled water is essentially purified water, the very same one you're served in restaurants, but in plastic (which leeches chemicals in it). Ask for the regular water. Buy a reusable bottle for when you're out and make it a habit of carrying it with you. For travels, get a lifestraw or a lifestraw water bottle which purify water. And FFS, do not drink out of those horrid tiny Bisleri.
- Say no to single-use plastic. Carry your own bag everywhere. Put them in the boot of your car, in your desk at work, and put light, foldable ones inside your handbags, backpacks and briefcases.
- Give up religious festivals. Nature once served as major inspiration for religion, the very thing that's destroying it. Give up fireworks, overly packaged sweets and goods, toxic colours and put an end to shitty presents. Nobody needs another tacky photo frame or rose-scented moisturiser. Gift experiences, subscriptions and perishables.
- Reassess your celebrations. Weddings and parties are criminal. Refrain from using one time use plastic, foam, confetti and vinyl flexes. Use real crockery, cutlery or biodegradable options, serve filtered water in real glasses instead of bottled water, rent instead of buying, use natural decorations or fabrics you will upcycle later, ditch plastic props and favours.
- Buy fresh, unpacked, fruits and vegetables. Buy loose nuts, dry fruit, grains, savouries and take your own containers for them to fill up.
- Cook more. Eat less packaged and processed foods. Make your own peanut butter, hummus and dips, granola and health bars. Snack on fresh foods.
- Eat less takeaway. And when you do, give back the extras. Check your parcel for those fiddly plastic condiment containers and plastic sporks and return them. Better yet, eat out instead and only order as much food as you'll finish.
- Give back the brochure. If you're the kind of person who ends up with a bunch of business cards and marketing materials that you're likely to chuck out anyway, put them back. Take a photo on your phone, save a number if you need to but don't take it home unless you really have to.
- When you order beverages in restaurants and bars, ask for no straw. For a completely pointless item, straws are ubiquitous and a serial killer of marine life. Turning them down is a great place to start. Get glass, bamboo or stainless steel straws if you really require them.
- Carry your own spoon. Admit it, plastic spoons suck for eating icecream, stirring beverages, snacking at pop-up markets anyway. Order a bag of Bakeys otherwise.
- Use cloth instead of paper towels in the kitchen.
- Borrow and share. Need a wedding outfit you'll only wear once? Borrow it. Ask around before you buy a new appliance. Lend your friends the stuff you don't get enough use out of.
- Spend more - invest in one great sweater instead of three of the sort that fall apart after three washes (more tips on how to have a more sustainable wardrobe here), choose a water filter for home, buy the honey in the glass jar.
- Make your period eco-friendly. Pads and tampons contribute to a significant amount of waste. The LOVER team are huge fans of the menstrual cup. (Check out Aindri Chakraborty's illustrated piece Green Period in this issue)
- Cosmetics packaging is another huge contributor to global trash on top of the necessities. Perfect your beauty routine and invest well in the essentials so you don't end up with dozens of barely used products. Make your own beauty treatments from pantry essentials. (Find Mia Morikawa's in this issue.)
- Know the real superstars of recycling. Make it easier on a local recycler (bhangaarwala/raddiwala/ragpicker) by separating and giving them your recycling. Also remember, recycling is sexy but it has its limits. Materials can't be recycled infinitely and recycling still uses resources. Real impact comes from using less.
- Don't contribute to e-waste. Companies like Karma Recycling will actually pay to recycle your electronics.
- Start your own compost bin. (Coming up soon on LOVER)
- Above all, change your attitude. It's not embarrassing to carry your own bag, bottle or boxes. If you think about it, it's bizarre that we'd often rather a flimsy temporary carrier than a quality, reusable one. Nor is there shame in borrowing and sharing things. If anything, guilt should be reserved for things that matter - like polluting the one home we were given.
Earlier this month we launched the LOVER Small Things initiative where we partner with brands who want to have their businesses assessed and made more sustainable, through easy and meaningful changes. Get in touch for more details.
Image by Shaily Gupta.