A small organization, run by homemakers in Mumbai is taking small but significant steps towards spreading ‘a green wave’.
I live in Mumbai and have a farm in the coastal town of Umbergao, around 150 kilometers away. We have an organically-grown chikku and mango plantation that provides for wholesome feasts during the season. At the farm we live in a cozy mud home; our bathrooms have water-proof composite roofing recycled from used tetra pack cartons and it’s powered by solar energy.
Over the last two decades, I have seen Mumbai and Umbergao evolve in many ways- be it the increasing concrete constructions, the latest cars or even the consumers. But what struck me most, were the ever evolving (and increasing) piles of waste from Dadar station in Mumbai to Umbergao station. Recalling those journeys were instrumental in the realization that we’re creating a lot of waste on the planet: there was therefore an urgent need to reduce and recycle.
My desire to take up the recycling cause manifested in the form of ‘RUR: Are you Recycling?’ RUR is an environment forum that works towards creating eco-friendly families who make their waste useful for the planet by adopting sensible green practices.
Starting with oneself
Studying the waste stream at home, I realized it all ended up in two big bins which went directly to the dumping grounds. My first green goal was to reduce the quantum of waste from our home.
I got in touch with the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) office in our area and they helped me get in touch with people who could help me recycle on an individual basis. I invested Rs. 700 in a vermi-compost bin from a firm called Kalpatru that designs compost systems for wet waste-management amongst other things; the pit is a rectangular shaped bin with holes for aeration.
In an urban apartment in Mumbai there’s always a space crunch. It was challenging to find a suitable place to manage wet waste like vegetable and fruit peels inside the home. Will it stink? Will it be in the way? We finally ended up putting it in the window grill where there was adequate sunlight and air. Nature did the rest! It was satisfying to see our daily waste reduce considerably.
Simultaneously, we began to look for ecological alternatives to buying many goods. These days lemon peels clean our bathroom tiles instead of toxic cleaners, soap nuts have replaced shampoos, cloth bags as opposed to plastic bags- even resources like power and water are carefully monitored. Now every time we wash vegetables, the water is collected and reused for our plants instead of letting it simply wash down the drain.
The two simple questions we can ask ourselves are, ‘Can we put what we’ve consumed back into use or do we just have to trash it? Can we move towards biodegradable and reusable from non-degradable and disposable? ( see table on lifespan of waste)
Being green is contagious; many young mothers from my kids’ school have joined me. We’re now a core team of six members- Jashvi, Malavika, Sumegha, Sejal and Yamini - and are lucky to have many eager volunteers helping us with our initiatives. We function at the grassroots level and practice everything we share; so there is a lot of experimentation done in our homes.
We conduct a lot of workshops for homemakers, where our aim is to communicate that there is always a ‘greener’ way to do something. A friend who makes homemade cakes has been inspired to change her business and has formed what she calls “Gateaux in Greens”. The first time I ordered brownies from her they came in cellophane wrapping; now we get brownies in banana leaves which even stay fresh longer! For a school project, a student was required to construct a toy ship. We suggested using a cane basket rather than thermocol, which is non-degradable and lasts forever when dumped; it worked wonderfully.
The Sahakari Bhandar story
A core area we decided to work on was doing away with the shopping plastic bags. Even at a global level, the consumption of plastic bags is a staggering 500 billion per annum, an average of one million per minute! And only one percent of it is recycled. In fact when dumped in landfills like Deonar, these non-degradable plastics last for ten lakh years, causing much harm to our ecosystem.Waste Lifespan
Long After You Are Gone, Your Waste Will Still Be Around!
Life Expectancy Of Some Of The Items Dumped.
Banana Peels : 3 To 4 Weeks
Paper Bags : 1 Month
Cotton Rags : 5 Months
Woolen Socks : 1 Year
Wood : 10 To 15 Years
Nylon : 30 Years +
Leather Shoes : 40 To 50 Years
Tin cans : 50 To 100 Years
Aluminium Cans : 200 To 250 Years
Plastic Bags : 10 Lakh Years
Glass : 10 Lakh Years
Styrofoam Cups : An Eternity
We began by distributing around a thousand recycled cloth bags in our neighbourhood but soon realized that gifting one bag free did not make the others realize that they must stop using plastic bags altogether. In order to have more effect, we needed to put it in a system.
We approached many supermarkets, only the Sahakari Bandar outlets took up the challenge. Mr. Vinay Adhye, head of Sahakari Bandar was instrumental in beginning the process.
On 5th June 2009, World Environmental Day, we launched the ‘GO GREEN’ project at each of their twenty stores. We talked with hundreds of customers personally and flagged the movement by distributing 30,000 cloth bags free of cost. There are frequent training programs with the staff to communicate the right message to the customers; with barely a minute or two available to interact with customers at the checkout register, it has to be simple, sincere and practicable.
We have implemented a scheme to motivate customers to bring their own cloth bags by giving Rs. 1 off on every Rs. 200 purchase; even setting up an award system for those who are dedicated green customers.
To discourage plastic bags, we levy a ‘green tax’ of Rs. 2 per bag. We received mixed reactions to this- some were excited about the green tax and said we should charge higher, while some who easily spent about Rs. 2000 on their shopping made a fuss about Rs. 2 charge for a plastic bag, as they were used to having them free.
The bottom-line is that this type of green- model is both an ecological and economical success; the stores have saved on costs of plastic bags and we’ve been able to reduce the plastic bag consumption by around seventy percent in the last four months.
Our recent initiative was organizing a ‘Hara Bhara Jhola Mela’ in Mumbai where we showcased green solutions from a variety of cloth bags to handmade paper products and products from recycled tetra pack cartons. There was also an organic food stall where people could source their raw ingredients, from millets, to jaggery and pulses.
We also collected old cotton duppattas, sarees, and bed sheets from the Mela participants to convert these into reusable cloth pouches that we can subsidize to vegetable vendors in markets. Moreover, the bags are stitched by women from some city slums who need to be empowered with work; it’s a green act with a social impact.
We are a bunch of home-makers and friends who’ve come together to reach out to other home-makers and try make these little shifts in our attitudes; even if it is only substituting plastic with cloth bags. We are working to find many more creative ways to spread the ‘green wave’ and are hoping it eventually snowballs into a mass movement. For, as I see it, it’s a choice between convenience and collateral damage - and every single green act, big or small, has the possibility of exponential gains for our world.