Creating a zero waste space in India, like Hara World’s Hara House located in Bikaner, Rajasthan, has been rewarding but exhausting.
Every time we try something new and proudly boast about its successful implementation, we turn the corner from the house and choke on toxic air from rubbish being burned in the streets.
Bikaner, similar to many places in India, continues to dump piles of trash in open areas that are regularly set on fire, in hopes that they will simply just vanish (not realizing the harm on our environment).
Along with India's overall high levels of pollution, these small acts of silliness are causing extremely high rates of asthma, lung cancer, and multiple diseases.
Going zero waste is one of the best ways you can reduce plastic consumption and landfill pile up, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all in one go.
The key to success in minimizing waste is to go slow and steady.
You need to be able to sustain your zero waste practices. Even implementing one new practice every week can go a long way in the long-term environmental impact.
To help you get started, here are 5 simple ways you can minimize your household waste, and increase your love for mother earth based on practices we follow at Hara House:
1.Switch from regular laundry detergent to soap nuts
Did you know India produces its own natural soap? Soap nuts are native to India and found in the Himalayas, where their berries grow on Sapindus Mukorossi trees. Soapberries are collected and sun-dried to become soap nuts. Once dried, you crack them open to remove the berry (which you can replant!) and use the outer shell to create soap.
Soap nuts contain saponin, a natural soap
You can boil 30 soap nuts in 6 cups of water, which boils down to 4 cups of soap. Alternatively, you can use the nuts directly in buckets of water to clean floors, laundry, and tables. My suggestion: keep 10 to 15 soap nuts in a small cloth bag when adding to a bucket of water or laundry. This ensures dried flakes of the nuts don’t get mixed in with your clothing.
Soap nuts have a very faint and lovely scent, but we do love to add a drop of lemon or lavender essential oil to make the Hara House even more aromatic.
Soap nuts are accessible in almost all bulk market spaces and sell for around 200 INR per KG (but are free if you plant them yourself!). Because soap nuts are natural and safe for the environment, after doing laundry, we collect the grey water to nurture all our rooftop plants.
2. Get yourself some biodegradable sponges
The most wasteful (and gross) thing in your kitchen is your sponge. Did you know kitchen sponges can often have more bacteria than your toilet seat?!
The point here is: not only are sponges gross, but we also buy them new so often because they are always being pulled apart while washing. Imagine how many sponges are sitting in landfills right now (or at the bottom of our oceans)?!
Opt for coconut scrubs or biodegradable cleaning pads made from cellulose, an organic polymer found in the cell structure of plants. They are great for washing dishes and wiping surfaces.
I’ll be honest, it is a little tough to use soap nuts to cut the oil and grease from curries that leave residue on plates. If you add just a little bit of mainstream dish soap, we actually find soap nuts + cellulose sponges work better than those stupid, green, and wiry sponges everyone uses.
3. Nix napkins
Paper napkins in India are horrible. They are usually constructed from a mix of paper and plastic, which means it’s literally impossible for them to actually get any type of food off your face. We know we’re not alone on this.
At Hara House, we make our own napkins by upcycling textile waste. We’ve taken old, cotton shirts and scraps, washed them, cut them into squares, and sown the edges to ensure they don’t fray. They make for excellent napkins, are reusable, and eliminate mixed waste products from going into landfills (and textile scraps!).
Fun fact (maybe fun isn’t the word, but…): When products are made from two different materials, like napkins being made from paper and plastic, they are unable to biodegrade or be segregated properly.
Why? Because you can’t put two different materials - like paper and plastic - together and expect them to be disposed of in the same way.
In order to ensure your mixed material trash is put in the right bin, you have to separate the materials yourself. Have you ever tried to separate the aluminum from the plastic or paper of your juice boxes? It ain’t easy!
4. Implement a greywater system
You know the pipes under your sink in your kitchen and bathroom that trails all your water away from your house, and into the depths of the underground sewage system? If you place a bucket there instead of connecting it to the sewer, you can collect your grey water. TADA!
Greywater is defined as water that can still be used for other purposes but is not clean enough to drink. Water that has already been used for laundry, hand washing, or doing dishes would be defined as grey water.
Here at Hara House, we have made this simple switch so that we clean our showers, toilets, and floors with grey water by collecting water from our sinks and laundry machine.
Plus, with the use of soap berries, we have access to water that has already been infused with soap particles that helps us clean up. This super simple and totally manageable tip is even easier if you’re living in an apartment.
5. Create a waste management system
Onsite at Hara House, we separate our waste into 5 categories:
We use our organics to feed our rooftop garden (and hungry cows that roam by).
Our plastics and paper waste are delivered to recycling units nearby that break down the materials, and send them to manufacturing warehouses in Delhi to be made into new products.
Unfortunately, our mixed trash (and yours as well) ends up in the landfill. This is why this bin is almost always empty. Mixed trash consists of combination packaging and materials, like aluminum and plastic, or paper and plastic. As mentioned previously, mixed trash cannot be recycled unless it is manually stripped of each material and recycled accordingly.
The most common item that ends up in our mixed trash is cookie packages from travelers, unaware that their sweet habit can cause such an impact on our environment.
Tip: If you have a sweet tooth, make your own sweets! Or, opt for package-free goodies, and even carry a container to the local sweet wala next time you’re craving a gulab jamun.
Curious about how you can implement this 5-bin system at home?
Here’s how you do it in 4 steps:
Step 1: Research
Research your local waste management options. See if there is a pick-up service or if you need to deliver certain materials to specific areas or manufacturers in your city.
Check out a few start-ups helping waste management become easier and more accessible across India.
Step 2: Label your bins
Properly label bins in your home so you can remember where everything goes. Get creative and make fun little signs with drawings of what goes in which bin.
This also helps influence guests who stop by your home to be more mindful (and possibly do the same in their home!).
Step 3: Compost
Try starting a terrace or rooftop compost by breaking down organic materials with dirt and brown matter.
Add your bits of soiled vegetables, fruit peels and cores, even coffee grinds, and watch as you are able to bring goodness to the earth with waste that once had no purpose.
Step 4: Commit
Your commitment to waste management is like a marriage.
Always be mindful of what products you are buying so you aren’t bringing unnecessary waste into your home, and ensure you (and your family!) are following your 5-bin system.
By committing to proper waste management, it’s like marrying mother earth. If you fail at this commitment, you have betrayed her. And do you really wanna do mama earth like that?
Now it’s time to get to work. We’re counting on you to lead your own #hararevolution in your community!
(Jazzmine is the Director and Founder of Hara World, experiential education and impact travel organization that empowers, educates, and connects diverse young people through environmental justice programs. She is also the co-founder of Hara House, India’s zero waste guesthouse in Bikaner, Rajasthan.)
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)