Is zero waste a waste of time in India?
I confess I am not a bonafide "zero waster". I haven't committed my life to the cause due to a commitment to various Fair Trade, vegan, social enterprise, organic and budgetary issues I also balance - but I do go out of my way to make the best choices I can whenever they present themselves. My wakeup call that I wasn't doing enough just by refusing plastic bags and recycling came when I spent 8 months in India and Sri Lanka and used a minimum of one plastic bottle a day. This is because chances to refill a water bottle are few and far between on the road (some may say non-existent) and I was traveling in weather up to 50 degrees so it's physically impossible (for a lass like me) to carry enough pre-filtered water even if I could find it.
But alas, nine months later I'm returning to the land of waste where rubbish mounds pile the streets, and I'm coming back with a renewed passion for minimising my contribution to this environmental crisis. How am I doing this? By overcompensating in other areas of my life!
For most of the time I will have access to filtered water in the home with borrowed reusable water bottles and a canister to take to the village because my work is a 90 min drive from the house. However due to the extreme heat, scores of people die every May. I was there for the the 2015 heat wave that killed 2500 people, so in that kind of heat no matter how much water you carry it can never be enough. Therefore I will inevitably be purchasing delicious, frosty ice-chilled bottles of water and juice from the roadside along the way.
But it's the other ways I will aim to reduce my plastic use and waste that will ease my conscience a little. Often just by being aware of waste you're causing allows you to make small but effective choices and you are less likely to lapse into plastic laziness and over-purchase more than you need.
Firstly, I've used the online calculators and I've looked at the stats. Even as a regular international traveller, following a vegan diet ensures my annual carbon emissions and water use remain well below average compared to a non-traveller that follows a meat and dairy diet. By choosing plantbased foods I can take longer showers, catch more flights and still feel good knowing I'm producing less greenhouse gases than the average person on the street. Veganism is that powerful!
Secondly, last trip I carried a 60L backpack stuffed to the brim with everything I could need in any possible emergency. This time my checked luggage is a delivery of reusable pad kits for the women of my social enterprise (yay sustainability!) so I am traveling with a 40L~ish carry-on hardcase suitcase, packed as a zero waste minimalist to keep below the carry-on weight limits. Flying as a carry-on means no sharps or liquids over 100mL. This means no cruddy plastic razors or wasteful travel sized toiletries! Most of my products will be zero waste and handmade either by me or someone else. By making eco responsible choices with my personal items I can offset some of the damage I cause. I stand by my blog The Ultimate India Packing List for Women as relevant and useful for female travellers, it's just that my personal needs have changed this trip. The packing list 2.0 Minimalist Edition will be coming soon!
Lastly, there are various ways I can keep zero waste habits even in India.
- Choosing bucket baths over showers
- Only running the a/c when it's necessary and turning off all electronics when not in use
- Choosing sit down meals over food stalls with disposable cutlery
- Avoiding junk food like potato chips and opting for fruit as snacks
- Placing all rubbish in bins, and holding onto it if one is unavailable
- Wearing clothes twice before washing (if the weather permits)
- Using a menstrual cup to avoid disposable products
Plus I'm sure I'll come up with some more! You can keep living by your eco-conscience no matter where you travel in the world, you just have to forgive yourself for that which you cannot control and keep making positive choices wherever possible. You can't control the whole world, but you can control yourself and your own intentions. In no country will minimising waste be a waste of time!