I was born and raised in Germany, a place where people produce a lot of waste, but no one really cares because no one can really sees it. We throw our waste in the dustbin and then we stop thinking about it, because it gets taken care of. So before coming to India I never really thought much about waste. I knew about the danger of plastic in the oceans and I disliked seeing things in the supermarket being packed wastefully. But that was it. I doubt, that there is more waste produced in India than in Germany, but it's just so much more visible. So I decided to produce no waste for a month – “My Waste Free February”. Yes, February is the shortest of all month, but I choose it coincidentally, I swear!
I found out about this through several bloggers who live a zero waste lifestyle. They are producing no waste and are really successful in doing so: Lauren Singer for instance has a jar filled with trash – all the trash she produced in 4 years! And Bea Johnson, the pioneer of the zero waste lifestyle, manages to live like this even though she is married with two children.
Trying to live like this only for a month is not what this concept is made for. Zero Waste is more about changing your behavior long term. Under normal circumstances people use their toothpaste until it's empty and than look for waste free alternatives. I unfortunately had enough toothpaste for more than a month and also enough shampoo. That's why I decided to put it away for the month. Throwing them away would have been the complete opposite of what this movement is about.
Most of the waste I produced before was related to my food – packaging of Maggi or bread, sometimes even a plastic bag. It turned out, that carrying bags is not that hard, but Maggi and bread I head to give up for that month. Instead I bought vegetables and fruits and I soon realized that the food I was eating now was more healthy.
But I did not always manage to not produce waste. Sometimes I simply forgot and got a plastic plate at a Pani Puri place. Once I asked to get Ice Tea without a straw and got it anyway. Many receipts are not recyclable and I couldn't figure out how to avoid them. And twice people gave me something and it felt rude not to take it. Also I neither speak Hindi nor Gujarati and that was troubling at times – I could convince people not to give me plastic bags by waving with my own bag, but with other things it was harder. The "real" Zero Waste people try to not even produce compostable waste like paper while I decided to concentrate on plastic waste, so I got herbs in paper bags.
Before I started this experiment I expected to be happy when it is over. But by focusing on waste for a whole month I realized how much plastic is around and how easy it is to avoid it. Sure, I had to give up some things. But I decided to try to avoid as much plastic as possible even after the month, not just because I think it's the right thing to do for the environment, I also felt healthier than before because I couldn't buy any crisps or chocolate. Now I don't do it as consistently, which I feel a little bit guilty about, but I will try to do it even better when I'm back in Germany, where I think it will be a little bit easier for me because I speak German. On the other hand India has a major advantage, because it is really easy to buy vegetables without plastic. Also I found a coconut oil factory, where I could go to fill up bottles. In Germany all this is not possible as easily anymore, I don't know any oil factories and it's really hard to get vegetables without plastic. Right now zero waste shops are opening, but in India many vendors sell zero waste unconsciously anyway!
While preparing for my Zero Waste month I found out that plastic bags need 20, crisps packets 80 and plastic bottles 500 years to rot! I was shocked hearing about this – even many generations after my great -grand-children will have to deal with the plastic bottles I produced. In a TED-talk, Lauren Singer addressed this thought and I
can only agree with her :
"I want to be remembered for the things that I did when I was on this planet and not for the trash I left behind."
This is a short lesson that I learned from a coconut during one of my vacations in Kerala.
1. A coconut starts off without much input of humans – it grows in tropical areas on sandy grounds and can even support certain amount of salty water.
2. It is relatively easy to harvest coconuts: you only have to build a letter to get to the crown of the tree where the fruits grow and harvest it with a knife.
3. Know you can first enjoy the refreshing and sweet coconut water.
4. You cut the empty nut open in the middle and let it dry in the sun.
5. You remove the hair from the nut, collect it and produce ropes with them and the help of a small turning machine (best case scenario: solar powered).
6. As soon as the cut coconuts are dry you can throw them into a coconut press. It gives you pure coconut oil and the rests can be used as animal food.
7. The use of coconut oil is versatile: you can use it to treat hair and skin or to cook and profit from its health benefits (for example digestion, hormone support or immune support).