Guide to Sustainable Living and a Zero Waste Lifestyle – Part 1

One morning, I was curiously reading about ancient Indian scriptures known as “Vedas”. The Vedas were scriptures written by Hindu sages, that contained an entire universe of knowledge and wisdom – be it Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, Health or Life Sciences. In 1500 BCE, they spoke of an intriguing aspect to the Earth’s natural resources and preservation of the Environment, something we have termed as “climate change” today. I stumbled upon tons of verses in Sanskrit language, that emphasised on the beauty and importance of nature, the idea of considering the Earth to be your mother, and bowing down to her. The Atharva Veda 12.1 (6.1, 6.2) says,

” विश्वंभरा वसुधानी प्रतिष्ठा हिरण्यवक्षा जगतो निवेशनी । वैश्वानरं बिभ्रती भूमिरग्निमिन्द्रऋषभा द्रविणे नो दधातु ॥ “

Vishvambhara Vasudhaani Pratissttha Hirannya-Vaksaa Jagato Niveshani | Vaishvaanaram Bibhrati Bhuumir-Agnim-Indra-Rssabhaa Dravinne No Dadhaatu ||

Meaning: 6.1: (Salutations to Mother Earth) She is Vishwambhara (All-Bearing), She is Vasudhaa (Producer of all Wealth), She is Pratishtha (Foundation on which we live), She is Hiranyavaksha (of Golden Bosom) and the Dwelling Place of the World, 6.2: She holds the Vaishvanara (The Universal Fire) within Her, the Fire which empowers Indra and Rishabha; May the Mother Earth bestow on us (the splendour of that Fire and make us strong).

Even thousands of years ago, Hindu sages beautifully defined the planet we reside on – not just metaphorically but also with a deep understanding of the science behind it’s existence. The fire held by Earth, that these scriptures talked about, was said to reside in the belly of the planet and this is synonymous to the scientific study of the Earth’s core and mantle that was carried out years later. These sages emphasised on worshipping nature, aligning human life with it and told stories of a way of life for the world to lead, keeping environment preservation in mind.

The fact that the need to preserve the environment was predicted thousands of years ago compelled me to start an Eco project, which involves sustainable living, promoting a lifestyle which generates negligible waste and recycling harmful items that the Earth’s soil cannot bear.

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, when we avoided going out and couldn’t shop, we all realised that we could lead a perfectly normal lifestyle without all the items we had been buying every month – be it products belonging to the kitchen, personal grooming or home decor among many more. Social media has also contributed immensely to creating awareness about our harmful effects on the Environment and stories of climate change activists have been heard globally. But, as moving as these stories may have been, I realised there was not enough emphasis on free and simplified information that could guide a common (wo)man every step of the way in leading an environmentally conscious life. I decided to undertake the project for 18 weeks and chronicle my entire journey through weekly articles here. At the end of it all, you would have access to my ultimate guide to sustainable living, broken down in the simplest parts, keeping in mind the busy lives we all lead.

The terms ‘sustainable living’, ‘organic’ and ‘zero waste’ have gained a lot of traction across the globe since the last few years. ‘Sustainable Living’ refers to using natural and renewable resources everyday in life, instead of generating excess waste and depleting the Earth’s resources. It aims to build a safe future for the generations to come and utilise the Earth’s resources judiciously, by inflicting as little harm as possible. Contrary to popular belief, ‘Zero Waste’ does not refer to leading a lifestyle that generates literally zero waste. It is a concept that revolves around living a life that generates as little waste as possible, which is achieved by not using plastics or non-biodegradable items and recycling the existing harmful ones. The word ‘Organic’ originated from the Greek word ‘Organikos’, relating to the organ of a body. This word was later used to define characteristics pertaining to, or derived from living organisms. Organic products are those which are natural in the sense that they are sourced from nature – be it trees, herbs, fruits, flowers, mud or even waste. An implementation of the combination of the three aforementioned phrases is exactly what the world needs to make our home liveable.

Week 1

My first week of the Eco Project mostly passed in research and recognising the areas at home where I can make a change and eventually a difference. I moved into a new house 5 months ago (yes during the Pandemic, we had no choice) which is on the outskirts of the city and surrounded by forests. The change was clearly visible – my skin instantly improved because of all the fresh oxygen, my dependency on caffeine and intake of coffee drastically reduced as my mind stays fresher on it’s own for longer hours since I am in the lap of nature, and I began to observe the way plants function in the presence of healthy oxygen, care and nutrition. This is the same nutrition needed to nurture human bodies as well – both physically and mentally. It’s a symbiotic relationship you see, the more you give to the Earth, the more you will always receive. Our dependencies are interlinked and will always be, even if Mission SpaceX is a success.

Ready to take a walk with me?

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Walking barefoot on freshly mowed grass is a different kind of Therapy.

Sustainable Living and Zero Waste Lifestyle relies on the 5-R Principle

  • Refuse – Refuse the generation of waste and the purchase of harmful, wasteful, and non-recyclable products
  • Reduce – Reduce the use of harmful, wasteful, and non-recyclable products.
  • Reuse – Reuse items at your workplace or home instead of buying new ones.
  • Repurpose – For every item that can’t be refused, reduced, or reused, find an alternate purpose for it. Turn your old candle into a diffuser, use an empty beer bottle as a vase/planter.
  • Recycle – Recycle your waste and reduce the amount you generate by establishing an effective recycling program either at home or via organisations that can assist you for free.

For my first week, I spent a lot of time on reading about the concepts of sustainable living, how it can be achieved as a slow process and not an overnight change and how even the smallest steps make all the difference to this home we once called Terra. I then compartmentalised my life into 5 areas – work/travel, the kitchen, the bathroom, the garden (or any green corner of your house) and personal care. These are the areas that need an inspection of the kind of products being used, the waste you are disposing everyday in the kitchen/bathroom, the amount of time and money you are unnecessarily investing into shopping, how efficient your garden is, what chemicals are you putting into your stomach and on your skin, and what are the minute changes you can make/add on to your life to make it greener. But most of all, a change in the mindset is what fuels you (pun intended) to modify small areas of your life that leave a large impact – a mindset that truly makes you aware and conscious of livelihood around you. It can even begin with you feeling uneasy upon seeing plastic waste scattered all over a beach that you recently went to – that emotion right there has the power to kickstart a chain of actions from arranging cleanliness drives to generating employment in the cleaning services to finally letting Terra breathe.

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Use a wooden tray instead of plastic, and use dried up flower petals to add some spice to a plain tray, just like I did with my yellow roses.

As you start the compartmentalisation process and taking note of the things you use everyday, you’ll find plastic, metal and other items that are truly known for their animosity towards Mother Earth everywhere. Your next step, is to find out where you can buy organic products and the eco-stores around your area. I googled and visited multiple stores, explored the kinds of things I could buy and bought a few small items that I could incorporate into my daily routine. While visiting a few conventional grocery stores, I saw there was not a single thing that i could buy as nothing was packaged without plastic. That’s where I saw the stark contrast between organic stores and the regular store – paper packaging, mud pots instead of cups, replacing plastic/melanin with wood wherever feasible and chemical free toiletries.

I noted that waste disposal is a huge problem. The amount of plastic we use everyday in our shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, gadgets and kitchenware is unbelievable – and ultimately their shelf-life is low because we tend to throw away old bottles rather than reuse them. Strangely enough, even the reside of items like regular shampoo/makeup/chocolate syrup from the bottles being thrown away can harm the soil if not disposed off ethically. The chemicals and pesticides present in every item today, be it an apple or a bottle of sweet-smelling aftershave, can degrade the quality of the soil if it is directly discarded and not recycled. These chemicals ultimately find their way back to your system when you grow fresh vegetables on the same mud, inhale the polluted air and heat your food in the microwave.

Food: This is why farmer’s markets are a great place to buy your fruits and veggies from. They don’t use pesticides and offer fresh organic vegetables at half the price. You even get to carry your own cloth bag instead of harmful plastic ones. This week, I bought some of my fruits from a farmer’s stall near my home and in the coming weeks, I’ll be looking into more alternatives and have made a list of small herbs that I will start growing in the space behind my kitchen. This week, desserts were being distributed in the neighbourhood I live in, and my father was in charge of the arrangements. I made sure he arranged for biodegradable paper boxes, to store the desserts in, as opposed to ecologically inefficient plastic ones that had been in use till last year.

Kitchen: A microwave is great for saving time, but it’s also harmful for you and the environment – the rays that enter your food in the microwave can adversely affect the human body over a period of time and using electricity for the microwave dissipates heat. This week, I started heating my food on the gas stove as much as possible, even if it means adding an extra utensil to wash in the sink. As an Indian, my ginger-cardamom milk tea (adrak ilaichi chai) is very sacred to me, so I also replaced my ceramic cup with one made from mud at the local potter’s. Now I can use my old ceramic cup as a vase, a pen-stand or a planter for succulents! In the upcoming articles, I’ll guide you on how to purchase food items in eco-friendly packaging, storing efficiently, the magic of compost and waste disposal.

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An earthen mud cup made from Pottery for my beverages

Bathroom: I saw the shiny plastic bottles on my bathroom shelf and felt terrible. For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to use up all the products (shampoo, body wash, talcum powder, deodorants) and reuse the bottles for things that I’ll write about in the upcoming articles. This week, I also recycled an old/dysfunctional candle as a stand for incense sticks, which I use as air fresheners now. In the upcoming articles, I’ll be guiding you on how to reuse your old shiny bottles and fill them up with homemade shampoos/soaps/body washes that really just take 20 minutes to make.

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My existing plastic bottles which I need to use and then refill with homemade alternatives. Hiding the brand names as I do not intend to malign any company.

Shopping: This week, when I was exploring organic stores, I bought a wooden toothbrush, herbal tooth powder in a reusable glass jar, metal straw, bamboo straw, chemical-free soaps that came in paper packaging, pure honey in a reusable glass jar, mosquito-repellent incense sticks (I stay in the tropical country of India), organic candles as natural air fresheners, ecologically packaged and organically manufactured deodorant, wooden hairbrush and comb, earthy mud cup, tea tree oil (this is your best friend, you’ll know why in the coming articles). I carpooled with my mom and physically went to the store instead of buying online and leaving a carbon footprint by not only vehicular transportation during the delivery but also generating plastic waste due to the packaging. Now, I’m not asking you to do the same, but you can certainly take a moment to think if you really need to order a product online or if you can just go to the vendor next door or even better, if you can reuse something at home.

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Things I bought this week and carried in a cloth bag.

Home/Garden: This week, I used an old beer bottle as a vase for my new roses. I’m definitely going to repeat this with my other bottles too. I also found a tall Eucalyptus tree growing near my home and it’s old leaves scattered on the ground. I collected them in a bag, brought them home and burned them in a pot in my garden to ward off mosquitos and purify the air. Fallen leaves and the chipped off bark of a Eucalyptus tree work like magic to ward off mosquitos and purify the air around you. You don’t have to live near a eucalyptus tree, you can pick up some leaves from a random tree on the way to work. If not, there are several other alternatives and I’ll be covering them in a separate article with a detailed guide.

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Beer bottle with roses
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Burning scattered Eucalyptus Leaves for air purification and spare ones in a sack on the side.

Personal Care: I tend to use cotton for cleaning my face especially after I apply makeup. This week, I realised that it’s less damaging to Earth if I can wash the cotton balls before throwing them away as it removes chemicals of the makeup from it, and better yet, use these washed cotton balls for your compost pit. Also, you can skip the washing part if you just switch to organic personal grooming products like aloevera gel, rosewater, vegan makeup, coffee, fruity skincare etc. I’ll write about home remedies for the skin and hair, as well as makeup and other aspects to personal grooming for men and women in a separate article.

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Washing cotton balls before disposing them into a compost pit

Restaurants: This week, I went to a restaurant with a friend of mine, that serves delicious sizzler platters, and ordered fresh lemonade along with it. I forgot to carry my metal straw that day so I just asked the staff to not give me a plastic one, as you can always have your drink without a straw. I didn’t use tissues either, they’re really an unnecessary disposal of waste. It’s way better to carry a small handkerchief in your pocket/purse and use that instead of hoarding tissues at the bar. I’ll be covering more in a guide to sustainable restaurant ethics, for weekends when you’re out with your friends and family.

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One myth I’d definitely like to break for readers is, that organic living is more expensive than a conventional lifestyle. That’s really a misconception, in just a week I found my expenses to be much lesser as I was avoiding junk food wrapped in plastic among other things. There are stores that rely on a luxury appeal to their organic products, but you don’t have to buy those. There are hundreds of alternatives that will make you realise how you can live an environmentally conscious life without emptying your wallet. Through my weekly chronicles, I truly hope you find inspiration in turning your life around for the better and stop the Earth from turning into brick. I assure you, the detailed guide I provide will keep in mind our busy schedules that feed into the urban jungles we live in.

Take baby steps, you don’t have to live like a Monk in the Himalayas – just take baby steps and you’ll already feel greener within. Whenever I try to take steps on the ladder of social initiatives that benefit the entire community as a whole, I find this quote from the Yajurveda written by Hindu Sages very encouraging:

“You are the one who inspire everybody to do his duty, I am inspired by your ‘inspiration of duty’, You are directly or indirectly involved with each and every action that takes place in this world.”

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Arushi Sana is the Co Founder of NYK Daily. She was a Forensic Data Analyst previously employed with EY (Ernst & Young). She aims to develop a global community of knowledge and journalism par excellence through this News Platform. Arushi holds a degree in Computer Science Engineering. She is also a Mentor for women suffering from Mental Health, and helps them in becoming published authors. Helping and educating people always came naturally to Arushi. She is a writer, political researcher, a social worker and a singer with a flair for languages. Travel and nature are the biggest spiritual getaways for her. She believes Yoga and communication can make the world a better place, and is optimistic of a bright yet mysterious future!

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