The more we have, the more we want. But while upgrading our lives by buying better products, we are also filling our homes with things we will never use. Our hoarding habit is damaging the environment not only because we are consuming more of earth’s finite resources, but also because we are increasing our waste production.
We have inundated the Sisdol landfill site in Kakani, Nuwakot, by throwing away pretty much everything from old books and clothes to broken utensils and electronic gadgets. According to the Solid Waste Management Association of Nepal, of the 1,200 tons of garbage collected daily from Kathmandu and its surrounding areas, 65 percent is organic waste, and 15-20 percent is recyclable, meaning even that which is compostable and/or salvageable ends up in the landfill where it will take years to decompose.
The concept of zero waste, which is now almost a global movement, can help ease the landfill load and save the environment. The idea is to send nothing to the landfill by reducing consumption, composting, reusing what we have, and recycling what we can’t reuse. People around the world have reduced the amount of trash they generate in a year to fit in a single mason jar. How they do it is up for everyone to see on YouTube and other social media platforms.
In Nepal too, some are now trying to do the same. A 65-year-old lady in Pokhara, Shashi Tulachan, hasn’t produced more than a bucket of trash a year for the past eight years. “It’s possible if you are conscious about what you use and throw and how,” says Anjana Malla of Deego Nepal, a sustainable business providing eco-friendly alternatives. “The problem is many of us are into a zero-waste lifestyle because it’s become a trend and we are doing it all wrong.”
When people want to lead a more sustainable life, the first thing they do is throw away anything made of plastic. Plastic, we all know, “harms the environment”. But throwing away a perfectly good plastic container that could have lasted several years and buying a sustainable alternative in its place is counterproductive when the goal is to reduce consumption. Malla says the only way to drastically reduce waste is by cutting on what we bring into our homes.
It takes a little effort but then it’s quite easy to cut down on your purchases once you start weighing your actions and their consequences. “Don’t buy things on a whim. First look at what you have at home and see if you can repurpose things to fit your needs,” she says. And when you eventually buy new things, opt for quality stuff that will last long as opposed to something cheap that you will have to toss out after a couple of uses.
Anweeta Pandit, founder of Eco Artes Pvt. Ltd., and a zero-waste enthusiast, says we must go back to our roots and live like our grandparents and their parents back in the days. By that, Pandit means we should work on conserving resources by reusing things and only replace them when they can’t be repaired. For instance, before fancy bottles and pots took over the market, we used biscuit tins, powdered milk cans and various other jars to store grains and other essentials. We didn’t go hunting for matching glass bottles and stackable containers like we do now.
Pandit laments how zero waste is more about aesthetics today, creating more waste as we throw out everything that doesn’t match the lifestyle. “We have to be aware that our trash is a burden on the earth. We might blame industries for producing a lot of things but they are only catering to consumer demand. If there is less demand, there will be less production and subsequently less waste,” she says.
The market is saturated with products to suit different needs and tastes. Whenever we give in to our tendency to buy a new cup or a notebook when we have two unused, good ones at home, we are creating more waste. Kritica Lacoul Shrestha, senior manager at Jamarko, a company established in 2001 for environmental conservation and to provide jobs to the underprivileged, especially women, says it is imperative to change our use-and-throw culture and make our daily habits more sustainable.
We tend to disregard the effects of small, individual actions when something as urgent as the environment is at stake, she says. Instead, we blame the government for its inefficiency in tackling the waste problem. But small things like taking your own shopping bag and saying no to polythene bags or saving water while showering can add up if you do them regularly.
“Government policies on recycling and conservation of resources are important. But pollution is such a pressing issue that we must all do our part in reducing consumption and building eco-friendly habits,” says Lacoul Shrestha. Jamarko has been working to minimize paper waste, the long-term impact of which, she adds, will be conservation of our natural resources and habitats. Manu Karki, proprietor of Eco Sathi Nepal, a company that sells eco-friendly products, says you can start by doing whatever you can, whether it is carrying a shopping bag, your own water bottle, or taking lunch from home instead of ordering takeaway at work. The key, she says, is not to have eco-anxiety. “I have seen people try to overhaul their lives overnight and switch to greener alternatives by throwing away much of what they have. That path to a sustainable life isn’t sustainable and leads to stress and negative emotions,” she says.
A common mistake is trying to lead a completely eco-friendly life where they aren’t using anything made of plastic or entirely avoiding disposable items. There is no room for error. “There will be times when you need a single-use item like a straw, cup or a bag and that is okay,” says Malla adding you can’t let a mistake pull you down and deter you. The trick is to do what you can when you can and build on it. It should be a slow and steady lifestyle change rather than a drastic switch. “You have to understand that a zero-waste lifestyle is a process and not something you can discipline yourself into. You can never be perfect at it but you can be persistent,” she says.
Also, a complete zero-waste lifestyle isn’t practical or possible. Even if you use only what you absolutely need, you will inevitably have to discard things because of wear and tear. A zero-waste approach, however, helps you prolong the life of any object you use and thus be frugal with resources, whether it is by donating books and clothes you don’t need instead of throwing them away, or repairing the broken speakers or microwave and not buying a new one immediately. There will be things you can’t avoid but aiming for zero-waste will make you a more conscious consumer which, in turn, will translate into a lighter footprint on the planet.