Early this year, a friend and I had been toying with the idea of organizing a beach cleanup in Mumbai. I’ve been cleaning beaches for a while, usually picking up a bagful of stuff every time I pay a visit. Sometimes only 3 items (check out #take3forthesea on instagram). She saw one of my pictures and messaged me.
Even though summer had come early to Mumbai and we were hitting 40ºC + in April! (go ahead and tell me climate change isn’t real). we started scoping out a few sites. Chowpatty beach, our number one option was pretty clean, it seems the BMC has been doing a good job there for the past decade. So, that was a no go. Next we checked out a small spot opposite the aquarium. There was trash, but mostly flowers, and even in low tide the spot wasn’t too big. On top of that there was ongoing construction.
Somehow we ended up at the Bay View Marina garden at Cuffe parade. It seemed to check off all our boxes.
- Covered in Trash? – Yes.
- Large enough to host a cleanup? – Yes
- Accessible? – Mostly
Free of Poop? – Ummm. Nope! – Unfortunately so many people in India still live without access to a toilet, and sometimes even when they do often prefer to go out in the open
So despite the poo situation, we picked the spot. In the meantime a friend just happened to put me in touch with Divya from Skrap. The timing couldn’t be better. Permissions fell into place super easily – I have to say, I didn’t think working with the BMC or the local corporator would be such a smooth or pleasant experience.
In the week leading up to the cleanup things got a bit crazy. I made a little graphic on Canva, (not exactly the best graphic, but hey, it was my first time) and shared it with a bunch of groups and on social media.
3 days went by and it was mostly people who said they couldn’t make it. I was so nervous, what if no one came? What if it was just Annuja and me, squatting on the rocks picking up trash? I had already placed the smallest possible order for facemasks, and 100 of them were arriving at my house soon. What was I going to do with so many?
By Tuesday, a few friends had said they would be there. So that wasn’t so bad. Annuja and I made a couple of site visits, once with the BMC and once after the Farmer’s Market with Divya. We figured out that we could use this time as a dry run and learn from it for when we plan to make it regular.
People who had seen the infographic were emailing , suddenly the registrations started rolling in. Okay, now I was nervous again. What if too many people showed up. What if there wasn’t enough trash (yes, for some reason I thought that was a serious concern)
Anu and I made a checklist, masks, gloves, bagasse glasses for lemonade, lemonade (duh!), a tarp for sorting the waste and finally old cement sacks for collecting the garbage in.
Everything in hand by Saturday evening, except the tarp, I went to bed early. I needed to be on time for starters and no matter how much I try, I am just not a morning person. As it goes, I didn’t sleep that whole night. I had dreams, no nightmares, that it had rained and everything was ruined.
Woke up, got to the site, and I swear one person had shown up early, in Mumbai? Like I said earlier, I was afraid that there wasn’t enough garbage for everyone so we did a bit of a walkabout scouting the shoreline for a “trashier” but came back to our original plan.
But once we started cleaning there was so much. The pieces were small and wedged between the rocks that were piled up to break the tide. Things went incredibly. There were over 30 of us cleaning up (Including some lovely girls from the Udayan Shalini Foundation), filling bag after bag with milk packets and ghost nets. In the end we picked up 50 bags of trash. It isn’t even a dent in the amount of plastic waste that litters our shorelines, but it’s a start.
Stay tuned, because we’re planning the next one, and you are invited! Leave your details here so that we can keep you updated.
I was in Mauritius over the last week, it’s such a beautiful Island. The Mauritians have kept their Island clean and beautiful. When I spent time at the beach, I had to actively look out for trash instead of it just being everywhere. Still, EVERYTHING, on that island comes wrapped in some form of plastic.
I left Mumbai thinking I was going to be one of those Zero-Waste travellers I see all over instagram, shopping in bulk stores and leaving behind no trail of trash. I packed my little kit for the trip, two bamboo glasses, wooden spoons, knife, fork, a steel tin with a sliced up baguette and another box with cheese. On the flight, I had them refill my steel thermos with water and rejected the inflight meal – opting for me bread and cheese feast instead. More positives: I didn’t use the airline blanket, headphones and said no to the small care package they were handing out to all the passengers. Things were going well, and I was super proud of myself. I was travelling with my husbands family, and there were 8 of us on the trip, including one very excited 4 year old.
Full disclosure, I have created more trash in the one week I was on holiday than I have in the last 2 months. Here are all my fails, because I think it’s just as important to document losses:
1. We went to Ile Aux Cerfs for the day and I couldn’t resist having a glass of soda – which came in a plastic bottle
2. Having lunch on the beach, we ordered fresh coconut water, all of which came with a straw despite repeated requests for no straw. Fresh juices came in plastic cups with straws too.
3. Lunch on the beach came in styrofoam clamshell boxes. I asked for plates, but they thought it would be better to serve us in the boxes to help keep the food warm. I had carried my cups so I finally managed to have a plastic free beverage, but since I’d carried only 2 cups, everyone else obviously got theirs in plastic
4. EVERYTHING at the supermarket came in some form of packaging, even the organic veggies were shrink wrapped. Fresh cut cheese was shrink wrapped. The only thing I managed to find in glass was some ridiculously expensive orange juice
5. We were staying in a villa and they only had one trash can – for everything. My compost loving heart broke each time I threw something out
6. There is absolutely no filtered water available in Mauritius, i went through a lot of 500ml bottles before I found a 5 liter bottle at the Supermarket which I used to refill my steel thermos
I’m off to Europe right now and this is what I learned from all my fails:
1. When you travel with people, make sure your zero waste kit can accommodate everyone. Others may not make the effort to carry things, but if you have plates, cups or snacks, everyone is happy to use them
2. Do your research. I went on this trip thinking things were like they are here. I didn’t make a list of bulk stores in my area, or places I could drop off recycling
3. Don’t get lazy. It’s easy to slack off on a holiday. I forgot to carry my kit on the first day out and felt guilty all day
Some thoughts on Mauritius:
1. Mauritius is beautiful, tis was my second trip there and I’m excited to go back
2. Diving is beautiful, so much fish life, it’s like an aquarium. Sadly alot of the hard coral was covered in Algae and I heard most of it under there is bleached on the shallower reefs. On the other hand. The soft coral is this beautiful pastel pink shade, when offset against the turquoise waters looks totally otherworldly. I dove with Blue Water Divers, recommended to me by Lacadives. The diving experience with them as always was amazing (I did my advanced open water PADI certification with them last year). The instructors are very attentive and made sure I was completely comfortable.
3. We finally fixed my buoyancy problem, turns out that even the XXS BCD is a bit loose on me. Pierre, my instructor undid my equipment underwater and criss crossed the shoulder straps finally making the equipment snug. After that I was like a fish. I’ve never been this comfortable diving before. Goes to show, how having well fitted equipment and experienced instructors can make a world of a difference
4. I saw a whale! Ok, it was just the tail and it was out in the distance and it was only for 30 seconds, but that was pretty much the coolest thing. Getting in the water with them is on my bucket list, but I definitely need to get a lot more comfortable diving before I do
5. Oh, and I used Reef Safe Sunscreen for the first time. Regular sunscreen will sometimes give me hives around my chin, so all these years I was using the hypoallergenic kind made for teeny tiny babies. This one worked pretty well, but required a bit more dilligence in reapplication, but totally didn’t bother my skin. Converted for life
6. Here are some pictures, because look at how beautiful it all is!
Coffee is a morning ritual in my household we brew two cups, my husband finishes his by the time I surface. I pour out the rest from the coffee machine and heat it up for 20 seconds in the microwave. By the time I finish it, it’s already cold. 2 months ago he woke me up, “The coffee filters are over, now what do we do? Order some from Amazon please.” I’m no good in the mornings.
I’d been meaning to go out and buy some muslin which could be used in place of the unbleached paper ones I had been ordering online. I obviously hadn’t; so I told him off “Just don’t use a filter” Poor fellow went ahead and did just that. And guess what? We’ve never used a filter again.
Going Low-Waste (Or Zero-waste for some) is about making small incremental changes
How is your caffeine Habit it hurting the Environment? (And what you can do about it)
Nespresso Pods (and others just like it): Nespresso pods basically produce a perfect shot of coffee every time. The mechanical engineer and ex-barista part of me is impressed. It’s pretty hard to get something right time after time. The pods also come in a bunch of fun flavours. It’s no wonder that Nespresso Pods are pretty popular. They are also TERRIBLE for the environment. Firstly the coffee pods are single use – and made of laminated aluminium. So they aren’t easy to recycle – your local kabadi wala won’t take them and so they go to the landfill. Although recycling programs for the pods are available in 36 countries, since Nespresso isn’t officially present in India we have no official program here. They also aren’t the easiest to recycle since each pod is made up of multiple materials. This also poses the additional issue that the pods are completely imported and so have a high carbon footprint.
The To-Go Cup
When I went to America for the first time, I was 19. I had watched enough movies to know that the standard thing to do was to walk into a Starbucks and order something cool sounding. It was the coldest winter New York had witnessed in a 111 years or something crazy like that and I got windburn on my face walking down broadway. I walked in and ordered something, probably a cappuccino. It came in a Paper cup and a sleeve with something resembling my name on it. I emptied a paper sachet sachet of sugar into the cup and stirred it with a little plastic stick which I proceeded to throw away right after. I then put on a plastic lid and walked back out into the cold having sipping away at my American right of passage. 5 minutes later I realised I’d lost my only glove.
With the Maharashtra plastic ban, a step in the right direction, plastic lids and straws are banned. However paper cups are not. Just to be clear, these cups can neither be composted or recycled since they have a thin plastic lamination. Plastic stir sticks are replaced with wooden ones and sugar still comes in small sachets. That’s still a lot of waste. It’s best to carry a reusable to-go cup or you know, sit down and have a cup at the coffee shop.
What do I prefer? I like my cup at home
For a simple single cup I love a french press. And if I have guests I have a filter coffee machine (try and not use disposable filters here – if the one that came with the machine isn’t enough then a simple muslin cloth will do the job just as well). And if you like you espresso, there are some super machines in the market (at the fraction of the cost of a Nespresso machine) – some of the higher end ones will have a built in coffee bean grinder as well. It’s best to buy locally grown coffee in bulk (Phillips is such a fixture in this sense) We’re also we’re lucky to have some amazing new companies in India doing just that while championing sustainability (Black Baza Coffee – looking at you, though I’m not sure if they have bulk available anywhere).
Besides my morning cuppa Joe – I do like a nice green tea in the evening or a black tea with some honey and ginger on a rainy day. The best way to brew the perfect cup, at least according to me, is without a tea bag. Firstly, most tea bags are a waste of paper and I don’t know about you, but I feel like they leave some papery fibers in my cup. Not exactly tasty. Plus, a whole bunch of the higher end teas available now come in this woven plastic pouch instead of paper. My hatred for single use plastic having been previously established, I don’t really need to say more. There’s also a whole bunch of unnecessary packaging – the little paper pouch the tea bag comes in, the cardboard box they are neatly arranged in, and finally, the thin plastic wrap used to seal it all in.
Me? I prefer loose leaf tea – any day. Easy to buy in bulk (Again at Phillips or a Nature’s Basket) I like to carry my own jars to be filled. I also have this cool stainless steel tea apparatus that works super well, or there are some really pretty teapots out there. Alternatively you could raid your mom’s china cabinet
– I’m sure there will be a teapot or 2 in there.
I recently read “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Perhaps the best book I’ve read in a long time and one that made me rediscover what I loved about reading. She builds complete worlds without being over descriptive and although the plot feels secondary I felt like I had to keep turning the page. It is not about what happens next, but how it unfolds. Someone could have spoiled the ending for me and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.
What struck me the most about this book is how relatable it felt. It was as though my experience as an International Student in an American college had been put down on paper and I was reading it back to myself.
I read this for Book club (after the last few books, I wasn’t excited, but one chapter in and I was hooked.) The thing about reading for discussion is that it simply isn’t an internalisaton of the novel, I read it with a critical eye and highlighted parts to talk about.
Although race was the primary theme, there an underlying feminist tone to the entire book. A couple of the parts I highlighted felt very very real to my own experience. Adichie has given a wonderful Ted Talk on Feminism which you can find here.
When describing her childhood her mother says “Why must this girl be a troublemaker? I have been saying it since, that it would be better if she was a boy, behaving like this.” This has been a constant in my life. (I hate the, I’m not like other girls trope, one I bought into when I was younger and much dumber) So much behavior of mine from getting into scraps, coming home covered in dirt or staying out all night drinking were unacceptable for me as a girl, where as all the boys my age were doing it without complaint from their parents. Also, has anyone noticed how detergent commercials are filled with mothers fussing over mud covered clothes that belong exclusively to their sons. As though little girls can’t go out, play in the mud and come home all mucky
“He had imagined Georgina, from the way Emenike spoke of her, as a fragile innocent, a successful lawyer who none-theless did not truly know the evils of the world, but when she arrived, square faced with a big square body, brown hair crisply cut,giving her an air of efficiency, he could see right away that she was frank, knowing, even world-weary. He imagined her clients instantly trusting her ability.” This one hit hard. I’m a small and young looking and worked in the real estate industry for the last 10 years, 4 of those in construction management. I had a client once, who turned around and told my boss I’m an overpaid secretary. The person I worked for is quite wonderful and stood up for me, but I know it shook his confidence in me as well. I can’t imagine that client saying the same thing about a man with my qualifications or experience. This is what constantly made work feel like work, proving myself worthy. My gender and appearance constantly spoke for me, even though my work should have.
I’ve highlighted half the book, so this could end up being a very long post. Better one goes and reads the book. It was easy to get through and hard to put down.
P.S. I read this on my iPad, since I have it I might as well use it for reading a book instead of buying something that needs to be printed on paper and then shipped to wherever I am.
Have you read Americanah? What’s your favourite bit?
As a child I always wanted to be an explorer with a life of adventure. Once I was visiting the Otters Club in Bandra and looked out at the sea as we were pulling up in our car. “What if we keep going straight?” I asked pointing at the ocean. My father told me that if we drove for long enough we would reach Africa. I was disappointed he had an answer, what I really wanted was to find a lost island with exotic creatures and strange species of plants. Perhaps an ancient undiscovered civilisation. I wanted to trample through the woods and arrive there dressed like Carmen Sandiego. My dreams had been shattered, every corner of the world had already been discovered and there was nowhere new to go.
It turns out that little me was wrong. The world is such a wonderful vast place and every new place you visit is new to you. (Look at me all sounding like a motivational Instagram Post).
There is one place that stands out though. The Andamans took my breath away in the way that I had wanted as a child. Although dotted with hotels, Havelock felt old and ancient. It was the first time I had seen water that colour, or been in a place so wild.
To preface, I want to be honest and say I spent the first 3 days afraid of going further than ankle deep in the water. I was petrified of being eaten by a crocodile. (P.S. I’m still alive, so that didn’t happen).
This is also the place I fell in love with the ocean. I had always loved the beach, and being out on the water, but before I came to the Andamans, I had never experienced the ocean as a Three-Dimensional space (Random awesome physics video explaining dimensions). I will never forget the snorkel trip we did to Inglis Island, small and uninhabited it felt like the lost world.
We snorkeled from the boat to the shore through the coral, although bleached, was magical. There were so many fish and Dia, our guide, pointed out the giant clams and garden eels. On the hike across the island I was amazed by the trees. They were tall, maybe 300 feet up in the air with enormous buttresses nearly 2 stories high. They were those strange species of plants from my childhood imagination. We sat on the beach on the opposite side, looking out to the sea. The stretch of sand to our left seemed unrealistically exotic, like a green screen image in a movie about islands. A school of bumphead parrot fish swam by with their bumps sticking out of the water (silly me was convinced it was a school of sharks like a weirdo). I later saw these same fish on a dive, with their odd teeth and funny bumps on their heads, something I could never have dreamed of.
Back then I wasn’t that aware of coral bleaching, or the effect my sunscreen may have had on the reef. It taught me so much though, about ways to respect nature, things I hadn’t learned in my years of camping in high school. I wish I had made all the changes I am making now, back then, over six years ago. I wish the plastic bottle I had seen half an hour into our boat ride over the open ocean had bothered me more back then, the way it would have had I seen it today.
I’m glad though, that my life has turned out to be such an adventure. On to the next one.
Stay : We stayed at both for a little bit
Budget: Barefoot Scuba – Nice tents, good people, yum breakfast and a lovely beach
Splurge: Barefoot at Havelock – lovely rooms, yum food and bonus! a bar.
Eat: We kind of ate all our meals at the Full Moon Cafe at Dive India, we didn’t like the accommodation too much but spent most of the day lazing around over here and occasionally heading to the docks for a pizza
Do: Dive Dive Dive! Did a discover scuba dive with Dive India and they were wonderful. (I was still scared but this was such a super intro) Next time though I may want to do a couple of days in Chidyatapu diving with Lacadives and checking out the amazing conservation work Reefwatch is doing down there
Who doesn’t love a good bath? I know I do, and with the monsoon here in full force, having a hot shower now tops my list of fun activities. (Cold showers are better for the environment though) I used to have a shower cluttered with plastic bottles full of product, and used to be known to indulge in a nice soak in a bathtub. Now – I make sure to turn the shower off while I soap up.
I’m not 100% there yet, but I’ve made changes that have made bath time lower impact, funny though, that many of these changes didn’t happen out of a need to go zero waste, but because what was already on my shelf wasn’t working for me.
A couple of years ago, I started to get hives on my back and stomach, any minor irritant, as silly as a slightly scratchy label would set it off. Around the same time, I found that my hair was thinning and my scalp had become itchy. I saw a dermatologist and she told me it was stress and gave me a mild antihistamine. I took this for months, and it barely helped.
I must have run out of shampoo and resorted to using something from my stash of freebies (yes, totally guilty of having been a former master thief of free toiletries) and everything felt better. Two washes in and my hair was still dry, but wasn’t falling off at a horrifying rate. This was totally working for me. I walked into Forest Essentials and month after month bought their shampoos and soaps. Hair and skin still dry, but the hives and hairfall were under control, without the antihistamine or calamine lotion.
Now their stuff isn’t exactly cheap, plus, it isn’t plastic free. So last year when I decided to change up my life, I started looking for alternatives. Something more affordable and preferably not in plastic. Here is what I’ve ended up with:
I use a shampoo by Omved it’s about the same price as forest essentials, but I prefer it for 2 reasons. One, my hair is super soft now and my scalp doesn’t feel dry at all. Plus, no excessive hair fall. It comes in an Aluminium bottle, which is 100% recyclable. After a whole lot of looking, I found these lovely soaps from Auroville (a place I need to visit) that come wrapped in fabric and wax paper. The Shea butter ones are super moisturizing and make my skin feel awesome. I don’t even use a separate face wash any more.
Last week I posted about how much microbeads suck. When my last natural face scrub ran out, I decided not to buy a new one. A couple of months ago, I had bought a Loofah (fun fact: it’s actually a gourd – from the same family as the Zuchini) which I use to scrub everything from my face to my tippy toes.
Finally, I finish off with a little bit of body oil. I still have a bottle from Forest Essentials, it’s practically a year old and i’ve barely made a dent in it.
Earlier, I probably would have used a shampoo, a conditioner, face wash, body wash, face scrub, body scrub and a moisturiser. That’s 7 products which would have come in plastic containers I’ve replaced with just 4 which are also Sulfate and Petrochemical free, and I’ve never felt better.
Glitter, although shiny and pretty, is a microplastic. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment. While there is some contention over their size, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies microplastics as less than 5 mm in diameter. The ocean is basically a microplastic soup and these are really easy for sea creatures to swallow. Plankton have been caught on camera munching on tiny pieces of plastic. Larger animals like whale sharks and other filter feeders will end up swallowing microplastics along with the plankton they are after. Although a whole bunch of this will be excreted, it is possible for plastics, especially at the nanoscale to be absorbed into the body.
So, next time you’re at the store, don’t buy the greeting card with glitter on it, or that cell phone cover (can someone recommend a plastic free option here for the next time I buy a case), or just plain old glitter as a craft supply.
For crafts, it’s easy enough to use rice and various lentils.
Toothpaste & Facescrub
Surprise! Your toothpaste and face scrub can also contain microplastics. Those microbeads promising to make your teeth super white or that face scrub that swears it’s going to go inside your pore and take out all the goop are just teeny tiny pieces of plastic. Forget the environment, swallowing these could end up being a direct health concern. Pick something not so icky the next time you need to make a switch. There are super duper scrubs made from walnut shells and apricots and whatnots, and scrubbing your teeth with something that rough isn’t good for you anyways
Depressing, I know right. When your balloon is done being super fun and floats off into the sunset it turns into trash. I’m just going to leave this picture of a poor Olive Ridley Turtle who swallowed a balloon. Poor guy must have thought it was a jellyfish – their primary diet.
We learned the 3 R’s of waste management in school – Reduce, Reuse & Recycle. Lately the Zero Waste Movement has expanded this
Reduce: Use Less
Reuse: Don’t just throw things away or send them for recycling – use it for something else
Recycle: Send it to the recycling center. This is easier said than done. Often waste ends up in the dump because it wasn’t put in the right bin or wasn’t cleaned before being thrown away.
Recover: Sometimes it’s possible to recover energy or raw materials from items that cannot be, reused, repaired or recycled
Replace: Adopting eco-friendly products vs. those that produce trash
Repair: India has an amazing repair culture, torn pants, take them to the tailor. Broken chappal – guaranteed there is a mochi within walking distance.
And Finally – my new Favourite R – Refuse. It’s almost the same as reduce – but it is more about actively refusing. For example, every time I go to a restaurant, I make the waiter write down “NO STRAW” with my order. It may sound a bit over the top, but believe me, I’ve ended up with plenty a straw even after repeating myself about 10 times.