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Zero Waste Tips

Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 3

Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 3

For #plasticfreejuly, this is the third part of a four part series highlighting some of the needs of the hour of plastic waste pollution through worldwide and India specific stats along with first hand insights from Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India staff and interns.

 

Last week we explored the insights of Bare Necessities’ two interns who have vastly different backgrounds- one from England and one from India- about how they view waste (click here for Part 2). While the week before we delved into the thoughts and perspectives from the manufacturing team (click here for Part 1), which consists of four women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, in relation to how their relationship with waste has changed since beginning employment in a business that focuses on zero waste- Bare Necessities promotes adoption of zero waste practices, circular economy methodology and sustainability to consumers and businesses throughout India and further abroad.

 

This week I had the good fortune to gather information from two members of Bare Necessities team who have been central to day to day operations and the growth of the business. Longest serving, Sonal has known the founder of the zero waste business since childhood and has helped the business mature and grow in scale since 2016. Comparatively, Prakash has only been here for a short period of time, a little over 6 months, but has had an influential hand in business operations since he moved from an organic company to Bare Necessities. 

 

Their knowledge of how products (that currently lead to plastic waste) can be viewed in the overall marketplace found in India and further abroad has developed because of working for a social business that focuses on creating products that work within a cradle to cradle methodology- an approach where “it is necessary that recyclability is already considered during the design phase of a product. All technical and biological processes must be environmentally compatible, so that products can even be beneficial instead of simply being less bad” (source). Fortunately they, and every other individual on the planet, have also been provided with a blueprint on how to live and be a responsible consumer who understands why sustainability is needed, the blueprint is documented in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (source). For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing in particular on:

  • Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production- “Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources.... The efficient management of our shared natural resources, and the way we dispose of toxic waste and pollutants, are important targets to achieve this goal. Encouraging industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste is equally important, as is supporting developing countries to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption by 2030” (source).

While the impacts of linear methods of consumption and production, a cradle to grave methodology (source), will be portrayed in relation to:

  • Goal 13: Climate Action (source)
  • Goal 14: Life Below Water (source)
  • Goal 15: Life On Land (source)

 

‘I have always been keen and inclined to support local artisans, practices, crafts and ideas,’ Sonal noted. ‘To me, working at Bare Necessities was a great way to build something that was raw, rustic, unadulterated and beautiful. I thought it deserved all the support and opportunity to come at par with the chaotic consumer market that exists.’ The sights of the consumer culture is easily witnessed on market streets here in India along with many other locations around the world. The sheer scale and expansion of these methods, is depicted succinctly by Prakash, ‘years ago there wasn’t much waste in the village where I grew up but now there is lots of plastic waste. It keeps growing, I really think this problem has developed over a long period of time due to the practices that have been adopted.’

 

The simple question is, how can we move away from these practices that affects the climate:

  • A “large chunk of emissions comes from something that you probably don't even think about: trash. The decomposition of municipal waste is one of the largest human-produced sources of methane emissions in the world. Although we hear endless chatter about carbon emissions (and for good reason), methane emissions are just as troublesome: methane is 20 times more potent by weight than carbon dioxide. In landfills, methane gas is produced during the decomposition of solid waste: small microbes 'eat' the waste, producing gaseous methane as a byproduct for several decades” (source).

Life below water:

  • “There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes... Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined... 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million seabirds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually" (source).

 And, life on land:

  • “In February this year (2019), veterinarians operating on a bloated and infected six-year old cow brought into the Bihar Veterinary College in Patna removed 80 kilogrammes of plastic from its stomach. Though this was not the first time that doctors had removed polythene from an animal’s stomach, 80 kilogrammes of it from a single animal was something of a record” (source).

 

Sonal’s journey highlights similar problems, “I remember my grandmom churning the idli batter in a very old vessel and big ladle, at home every single week. She used to make it right from scratch - soaking the rice, grinding the batter, fermenting etc. Today, we've moved on to buying ready-made batter from the store which is obviously stored in plastic packets. This is the same story with milk - the transition from milking cows in front of you to buying pre-packed plastic milk pouches every single day was rapid. I think this is the overall consumerism that we've accustomed ourselves to. Our definition of 'convenience' has taken a very big toll on not only the environment but also health!’ 

 

I know it all sounds devastating...

 

But don’t lose hope, dear reader…

 

‘Before (I began understanding the plastic waste crisis), I didn’t mind using a plastic straw from a coconut vendor but today I don’t mind getting wet while trying to drink coconut water directly from the shell. Small steps have definitely increased my awareness and habits around this!... I've completely shifted to bamboo toothbrushes and have become the official dispenser of toothbrushes at home. I carry my bag and water bottle while travelling. I refuse all things made up or wrapped in single use plastics… I look for alternatives to basic everyday items wrapped in plastics - milk packets, cut vegetables, food delivery packs etc… There is more awareness and we are constantly evolving… reduction and reuse are the most immediate steps.’

 

What did I mention? We mustn't lose hope. Sometimes in order to understand the great threats to our way of life we can get caught up in the terrible loss of life at sea, the cows with an ocean of plastic in their stomachs and the polluted air that we breathe. When instead, that is only the first step in our evolution towards a more sustainable way of living. I doubt any of you reading this article will not know the extent of the plastic waste crisis. Yet, I myself, can be bogged down in the stats and figures that accost us each day. During those moments I am paying little heed to the fact that there are simple solutions in all of our day to day lives that are making enough little differences to matter. It is only when I step out of that bogged down pool of figures that I can start to see passed the overwhelming forest of microplastic.

 

How can we become more conscious consumers? Whether the evolution has to start with “shopkeepers and vendors fear(ing) a hefty fine from inspectors who are tasked with keeping (Mumbai) free of plastic bags.” Where the “blue squad – middle-aged and greying – (who) may not look intimidating but their weapon, a hefty 5,000 rupee fine, has reduced grown men to begging... They move swiftly, striding into shops, rifling under the counter and, if they find plastic bags, impose a fine on the shopkeeper. From Starbucks and McDonalds to tiny street food stall owners, no one is exempt from the ban on single use plastic” (source). Or, as Prakash puts it ‘education at all socioeconomic areas (in India) is key to changing consumer habits... The middle and lower class population in India is not spoken to regularly, they have a high population but are not educated enough. This needs to change to see results.’ These are two of many simple methods that are being practiced on a daily basis that have produced positive differences.

 

Furthermore, there is now a growing focus on designing new solutions to products that are currently used in all of our consumer driven lives. Examples can be seen with biodegradable bags in India, in Mexico where a company is transforming avocado pits into disposable bioplastic straws and cutlery, and in Indonesia where the root vegetable cassava is used to create biodegradable bags. By designing new products, along with minimising single use items, correctly disposing of used products in correct categories and limiting the amount of non- organic material used on a day to day basis, creating a zero waste environment is being achieved.

 

By understanding the situation to a higher level, utilising the knowledge gained and adjusting habits solutions can be found in a short period of time. The interviewees experiences have demonstrated that we can all try to innovate with the most basic means and challenge the plastic status-quo economy in order to adjust the way that consumerism is practiced within India. There are many, many solutions to this complex problem, which one works best for you, is up to you. 

 

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A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 7

A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 7

Seventh in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy.

 

The amount of waste in the environment that is caused due to burning fossil fuels to create energy is a truly global issue, with the “handling and disposal of (fossil fuel) waste result(ing) in costly environmental and community health challenges” (source). “Fossil fuels are rock like, gas, or liquid resources that are burned to generate power. They include coal, natural gas, and oil, and are used as an energy source in the electricity and transportation sectors. They’re also a leading source of the world’s global warming pollution” (source). Noted in a report from 2017 (source) there are a minimum of 29 countries who source more than 90% of their energy source from fossil fuels. Notably, “global dependence on fossil fuels has dropped relative to total energy used since 1971, and the trend is likely to continue as nations convert to greater utilisation of renewable resources for energy” (source).

 

This form of waste is all pervasive affecting every person in society no matter where they are standing. Fortunately, the move away from fossil fuel use holds as much benefit as the alternative holds disaster. Implementing new sustainable systems that reduce the amount of waste- renewable energy based systems- can help mitigate the negative effects currently felt due to waste produced through the use of fossil fuels. “Renewable energy is energy produced from sources that do not deplete or can be replenished within a human’s lifetime… (such as) wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower” (source)

 

Positively, the World Economic Forum recently noted that India, a country with a high dependence on fossil fuels, now produces the cheapest solar power in the world. Cheaper solar panels in India and further abroad have helped to make clean energy more affordable and therefore wean humanity away from the use of fossil fuels. Solar energy output increased by 24% last year, globally, with the majority of demand coming from Asian countries such as China, Japan and India along with countries such as the USA, Australia and Germany. Similarly, to the more affordable solar panels, larger and more efficient turbines for wind energy has increased demand for forms of technologies that do not produce waste in the manner of fossil fuels. 

 

The transition to clean energy is pivotal for our long term sustainability, using available methods that produce limited to no waste means that the new technologies are steadily becoming more affordable at the same time as the ‘hidden costs’ of the waste from fossil fuel is known to a greater degree. Ensuring that this type of clean energy is available and affordable to consumers worldwide, as more and more people’s livelihoods improve into this century, will be a key in eliminating the use of fossil fuels into our future.

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Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 2

Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 2

For #plasticfreejuly, this is the second part of a four part series highlighting some of the needs of the hour of plastic waste pollution through worldwide and India specific stats along with first hand insights from Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India staff and interns.

 

Last week we explored the insights of Bare Necessities’ manufacturing team (click here for Part 1), which consists of four women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, in relation to how their relationship with waste has changed since beginning employment in a business that focuses on zero waste- Bare Necessities promotes adoption of zero waste practices, circular economy methodology and sustainability to consumers and businesses throughout India and further abroad

 

This week I spoke to the two interns who currently work at Bare Necessities as part of this plastic waste series, Alana a young woman with English and American parents who wanted to find out more about sustainability so that she can learn ideas and concepts for a sustainable fashion business she is thinking of starting in India. It is her second time in India whereas Nehaarika is from Bangalore. The young university student learnt about Bare Necessities reading magazines that highlighted companies achieving accolades for work in sustainability for a unit during her tertiary studies and felt that the zero waste business stood apart from all others mentioned in the material she was reading. 

 

They are two well educated women who know and understand zero waste practices to a greater degree now than when they commenced. Does education alone then, lead to better practices in the people who can make a difference to the plastic waste crisis?

 


The Educated

 

“It is high time we turn our attention fully to one of the most pressing problems of today – averting the plastic pollution crisis – not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world” (source).

 

Awareness has crept into the lives of the two interns as it has to a growing number of people across the planet who are becoming more educated about how to manage waste. An example from Germany- a country where nearly all plastic bottles are recycled- is that the poor perform an environmental service in the capital of Berlin by scavenging public garbage bins for bottles yielding deposit return at supermarkets (source). The parallels with the informal waste sector in India and many other countries across the globe are clearly noticeable. Yet, the structure found in Germany is often not enforced in India to ensure that a standard recycling system is upheld, or it is not there at all, evidence of this can be seen with large piles of waste in communities and rivers throughout the country. 

 

It is fascinating to think about how India can transition from its current waste methods to one as structured as in Germany, or perhaps more likely if we are to resolve the waste crisis, a system developed on the ground level that addresses the needs of Indians and works for Indians. For now though, if we solely rely on education about waste without a structure varying things can occur. I’m sure I am safe in assuming that you may think that the more educated people in India are the better they manage waste. This, however, is not always the case. Alana told a story to me about a time she was ‘in a car in India with well educated Indians who simply threw their waste from the window of the moving vehicle. I was shocked,’ she said, ‘and so were the two others in the car- two German travellers- The Indians attitude to waste was very different than ours. They thought nothing was wrong at all.’ 

 

Even though these two well educated people knew about the issue, and likely knew what the better practice was, the deed was done. The empty plastic bottles of drink sit on the roadside of a northern Indian state as the everlasting memory of what well educated individuals can choose to do- no matter where in the world they come from.

 


The Uneducated

 

‘’All those contesting Maharashtra Government’s ban on #singleuseplastics I want to ask you, WHY? How can you NOT see the damage it’s doing? Shouldn’t you be responsible for the waste you generate? We are drowning in plastics. Our health, water, soil, seas, nothing is spared. There is an umbilical link that connects ecology and economy. Human well-being and quality of life is only possible through resource efficiency and environmental sustainability’’ (source).

 

There is a ‘waste depot next to my house,’ Nehaarika mentioned, ‘everyone dumps it there. If they could give the waste segregated to municipal organisation that would work better’... ‘I live on the outskirts of Bangalore and construction workers often push waste out of the way to build new buildings’... ‘People who live out there are not educated to a high level which causes problems.’  The expansion of cities across the country is causing “all manner of structures (to) have encroached upon lakes and rivers with impunity, while industrial waste and sewage inflows render various water bodies toxic. The problem is compounded by the large-scale adoption of thermocol and plastic plates and glasses even in the countryside.” (source).

 

Waste piles are towering monuments of India’s growing waste problem on the outskirts of Delhi at four unofficial dumping sites (source), with the sites becoming some of the largest, least regulated and most hazardous in the world- similar examples are found in Mumbai and Kolkata (source). Chennai too, a city that generates 5000 tons of waste every day (source)has issues of its own. If the problem is purely education then surely waste sites that are reportedly destined to grow taller than the Taj Mahal in the next few months (source) should prove to be an effective method of communication, shouldn’t it? 

 

However, without a system in place, we have already seen what well educated people can choose to do, even if they know better. So even though piles of waste in cities are growing to the size of buildings- surely a challenge to ignore this situation but be aware that becoming immune to the fact that there is waste everywhere is possible- without a system in place it is difficult to resolve. 


The Travelling Plastic Salesman and the Expanding Plastic Business That Now Has A Structure

 

“We need leadership from those who are responsible for introducing plastic to countries where it cannot be adequately managed, and we need international action to support the communities and governments most acutely affected by this crisis (source).” 

 

‘Within Indian communities segregation is key on the outskirts of the city where I live’... ‘When I travel around the country there are limited options to recycle in hostels and other locations where I have stayed’... ‘The takeaway industry has grown since the last time I was in India’... ‘Limit takeaways’... ‘Reusable containers while travelling are useful and I can see this poignantly most mornings at the hostel I am staying where there are piles of takeaway containers’... ‘There is more awareness now’... ‘People know about the problem’...‘My family and friends are embracing composting and have steel bottles for water now’... ‘There are solutions that are being embraced.’

 

The final section of this piece is not designed as a witch hunt against takeaway companies- I could find countless other examples such as motorcycle riding milk vendors selling their product in plastic packs or coconut sellers who use plastic straws. Instead I’d like to finish by highlighting that they are there. There was a system designed for the Indian market that has seen them grow to behemoths, both as a business and an environmental burden. Bans on plastic bags and plastic cutlery have been put in place to limit the amount of chaos that the increased use of plastic has had but there is an enormous amount of damage already to be found. Of all of the ideas, concepts, opinions and perspectives about the plastic pollution crisis in India, and throughout the world, the one thing that is evident in the small range of examples that I have provided above is that everyone is exposed to it, even if that is simply in the form of a take away container or single use bag.

 

The problem is more complex than education alone here in India and other countries around the globe. It reaches further than ever before and falls within the eyesight of more people than just, for example, the youth of today who are, fortunately, finding solutions to combat poor practices within the country before larger organisations begin implementing similar waste managing systems to what is found in Germany. Notably though, on what I see as an optimistic final few notes, there was not a proven system for the delivery companies who have grown to such a scale before they began. Or to the expanding construction work in India’s largest cities before it stretched so wide. Or to driving down a road in this country before roads and highways spanned the continent. Nothing stopped the two interns wanting to learn more and develop methods that work for them in minimising waste. They have both created their own structured systems- they did not have a set template to stick to before- which they now adhere to. The systems perfectly suit the way they live and their different backgrounds while minimising detrimental effects on the environment. They have the opportunity to help make a difference in this battle against plastic pollution, they have made their first steps, and, no matter where you are standing in the world or what your background is, so can you.

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A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 6

A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 6

Sixth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

 

The current situation of rivers and lakes, as a key source of clean water, is a major concern worldwide. Water pollution occurs when toxic substances enter water bodies such as lakes and rivers, degrading the quality of water. “The pollutants (can) seep through and reach the groundwater, which might end up in our households as contaminated water we use in our daily activities, including drinking” according to WWF. Waste from city sewers and industrial waste discharge are two of the larger originating sources of pollutants, but many more sources leach pollutants into rivers and lakes on a daily basis, with the full list of water contaminants too extensive to be discussed on the WWF website, linked above, or here in this article.

 

In India, a country with “14 major, 55 minor and numerous small rivers… (a country) often referred as the ‘Land of Rivers’” (source), and with over 1.3 billion people (source) relying on access to fresh water, continual contamination of fresh water sources is alarming. The way forward to reduce contamination can include community clean ups of rivers and implementing awareness programs highlighting the importance of clean water are highly important. At a larger business scale organisations such as Cleantech Infra has created river boats to collect floating waste (with a collection capacity of several tons of garbage daily) with current operations in many rivers in India including the Ganges.

 

Yet, creating solutions to clean up fresh water supplies after waste has contaminated the resource is only addressing part of the situation. Better practice needs to start by limiting the amount of waste in the environment, which can be done through valuing products that we now refer to solely as ‘waste’ to using products that function with a cradle to cradle approach. For this approach “it is necessary that recyclability is already considered during the design phase of a product. All technical and biological processes must be environmentally compatible, so that products can even be beneficial instead of simply being less bad” (source). Similarly a key principle of water and the circular economy is to “ensure minimum disruption to natural water systems from human interaction and use” (source).

 

There is a growing focus on designing new solutions that must be valued by all for long term reduction in the contamination of fresh water bodies to occur. Examples can be seen with biodegradable bags in India, in Mexico where a company is transforming avocado pits into disposable bioplastic straws and cutlery, and in Indonesia where the root vegetable cassava is used to create biodegradable bags. By designing new products, along with minimising single use items, correctly disposing of used products in correct categories and limiting the amount of non- organic material, cleaning agents for example, used on a day to day basis, creating a zero waste environment for our all important water sources can be achieved.

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Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 1

Their Eyes Fell On Plastic Part 1

For #plasticfreejuly, this is the first part of a four part series highlighting some of the needs of the hour of plastic waste pollution through worldwide and India specific stats along with first hand insights from Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India staff and interns.


More than 330 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide every year (source), significantly, over 90% of plastics are not recycled (source) which pollutes our environment in a multitude of ways. Within India more than 25 940 tons of plastic is produced every day. This is the same weight as 9000 Asian elephants or 86 Boeing 747’s, notably, half of this comes from the major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata (source). Poignantly, plastic consumption is increasing- the plastic processing industry within India is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes a year by 2020 from 13.4 million tonnes in 2015, nearly half of this is single use plastic (source).


The situation is dire because products that we use on a daily basis are packaged in plastic and loaded with chemicals. It contributes to the largest global garbage crisis of our lifetime, which results in long term environmental damage. Yet, this article is not here to fill you with a pessimistic outlook, hopefully by the end of this piece a little optimism can shine through. Fortunately, on a global scale, there are already systems in place such as the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), which “are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it ís important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030” (source)


To help discuss this global waste issue with you on an individual level, I spoke with the manufacturing team at Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India, a Bangalore based startup, earlier this week. All four members of this small team were hired locally and they have now all undergone educational programs on the global plastic problem. I spoke first to Aseya who has worked for Bare Necessities for 2 years and is the Head of Manufacturing, she is leaving the team soon to live in a different state with her family. Secondly, Shabreen who has worked here for 8 months and was informed of her current role through a friend. She works in both manufacturing and operations teams, her current position has been a large but enriching move from her previous job in sales for a clothes store. Thirdly, I spoke with Reshma who learnt about the concept of zero waste and about Bare Necessities four months ago at a meeting at her son’s school. Last, of our current quartet, I spoke to Najma who has been working with Bare Necessities for less than a month, she did not have a formal, paid job prior to learning about the opportunity and is thoroughly enjoying the work she is now involved in.


They all have different education levels, completing up to 4th, 11th, 10th and 7th grade respectively. They all live in different locations, in different communities. They have different levels of work experience too and their access to the knowledge found in the facts and figures above is limited compared to yours or mine. They have known that there has been waste in their communities all their lives but the way in which they interact, talk and view waste now is vastly different. Since being involved with a company that focuses on zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability in all its rhetoric the women now segregate at home, they use steel bottles instead of plastic, they bring their bags to buy groceries and they advocate sustainable practices to their family and friends. Within those close knit circles more people are adjusting their habits- providing there is reiteration of the facts- so that waste is managed better in their communities. It all starts with education and raising awareness.


The team at Bare Necessities, from manufacturing to management, has undertaken almost 50 workshops and talks to almost 7000 people in the three years of operations throughout India, as well as online/ televised talks such as TedTalksX. In brief, Bare Necessities promotes adoption of zero waste practices, circular economy methodology and sustainability to consumers and businesses throughout India and further abroad. The business aims to achieve their goals through designing zero waste products- sold to over 10 000 consumers, diverting 2 lac tonne of plastic from oceans and landfill in the past 3 years- educational workshops and events as well as sustainability consulting


The promotion of sustainable practices and minimising waste has increased of late, in the past 6 months the team has taken part in over 30 pop up market events where it is estimated that in combination with the talks and workshops more than 10 000 people have been spoken to. That is over 10 000 people who have more awareness about sustainability and the need to reduce plastic waste in their communities. The women in the manufacturing team take a leading role in the pop up events, which assists in achieving another key goal for Bare Necessities- supporting women’s economic development in line with the SDGs (SDG5 & SDG8). What has been found through the events, both in educating and learning from attendees (everyone learns off everyone during the discussions) is that ensuring people are aware of and communicating about campaigns such as #plasticfreejuly, as well as implementing simple, proven, cost effective systems differences are being made. 


I asked the manufacturing team whether they have developed their own ideas and methods about how to reduce waste in their communities, they believe that simple ideas that they have come up with since they started working for the zero waste business have made tangible benefits in their communities, especially because these methods were not widely practiced before. Examples include, minimising the amount of plastic by using different drink and food containers, segregating garbage, composting organic waste and carrying reusable bags. According to their experiences this has health benefits and lifestyle benefits for their family and friends, along with the cows who don’t eat plastic waste on the roadside. 


On a broader scale systems such as the SDGs can assist in helping social enterprises in India, a key backbone of the Indian economy, who are helping reimagine a just, greener, more socially conscious world, can be used to help develop solutions, maintain focus and assist in creating a blueprint for the path forward. Looking at Bare Necessities key focus areas for example, the business has trained and upskilled local women as part of their core team (SDG5), provided formalised employment while growing an independent local business (SDG8) and is raising awareness of how resources can be managed, so that a sustainable environment will blossom (SDG11). Through products and education about zero waste living they are changing the rhetoric of consumption in India (SDG12). Minimising the amount of single use products limits adverse effects on the environment, on both land and water (SDG13, SDG14, SDG15). While combining key resources and partners in the sector to change the rhetoric towards waste in India (SDG17) highlights that these goals that work specifically for this business can work for all others as well.


I know it can be overwhelming to hear that the amount of plastic produced each day in India weighs as much as 9000 Asian elephants (source) but when we know where most of it comes from, how to minimise it and we have methods that do work within Indian communities, perhaps the real question is why haven’t we done more already. Perhaps it is simply that not enough people have heard about the issues yet. Of the four manufacturing women only two knew about the concept of zero waste- the degree in which they were aware was not measured, while the concept of circular economy methodology was not known at all- yet within a short period of time they have learnt, they have taught and they have made an impact. On top of that all the attendees at workshops and pop up markets who have communicated with Bare Necessities know about the plastic waste issue, and now likely spoken about it to one or two more members of their family and friends. Each time someone learns and speaks about the waste issue, the more likely it will be that the producers of the plastic waste that weighs the same as 9000 Asian elephants (source) will produce a little less. Maybe that’s only 8999 tomorrow, maybe it’s 8000, whatever it is, it is a start. 


The manufacturing team has highlighted to me that when they were made aware, educated and provided with the opportunity to keep learning, they have found solutions to their own problems, in each community where they live. Many simple steps can lead us to one large change. Whether that is not using a plastic straw for you, and not using a single use coffee cup for me, they all add up. They’ll help to achieve the goals of startups such as Bare Necessities who have made tremendous impact on the four women, and many others besides. It will help elephants be elephants instead of a way to quantify the amount of plastic produced in a day. It will help us have a plastic free life, not just a plastic free July. It will help us become more sustainable. It will help the rest of the environment flourish. It will help reduce worldwide plastic, and it can start if you speak to a friend about this issue today.





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A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 5

A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 5

Fifth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 5: Gender Equality.

 

There has been a lot of progress toward gender equality in recent times worldwide, yet there is still a huge amount of work to be done before equality is reached. In India, a recent report highlighted that women are paid 34% less than men (an average across all income brackets), and that when governments reduce expenditure “on essential public services such as education and healthcare women and girls are the first ones to lose out on these services” (source). Notably, the further down the socioeconomic ladder one looks the worse the situation becomes. The same can be said for disaster resilience- the most vulnerable are poorer income earners, especially women and girls- according to a report by the World Bank.  

 

Within waste picking communities globally these unequal situations are highly prevalent. There is a current need, among other areas, to help reduce the amount of external shocks felt from both men and women working as waste pickers (for example, in the case of a disaster- how can the individuals in the waste picking community become more resilient?), and develop systems to limit how marginalisation impedes economic independence. This situation is often due to the fact that “despite the increased attention given to studies on waste picking and solid waste management, there is still a lack of understanding on the gender dynamics and sexual division of labour involved in waste picking activities” (source).

 

Solutions to help mitigate the impacts felt on the most vulnerable in waste picking communities range from NGOs and Social Businesses creating networks to help individual communities and in particular women run dry waste facilities, for example, to calls to action for the government to provide structured working environments to improve the livelihoods of individuals relying on waste to support themselves and their families. In Chile, an article published for World Development suggests that “positive government intervention, particularly in supporting a stronger structural organization for the waste-picker recycling system, is advocated as the primary policy recommendation of this paper” (source) to improve the livelihoods of waste workers.

 

A key example of focusing on creating structure for waste workers and in particular women and girls is seen in the organisation WEIGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), who are a global research, policy network focusing on improving livelihoods of the working poor in the informal economy. This has led, in Pune in India, to collaboration with the “8000-strong union of waste pickers, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and its solid waste management cooperative SWaCH (source) to improvements of Occupational Health and Safety standards, and provided support for KKPKP’s campaign on Extended Producer Responsibility, which directly improves the livelihoods of women and girls. Such collaborations are the starting point to ensure that waste workers, especially the most vulnerable, are included in a system that values each segment- the circular economy- rather than dumping waste down the socioeconomic scale- the linear process- where the most vulnerable in Indian society and other communities globally are impacted the most. Simple steps with strong support from a variety of stakeholders presents an opportunity to implement a more sustainable, equal environment for every single man, woman, boy and girl.

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My Eyes Fell On Plastic

My Eyes Fell On Plastic

I didn’t start out writing these articles for Bare Necessities, roughly two months ago now, with much thought about where it was going. I knew that they were to be used on the Bare Necessities website but in terms of direction and set ambitions I had little, if any, plans aside from broadly discussing zero waste as a concept, circular economy methodology and sustainability. I have attempted to stay slightly removed from the main character, leaving things abstract and unnamed despite many of the articles being about my personal experiences and perspectives. However, this week, I am going to change (and promptly revert back and perhaps never return for all subsequent weeks!) to a story that is 100% me. It is a precursor of the next month’s focus and direction.

 

You see, in July I will be compiling a four part series on plastic waste pollution as part of Bare Necessities focus on Plastic Free July and due to that I would like to provide you with, well, a human interest piece I guess it could be called, on my own beginnings of my current focus on addressing plastic waste pollution. I think it is important for everyone to remember why they first started noticing this issue and remember what proved to be a decisive point where you knew that you wanted to be part of the solution. This type of reflection, I find, helps me to stay positive and optimistic about the situation we are all in.


Everyone has a story about when they first acknowledged the waste crisis, it’s important to share. The more knowledge that is passed around, the more chance there is that we will find enough solutions to resolve the mess we are all in. Feel free to share your story via comments on Bare Necessities Linkedin, Instagram or Facebook pages. 


 

I left my home country, Australia, on the 3rd of January 2011 on a one way ticket to Santiago, Chile. I had been overseas on numerous occasions before but this was the first time that I took such a large leap- a jump from an edge of a cliff not knowing where the bottom was or when I would reach. For the first two and a half months of that year I travelled south through the spectacular Patagonia, over the Andes that forms the border between Chile and Argentina, and north to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.

 

It was March 2011 when I arrived in the town of Uyuni at the completion of a four day jeep ride and there it was. An amazing view, as scenic as all the mountains, plains, volcanoes, orchards, wine groves, cities, parks and lakes I had seen since my arrival in Santiago in January. Right beside the stunning image, though, was a giant pile of waste. It was a piece of the landscape all by itself, as dominant as any volcano or mountain, or the salt flats themselves! I had my camera in my hand as I had for all the months up to that point… You know what I did? I turned slightly to the right and ensured that the pile of waste would not be taken in any way shape or form in my perfect, pristine picture.

 

I was not an environmentalist in any formal capacity in 2011. It would take many years before I decided to return to Australia again to study and eventually arrive in India where I now address this global problem on a daily basis. Instead, I was a 25 year old who had jumped off from the ledge of a hypothetical cliff earlier that year and wanted nothing more than to continue enjoying the ride. So, I left the waste pile at Uyuni and I arrived a short time later in Peru.

 

In May 2011 I scaled the Cordillera Blanca in central Peru. I hiked by myself through stunning mountain ranges of green valleys with ice cold water plummeting down from the giants that stood, ice and snow capped, above me. The altitude was extreme, the air was the freshest I had ever breathed, and I ran into trouble and found my way back out of it. All in all I hiked three multi day hikes over 12 days and could barely walk after it, such was the rigour I put my body through. Notably, even up there, so close to the sky, I still remember that there was waste. Once again I did not think it was my problem.

 

By July of that year I had travelled in Ecuador and undertaken a great, all encompassing loop of Colombia. At the conclusion of my time in Colombia I organised a sail boat ride from Cartagena to Panama City with a stop off at the San Blas Islands, a group of 365 islands and cays off the coast of Panama. And, it was there, many months after I had taken the leap from the hypothetical cliff where I finally allowed my finger to press the small, round, silver button on the top of the black body of my camera. It took in the view of one half of an island covered in waste while the other half lay pristine. 

 

I was still 25 then but something happened, it might have felt at the time that it was an instantaneous event- an acknowledgement that I couldn’t ignore all the waste on the beach- but I know now that the build up occurred for those months around South America. How could I not acknowledge it after seeing it in mountains, rivers and seas? The world was so beautiful but if this situation did not get resolved, I thought, other people would not have the opportunity to see what I had seen- the natural beauty not the waste! I believed at that point that it was my problem to help solve.

 

Yet, by the time I was standing on the plastic covered San Blas Island, underneath hot tropical sun, I knew that my destination in a few months was Canada, not an immediate move to solve the plastic waste issue. All I had there and then was the first seed of an idea.

 

For the following couple of months I travelled north through Central America noticing waste in each country I spent time in, whether that was underwater in Honduras or in giant canyons in Mexico. There was no way that I could stop seeing it. Everywhere I turned my eyes were accosted by the sights of waste invading what had originally been a beautiful environment. 

 

From October 2011 to July 2013 I lived and worked in Canada. The country has such a wealth of natural phenomenon whether that is glacial lakes, snow capped peaks, bogs and marshes, or coasts that stretch out toward two different oceans. Yet, there was waste around there too. Likewise in Alaska when I made it there in late July 2013 I saw plastic waste alongside animals and in previously pristine environments. It all seemed too large a problem and I didn’t know what to do. 

 

A plane ride took me east from Alaska, to Scotland. My time there, from July 2013 to March 2015, saw me assessing all of my options and allowed me to reflect about plastic waste in particular. It was there that I decided that I needed to travel home to Australia to formally focus on the issues I saw throughout my travels and attempt to help allow other people to see the beautiful areas I had travelled through. I wanted, desperately, to stop them being ruined by waste. But firstly, I wanted a theoretical background on top of what I had seen on a daily basis to understand the issues in order to find out how I could help. Still though, I was overwhelmed, I did not have a key moment that proved to me that there was no other worthwhile ambition to have- at the time I didn’t even know that I needed one, but it has felt vitally important since.

 

On the third last day of March 2015, once the decision to return home was made and finalised, I jumped on a bicycle and rode from Edinburgh to Istanbul. The assessment and reflection and drive to help solve this complex problem swarmed around my head as each kilometre ticked by. In my memory I saw the pile of waste in Bolivia again, the canyons filled with floating objects in Mexico, the islands in the Caribbean but the thing that finally, truly, proved to me that I had made the right choice to acknowledge that this global issue was my problem happened after I stepped off my bicycle for the last time.

 

I was standing on a beach in Turkey watching the waves roll in, one after another under a clear blue Meditteraean sky. The salt air filled my lungs, I had a plane ticket ready to return to Australia to formalise my transition from a former career to one with an environmental focus and I was truly happy. The sun glinted off my sunglasses, my smile was wide, I took a sip of water and strode down the beach. 

 

I was not more than twenty metres from that point where I started a casual walk down the sand when my eyes- that had witnessed waste from the Patagonia to the top of Alaska, under the surface of the oceans and all across Europe- encountered it again, on one of my final days away from Australia since I had jumped off the hypothetical cliff. A day that I felt was pristine and untouched. But once again the beautiful land I was standing on had been invaded. My smile hardened on that stretch of beach. I knew there and then that I had made the right choice to focus on the problem that I had seen throughout dozens of countries because no matter where I had reached it was already there before me. I knew it without a shadow of a doubt on that morning, on a hot beach in a country that sits between Asia and Europe, when my eyes (once again) fell on plastic.

 

 

 

 

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A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 4

A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 4

Fourth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 4: Quality Education.

 

There is no substitute for good quality education no matter who you are or where you are situated in the world. There have been substantial improvements in education in the recent past, especially for girls, which has fantastic benefits for global society including the environment that we all live in. In 2018, this situation was recognised and actioned at the highest level, the UN Secretary General launched the UN Youth Strategy as a platform to promote young people across the globe to actively create a peaceful, just and sustainable world. This key focus on the youth of today, in regards to creating a sustainable world, is paramount to our ability to live cohesively with the environment. This is in part because the youth of today are often provided with the most up to date information, whereas individuals who are a long way removed from school can become complacent in renewing their own knowledge base.

 

There are numerous organisations around the world such as Vietnamese Greenhub who are valuing insights from young minds. While in India there are NGOs and CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) combating waste through education for both young and old. There are positive initiatives such as #FridaysForFuture, a call to action run by students supporting climate action, and large campaigns such as the Run For The Oceans event, which was recently completed for World Oceans Day (in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore) that aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the oceans. All of these organisations, events and calls to action aim to educate people in order to improve current knowledge about waste, the circular economy and sustainability in a variety of ways. Without this knowledge being passed around the inherent risks of the situation could be undervalued.

 

A wide range of educational information is now ‘open source’ such as The Guide To Going Circular from Auckland City Council in New Zealand, and Plastic Free July has a dedicated information deck for everyone to learn. Similarly Save Philippines Seas provides open source material for all. The more accurate information available, the more people all around the world can learn about key current issues impacting upon our lives everyday and the reasons why moving toward a system that functions within a circular economy is pivotal to our long term sustainability.

 

The solution to these global problems need to be found. While we know that education is vital for everyone, updating one’s knowledge is just as important and can sometimes be undervalued, which is where accurate and verified (through up to date facts and figures) open source material, for example, is vital. Learning about new thoughts and ideas, refined and updated ideas, can provide a different perspective that may give a profound insight, potentially the seed of a sustainable solution.

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Signs of a New Wave

Signs of a New Wave

Looking at plastic wrappers on the ground walking around Indian streets or noticing the little non recyclable packets of household products that hang from a string near the ceiling of corner stores across any city, town or village in this country can be disheartening. This is a simplistic view of the entire situation that only focuses on the negative, though. These methods of consumerism have not been used here for very long at all. Milk for instance, stored in a sealed plastic bag these days, can be remembered as being a recent change by many. From a milk delivery service or a milk station in the past couple of decades to what it is today.


And, hasn’t it caught on? Now you can get milk in bags everywhere! Small packets of detergent, chewing tobacco, chips and many more items too, from a system that is so wonderfully convenient! Never before has it been like this, so, so, so…


We all know the inherent damage to people, animals and the environment that these processes cause, I’m not going to assume that you, dear reader, do not. Instead, I’d like you to come with me on a journey to a part of the city I am living and visit a store with me.


It’s a new store, one that only opened in the last year. It is part of a chain. It was not the first one to open, nor is it the last. There is a sign there on the glass that highlights that three new stores are opening in nearby suburbs in the near future. I have also been informed that there are many, many more expected to be opened across the state within the coming years. It has been a huge success, I’m basing this on the fact that they are expanding at a monumental rate, while the stores that have been open for longer are passed the danger point for new businesses- they are not going to fail. There is a huge, untapped market for this.


The first thing that you and I notice walking through the doors of the store are the composters and copper bottles to the right. On our left a little further in are organic vegetables and fruits. There are health care and beauty products in some of the five aisles to our right while we stand next to the produce. Each aisle has products from a range of vendors. Not just one. There is a sustainable fashion rack a little way passed the root vegetables. While beside them is an aisle dedicated to gardening. Next to it a section with a range of teas and coffee, and herbal remedies. Then, my friend, we reach the back of the store. We turn around, we smile at the clerks and walk out.


We stop off at a cafe on our way to my home and you order a cold drink while I order a coffee. The straw you are sipping from is made of metal, you were offered a choice, a straight metal straw, a bent metal straw, or a bamboo straw! You made your choice and slurp it down to the bottom. I sip my coffee until the end. We pay and walk out to the road again.


It is your first time in the city and you are amazed that there is so much traffic, then you see the corner store with the hanging packets and the bags of milk as we walk passed. You have not tried a coconut since you arrived in the city I live in and although we have recently stopped for a drink we buy a coconut each from a street side vendor next to the corner store who offers us a plastic straw with it. We refuse and instead drink straight from the hole as the liquid cascades down our chins. We smirk as we wash our faces. We talk about a new leaf straw that we have recently seen that could have been very useful. We hand the empty coconuts back to the vendor and to our surprise he hands a coconut each back to us with a small plant inside. We say thanks and walk off with a wave.

 

                                                                                                                                  

It’s not going to happen overnight but it is happening. Organic stores are no longer seen as a ‘hippie fad’ they can sustain a profit and live perfectly inside of this economically driven world of ours. Eventually, providing there is a demand from us, the consumers, the little packets at the corner store will change too and the coconut vendor will provide a leaf straw to drink from.


Sustainable solutions are all around us that should provide us with an optimistic view of our world. It is far too easy at times to walk into a store and notice that half of the products in that store are wrapped in plastic instead of understanding that only a few years ago this type of store was all but unheard of, or, that the other half of the products in the store are not wrapped in a damaging material.


Change happens faster than we realise at times, the trick is to not focus on the doom and gloom that is often portrayed. We need to be aware of it of course, but the truth is that there are already signs that we are moving away from systems that do damage to us, to animals and to the environment, toward methods that are designed by people and organisations that realise that the way forward is within a circular economy.

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A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 3

A Brief Look at the SDGs and the Circular Economy (in India): Goal 3

Third in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being.

 

Air pollution is waste that seeps into all of us- quite literally- every time we take a breath. As populations grow in size more people are inhaling particles that are causing us harm. UNDP estimates that 7 million people die each year from fine air particles being inhaled from polluted air (1.2 million in India in 2017 alone, according to WWF). It’s time to embrace this as a  challenge and find simple, everyday solutions to combat it. This is a situation that can- and needs to be- addressed by people who are a long way removed from day to day poverty. Similarly to the food waste conversation, discussed last week for SDG 2, the majority of waste (be that physical waste or emitted matter into the air) comes from people who live each day comfortably. This means that people living in this ‘comfortable’ position are capable of making a difference!

 

The situation, simply, is this: as the population living in cities increases and more and more people improve their livelihoods the dependence on cars and other forms of transport that pollute the air is increasing (in part because people are aspiring to use vehicles when their livelihood improves). Studies have highlighted that the way individuals travel needs to be changed to limit air pollution, the findings suggest that more sustainable solutions need to not only be found but utilised.

 

Positively, there are numerous examples of solutions being implemented around the world. For example, Melbourne in Australia is creating ‘20 minute neighbourhoods’ according to the World Economic Forum, which are designed to limit long commutes by car. This solution advocates that people live within 20 minutes of their workplace, medical facilities and schools, which means that people can easily commute by foot, bike or public transport. Other locations around the world, such as New York, Barcelona and Hamburg, are also implementing systems that work for their location in order to limit air pollution.

 

The high levels of energy and carbon pollution created in cities needs to be addressed within India and many other countries throughout Asia too as income levels of the average person in each country reaches par with countries such as Australia, the USA and many across Europe. Cities are, and need to be, leading the way especially in locations across Europe, the USA and Australia, yet, countries such as India are in a unique position. By implementing simple steps such as utilising public transport or creating 20 minute neighbourhoods, where possible, India can show themselves and the world what can be achieved by a maturing nation. Significantly, the Indian city of Pune already is providing a leading example.

 

To combat air pollution Pune is promoting the use of public transport, cycling or walking to work/ school. The city aims to make 80% of commutes sustainable by implementing simple steps such as creating new bike lanes and improving public transport options. Currently, India has 9 out of 10 cities in the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, according to WWF, Pune is showing already what can be achieved by finding simple, everyday sustainable solutions that value good health and well being of every individual within the city.

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