Going Zero Waste in India

October 30, 2018

Well, it’s a challenge to say the least.


Continually working on my zero waste habits, creating a zero waste living and work space, and developing Hara House as a catalyst for zero waste travel has left me exhausted. Every time I try something new and proudly boast about a successful implementation, I turn the corner from my house and choke on toxic air.


Bikaner, similar to most of north India, continues to dump piles of trash in open areas that are regularly set on fire. Along with India's overall high levels of pollution, these small acts of silliness are causing extremely high rates of asthma, lung cancer and disease.


Every time I see such a sight, I publicly embarrass myself by asking around to see who the culprit is. I never get an answer and leave frustrated, angry and wheezing.


I’m constantly reminding myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. My optimism fuels me but my surroundings, especially in a “3rd tier” labelled city, where many dropped out of school at a young age and follow the habits of their elders, often leaves me feeling very discouraged.


But then something truly inspiring happens.


The other day, I was coming back from the market and ran into the young girls in my 'hood (who love to run through my neighbor's house to climb the terrace and talk to me from over the boundary). I was carrying my Hara House tote bag filled with produce, and they were curious (as always) to know where I’d gone, what I bought and what I was up to next. While making small talk, two young boys walked by and tossed a piece of trash on the ground.


Beta, vah uthao!” “Sweetie, pick that up!” I said to him.


He was shocked. I smiled at his expression, picked up the trash and told them all to follow me inside. I led them into my house near the kitchen where we have 5 trash bins:


  1. Compost

  2. Soft plastic

  3. Hard plastic

  4. Paper waste

  5. Mixed trash


I took the chip bag he had thrown on the ground and placed it in the mixed trash (since the bag is a combination of foil and plastic). Manoj came down the stairs to see what all the commotion was about and explained to the kids, in Hindi, how we separate our trash and why it’s important to do so. The kids all left giggling, most likely thinking I’m a crazy person. Similar to the man at the nearby nursery who could not fathom why I would want live worms – explaining how a worm compost works did not help.


The next day, I was escorting three Hara House guests to their rickshaw outside when my curious girls came back to see what I was up to once again. As I waved goodbye to our guests, one of them tugged at my t-shirt and pointed to a plastic bottle in the street.


Kya mujhe ise chunana chaahie?” “Should I pick it up?”


Haan, beti”, “yes, my love” I replied with a smile. She picked up the bottle, handed it to me and inside we went to discard the bottle where it belongs: in a bin. More specifically, a bin that will be taken to a place that will recycle the bottle back into the system, therefore helping the amount of virgin plastic being produced for our stupid convenience.


Below see photos of what we've been up to at Hara House!




Although I am unable to access everything I need in Bikaner to make Hara House a zero waste space, Amazon has become a fabulous resource. I’m shocked every time by the amount of cardboard and plastic bubble wrap that comes along with each purchase, but it definitely helps knowing I can ensure that packaging is put back to good use.


I wanted to share some of these helpful resources and tips so that you too can create a zero waste space within their home, hostel or guesthouse here in India. We hope to sell some of these items (and more!) through Hara House in the near future, making them easily accessible, but one step at a time.


Soap Nuts


Soap nuts are native to India and found in the Himalayas, where their berries grow on Sapindus Mukorossi trees. Soap berries are collected and sun-dried to become soap nuts. Once dried, you crack them open to remove the berry (which you can replant!) and use the outer shell for cleaning purposes. Soap nuts contain saponin, a natural soap. You can boil 30 soap nuts in 6 cups of water, which boils down to 4 cups of soap, or you can use the nuts directly in buckets of water to clean floors, laundry, tables, even dishes. They have a very faint and lovely scent but I love to add a drop of lemon or lavender essential oil to make the house even more aromatic.


Soap nuts are accessible in almost all bulk market spaces and sell for around 200 INR per KG (but are free if you plant them yourself!).


Biodegradable Sponges


The most disposable item in your kitchen? Sponges! I just came across these awesome biodegradable cleaning pads made from cellulose, an organic polymer found in the cell structure of plants. They are great for washing dishes, wiping counter tops and cleaning shelves. Although it’s a little tough to use soap nuts to cut the oil and grease from curries that leave residue on my plates, with a little bit of mainstream dish soap mixed in, I actually find they work better than those stupid, green and wiry sponges everyone uses.




Paper napkins in India are horrible. They usually contain plastic which means it’s literally impossible for them to actually get any type of food off your face, let alone smudges of turmeric in the corners of your lips. I know I’m not alone on this. I’ve taken old, cotton shirts and scraps, washed them, cut them into squares, and sown the edges to ensure they don’t fall apart (with the help of my dear friend Kelsey). They make for excellent napkins, are obviously reusable, and eliminate more mixed waste products going into the trash system.


Grey Water Usage


You know that pipe under your sink in your kitchen and bathroom that trails all your water away from your house, and into the depths of the underground sewage system? If you place a bucket there instead of connecting it to the sewer, you can collect your grey water. TADA!


Here are Hara House, we have made this simple switch so that we clean our showers, toilets and floors with grey water. Plus, with the use of soap berries, we have access to water that has already been infused with soap particles and can avoid using fresh tap water that would be better used for cooking and drinking (when filtered, of course!). So simple and totally manageable, especially if you’re living in an apartment.


Grey water is defined as water that can still be used for other purposes, but not clean enough to drink. Water left over from laundry, hand washing, or doing dishes would be defined as grey water. If you use soap berries, this water is also fine to use to water plants and gardens.


Waste Management

Now that you know how we separate our waste, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I would introduce how you too can do the same within your home.


The first step is understanding where to dispose of waste within your city. Or, check out this great list of start-ups helping waste management become easier and more accessible across India.


The second step is committing to how you will properly dispose of your hard and soft plastic, paper, food and mixed waste. And this commitment is a marriage. By committing to proper waste management, it’s like marrying mother earth. If you fail at this commitment, you have betrayed her. And, do you really wanna do mama earth like that?


Composting is the best way to start. Try starting a terrace or rooftop compost by breaking down compost materials with dirt and brown matter (you can start with cardboard to help with the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio). Add your bits of soiled vegetables, fruit peels and cores, even coffee grinds, and watch as you are able to bring goodness to the earth with waste that once had no purpose.


The third step, of course, is having properly labelled bins in your home so you can remember where everything goes AND can influence guests in your home to be more mindful (and possibly do the same within their home!).


Questions or concerns? Always feel free to contact me. Plus, share what you're doing in your home to help live a more sustainable and zero waste lifestyle by commenting on this post.


Love Jazz - North India’s most annoying zero waster.




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Sunshine & Raine is a digital marketing and sustainability consulting platform for brands in the global social impact space.
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