A zero waste life – Part 2

(This is the transcript of a talk given by my wife Kanti in 2018. Part 1 of this post is available here.)

Four and a half years ago we shifted to a village in Kerala. This was my in-laws hometown. We had about three-fourths of an acre with a pond, house and well all to ourselves to do our experiments with sustainable living. We began by planting around 25 trees native to that region i.e. the Western Ghats and 10 fruit trees. We tried to remove the existing arecanut plantation there slowly, a few trees at a time. I let the new saplings adapt to the weather changes with minimal external watering. We never used a pipe to water the plants; that way we had a clear idea how much water was needed. Now these young trees have survived 2 summers without watering. Simultaneously, I started an experiment for rejuvenating soil and arresting water runoff during monsoons. For this I collected dried leaves from everywhere and spread them over exposed soil. The whole place looks wild, untidy and overgrown, but after 4 years I can see changes in the soil structure. The pond in front of the house is a thriving ecosystem, complete with plants, fish, turtle and snake. It was also our own private pool where we and our visiting guests spent many enjoyable days. This pond, like the well, also reflected the changing water table: every approaching summer we would observe the lowering water level with concern, every monsoon we would watch the rising level with relief.

Now, in this area, there is no municipal water supply, sewage or garbage collection system. Every household has an open well, its own septic tank and garbage disposal happens by burning. For drinking and bathing etc. we pumped water from the well into an overhead tank and all the waste water, except from the toilets, was let out directly onto the soil. For this reason, I stopped buying dish washing soap and liquid, detergent powder, toilet cleaner, shampoo, bathing soap. We used mild handmade bath soap for bathing; ash/ baking soda/ lemon peel/ tamarind/ ritha/ shikakai for utensils, shikakai/ ritha for clothes and hair, baking soda/ vinegar for toilets. Wet waste from the kitchen was thrown on top of the soil near the plants. Since every monsoon the septic tank gets flooded, we tried using a composting toilet as well. Contrary to expectation, I think, a composting toilet is very clean.

To avoid burning of trash, I stopped using sanitary napkins, buying packaged foods/ snacks/ provisions, milk/ curd. We had to manage in half litre of milk everyday from a cow nearby. We carried our own bags and containers to the shops to buy things or got them wrapped in paper packets. I started making bread, jam, snacks, pickles at home. I tried to buy those things only which after use could be thrown outside to decompose naturally or which would be acceptable to the local kabaadi wallahs. The items under our self imposed sanctions were: batteries, CFL tube lights, incandescent bulbs, glass items. To optimise fuel we tried using solar cooker, rocket stove, hay box.

I learnt a lot about cashew, pepper and turmeric processing. In fact, four years I grew turmeric and did the whole cycle of planting, harvesting, curing, drying and polishing myself. I burnt my face and hands during cashew extraction. Banana, pineapple, pepper, coconut, mango, jackfruit, tamarind have always been there and gave us fruit according to season. In season we used to get so much that I was forced to learn how to preserve them. I also learnt how to make coconut oil, arrowroot powder. Although nothing serious came out of it, I did try growing ginger, tapioca, arrowroot, yam, colocaecia, chillies, sweet potato, tomatoes, brinjal, gourds, onions, garlic, potatoes, capsicum.

The Kerala story was educative and rewarding but also very frustrating. We moved back to Bangalore ten months ago for various reasons but have kept the option of going back open. Here, in our current home, out of habit I have started composting my kitchen waste in the Daily Dump Khamba composter. Other waste I segregate into paper, cardboard, plastic wrappers, plastic bottles, hard plastic items, milk covers, e-waste. These I give to the garbage van person so that he does not have to sort through the big rubbish heap.

In the middle of all this, our daughter has finished college and has started working. Our elder son is in college in Hyderabad and our youngest is going to give his XIIth board next year. So life goes on. Zero waste is not possible in this world. Even with our strict rules, while in Kerala and now in Bangalore, we do indulge and that unfortunately generates waste. But we are careful and always aware of the consequences. Its not about sustainability and zero waste. Its about finding our purpose in life and fulfilling it.

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