A Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Sahar Mansoor has produced less than a kilogram of waste in two-and-a-half years, all of which fits in a 500 ml jar. She shares how we can all lead a waste-free life.

Dear Readers,

Here I am, opening my heart and mind to you in an open letter. It’s a letter for all of us to resonate with one another, to realise that we are all alike, that we all can have the impact we’d like to have, to understand that we’re all imperfect but together, we can get closer to perfection. The timing couldn’t be better for this letter, where I get to communicate that we all need to strive for change.

Here’s a little bit about me:

I’m Sahar Mansoor, an accidental entrepreneur, even though I come from a family of serial entrepreneurs. I am the Founder of Bare Necessities Zero Waste. Bare Necessities started in the pursuit of zero-waste living and living a lifestyle congruent with my own values. I felt overwhelmed by India’s trash problem. I was confronted by it every day — seeing piles of garbage on the streets. I spent time with local waste pickers and watched them sort through waste with their bare hands. I started to think of the environmental, health and social justice issues associated with our garbage problem.

I wanted to stop being part of the problem. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about. I studied environmental policy at the University of Cambridge and I had worked at the World Health Organization, but I decided I needed to live a life fully congruent to my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk and I knew that I had to start living a zero-waste lifestyle.

I have been living a zero-waste lifestyle for two-and-a-half years now. In that time, I have produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500 ml jar. In my zero-waste journey, I realised that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic.

Some realisations I’ve had, I’m sure there are plenty more to come

We often hear about “developed versus developing countries” or “environmental conservation versus development” in India and abroad with regard to climate commitments. We must be laser focused on being part of environmental solutions, free from the “us versus them” rhetoric — we are all connected! One of my favourite quotes by Chief Seattle (a renowned 19th century Native American leader) truly reflects what I feel: “Man didn’t weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

As a country, we should be doing a better job of respecting our waste-pickers (or “warriors” as I like to call them). They are our silent environmental heroes who form the backbone of the recycling industry; we have to appreciate that someone else is taking care of our trash with their bare hands. Our farmers, our fishermen — they are arguably doing the most important task of feeding our country but unfortunately, face the brunt of the challenges we face as a country. 

So, why this open letter, you may be wondering? It’s to connect. It’s to spread hope, knowledge and even my challenges — from me to you and vice versa.

Simply put, I’m hopeful, and I want to share why. Firstly, I firmly believe that our actions can influence how we move forward to a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. Additionally, many of us are unaware, but there are so many change-makers striving for all sorts of change and doing unreal things. Not only does this fill me with hope, but it inspires me to continue being myself and doing better. It’s something we must all learn to do, find the positives out there because the negative aspects are what make the headlines. We’re progressing as a world in terms of knowledge, innovation and technology, whether that’s in the environmental space or any other space — let’s be real — this can help solve many of our problems. All we have to do is prioritise and project these innovations in the right direction. Lastly, what really makes me an optimist is the awareness levels of future generations. I want them to enjoy the calm, serene beaches and mountains that we do. As millennials, and those who are aware, I think we all wish to leave this world a better place than the one we inherited.

Balance, to be honest, is the key to it all, even a sustainable and mindful future. It’s important to find a balance between the innovations that have been made (which are amazing) and sustainability, and to use innovative thinking to come up with sustainable development for our communities. The most effective way is to simply add a human touch, rather than look at everything through the lens of profitability. Thinking of each aspect as a potential for profit leads to exploitation, chemically induced foods or unsustainable supply chains.

To conclude, it’s amazing to see such a large number of us growing to make changes in our lifestyle, from having impact on our communities to simply taking mindful steps in our own lives. Yet, the way we communicate and listen is the way to make change. To put this into perspective, I am definitely happy to talk trash, circular economy or sustainability to anyone who is keen to listen. But yes, this is quite challenging and difficult, especially after I became aware of the problems, how I was contributing to them and why others weren’t seeing it the way I was. And dwelling on this too much can lead to poor mental health, climate anxiety and definitely, loneliness.

What we must recognise is that we all learn differently and through different avenues. Different people around us need to be approached on a personal level and receive communication with a thorough understanding. Forcing a lifestyle on someone is certainly not the way, because it simply backfires and could make you an outcast. There is that clichéd yet powerful saying: “actions speak louder than words”. This is what I believe in. I believe in being authentic to myself, and genuine with my actions.

But know that I ain’t perfect. I’m also working on decluttering my life some more. I am super sentimental and getting rid of stuff can sometimes be difficult. I definitely want to improve this aspect of my life. I’d like to travel less in the post-COVID world — my only exception is seeing my sisters. I also take the time to reflect and make sure that I’m being completely genuine and authentic with myself with regard to the decisions I make. This normally eases the effect that common criticism can have, because I know I am trying my best for my long-term social or environmental goals.

Lastly, with all that’s happening around the world today, from the EIA Draft to the wildfires in Serbia to policies that are being thrust into place — we need to make ourselves heard. Educate ourselves and participate. With lockdowns and COVID-19, it’s understandable that some us may be wary in stepping out of our houses, but with the power of social media and with organisations like Let India Breathe, Fridays For Future and various environmentalists out there, we can all become more knowledgeable and aware of all that’s happening and join the change mechanisms being put in place through the hard work of such organisations.

Quick Zero-Waste Tips

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of consumers to vote with our wallets because by our consumption choices, we are investing in a more sustainable world, fair wages, cleaner waters and much more. So here are some quick zero-waste tips that you can consider to live a cleaner and more mindful, healthy life.

  • Bamboo toothbrush, oil pulling, miswak or neem sticks — the regular plastic toothbrush takes over 400 years to decompose. Replace it with a bamboo toothbrush, or a miswak or neem stick. You can also follow the ancient technique of oil pulling, which is an unparalleled method to fight cavities and bacteria, reduce inflammation and enhance overall gum health. 
  • Menstrual cup or cloth pads. Green your time of the month. Menstrual cups are not only more hygienic, cost-friendly and efficient than regular sanitary napkins but also the perfect way to go zero-waste during your menstrual cycle. Alternatively, you can switch to cloth pads which ensure you aren’t unnecessarily exposed to the synthetic ingredients in disposable pads and tampons.
  • Reusable makeup wipes. Regular makeup wipes can be quite abrasive on our skin owing to the drying alcohols and preservatives used in them. Quite often, these wipes don’t even contain any makeup removing ingredients. Switching to natural cloth wipes ensures your skin isn’t subject to damaging chemicals, plus you’re veering away all those makeup wipes from ending up in a landfill.
  • Green your routine with creative DIYs.  With all this extra time at hand, dig into some beneficial DIYs. Do some research and look for ingredients that can work for your skin type and needs, like turmeric, yellow gram, rose water, reetha, annatto and coconut oil. If this seems like a lot of work, you can opt to invest in clean beauty brands that support the local economy.  
  • Use a neem comb. The next time you head out to your local store for a plastic comb, stop and think for a minute. These combs can cause static in your hair, a prime reason for weak roots and are most likely going to end up in a landfill. On the other hand, neem combs and their anti-fungal properties help fight dandruff and encourage hair growth. 
  • Make it part of your lifestyle. While incorporating these tips into your personal routine is a great step forward, it’d be even better if this could be used as a pedestal to go zero-waste in other areas of our lives. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, around 62 million tonnes of waste is generated every year in India! It’s time we take matters into our own hands and do our best to go zero-waste in the kitchen, home, travel, work and more.

Start your Zero-Waste Lifestyle now. For more information on the work Sahar does or to start making the shift to sustainable products visit, Bare Necessities.

August 6, 2020
Photos Sahar Mansoor

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