Reality Check: Handling Your Own Trash

City life can make one quite comfortable. We tend to take many things for granted. In the 15 years that I lived and worked in Delhi, I never thought twice about my consumption habits or about the trash I generated. “Somebody else” always took care of it. Every morning, the trash would be collected and disappear from our house and we never thought about it again.

Fast forward to our move to the hills. We live on our farm that is 5km from the nearest town. We live in the midst of a forest with leopards, barking deer and bears as our closest neighbours. We don’t get letters or couriers delivered to our address, forget about a garbage collection service! 

This changed everything. Suddenly, we were in charge of our own rubbish. The last thing we wanted was to have empty bottles and plastic littered around our fields and down the mountainside. It wasn’t feasible to drive to town to the Municipality landfill every day. So, we had to make a plan.

It’s not a perfect plan but it is still a beginning.  

  1. Handling Plastic Packaging
    The omnipresence of plastic is hard to deny. We try to avoid using single-use plastic and small packaging of toiletries and groceries as these become a real liability for us. Each time, a bottle of shampoo or lotion is about to finish, it fills me with dread. It’s hard to get rid of such packaging from our lives but we try as much as possible. Simple measures like always carrying filled water bottles in the car and our own grocery bags for shopping are helpful. If some plastic packets do make their way to us, we don’t trash them but we keep them carefully to reuse.
  2. Segregating And Composting
    We’ve been practising segregation for quite a while now. Vegetable scraps go to our hens. Other biodegradable waste from our kitchen and Himalayan Haat goes into the compost pile, which now has some pumpkin and arbi growing over it. We also encourage our Himalayan Haat employees to practice the same at home.
  3. Getting To Know The Local Junk Dealer
    Mastana is a well-known name in the small town of Pauri, where he runs a little kabadi place. (He’s originally from Calcutta – how he landed up in the little mountain town of Pauri is a tale in itself. He’s an affable fellow who likes to call my mother “Mummy”, much to her shock and amusement, because of their Calcutta connection!)

    Every few months Mastana arrives at our place unannounced. We have all our waste plastic, glass, paper, metal scraps ready and he lugs it all away. He is willing to make this effort because we don’t take any money from him.

    In fact, I have always thought that kabadi waalas do us a favour by helping us clear and recycle our waste. Perhaps we should be the ones paying them rather than the other way around?
  4. Sharing, Repairing And Upcycling
    Working with a community of women gives us a chance to share and distribute many things. Old clothes, linen and utensils find new owners; extra jars and bottles, bags and jerrycans make their way to new homes.

    Repair is a big one for us. When shopping becomes inconvenient, like it often is for us, one gets resourceful. We love making new things out of old material. Old towels make great rags. Broken ceramics make pretty succulent holders. In fact, here’s some inspiration for a DIY garden made with waste.
  5. Ditching Disposables
    Switching disposable products with reusables has helped cut down the waste our family generates. Replacing disposable sanitary pads for the menstrual cup and reusable cloth pads, swapping disposable diapers for cloth diapers are two such product swap examples that have a big impact. We carry our own cutlery, crockery, water bottles, tea in a thermos etc when we head out for outdoor picnics – no disposable plates or crockery. If we notice an establishment with plastic straws, we make a point to tell the staff to skip the straws for our drinks.
  6. Making Over Buying
    One of my favourite recent pictures is of my daughter and me in matching nightsuit pyjamas. My mom stitched me a pair, and the leftover cloth was used for my toddler. It’s pretty much the same in our kitchen. We often make our own bread and buns because there’s no one to call to order and get groceries delivered or a shop where we can make a dash to! Making stuff from scratch is not just more sustainable, it is so much more fun and of course a lesson in being self-sufficient.
  7. Picking Up Our Own Trash
    The mountains are our natural heritage, yet we find them littered with trash. People casually throw packets of chips and empty bottles of water out of cars. Youngsters gather to watch the sunset and leave empty booze bottles and disposable glasses behind. All it takes is picking up our trash with us.Some young fellows in our town have now begun cleanup drives. They are a bunch of young students and working people who take out some time, almost every other week, to clean different areas. They are trying to spread the message that it is the responsibility of each and every individual to take care of their environment regardless of their qualification, job and social stature. Ignoring the problem is not the solution, seeing it as a problem is the first step for a more conscious lifestyle.

    These are just a few of the ways in which we are trying to be conscious and responsible citizens. After all, as the Native American Proverb goes “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

    What are some other steps that you and I can take to reduce and manage our waste better?