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To Lead A Sustainable Lifestyle, Remember The Song ‘Bare Necessities!’

Posted: April 20, 2021

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With ‘Bare Necessities – How To Live A Zero Waste Life,’ Sahar Mansoor targets the Indian audience on how to be more eco-friendly!

There are several books on going zero-waste such as Bea Johnson’s seminal work ‘Zero-Waste Home’ (2013), Kathryn Kellog’s ‘101 Ways to Go Zero Waste’ (2019), Anita Van Dyke’s ‘A Zero Waste Life: In Thirty Days’ (2018), Shia Su’s ‘Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash’ (2018). It was intriguing to know what more information a reader could get from yet another book on zero-waste living.

But comparisons can be odious, and I decided to look at this new book on the shelf with a fresh pair of eyes. This book is ‘Bare Necessities- how to live a zero-waste Life’, written by Sahar Mansoor and Tim de Ridder. Moreover, a zero-waste compendium for India was certainly a good idea.

Mansoor is a Bangalore-based entrepreneur and an eco-activist. She runs a social enterprise imaginatively named ‘Bare Necessities’- a name that will stay with Jungle Book fans! Bare Necessities markets zero-waste and sustainable personal products, and consults with clients to achieve zero-waste goals.

In the book, by the same name, Sahar Mansoor describes her sustainability journey in the introduction. Tim de Ridder, a sustainability consultant is the co-author.

You learn to make the more sustainable choice here

The book has nine chapters and each chapter is devoted to a particular aspect of our daily lives. At the beginning of each chapter, you are encouraged to participate in a small activity to test the waste you produce in that area of your life. After this, you go on to understand the more sustainable choice from the resources that have been detailed for the reader as a ready reckoner.

The first chapter is devoted to ‘Personal Care.’ Here you are led to examine your choice of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and examine the packaging as well as the ingredients. There are zero-waste recipes shared for toothpaste, dry shampoo, and also tips on how you can switch to more sustainable products.

For example, switching to a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one, a safety razor instead of a disposable one, among other tips. The authors also try to bring awareness to why we should look at the ingredients in a product.

DIY’s for the win!

Palm oil, for instance, is a pervasive ingredient found in many personal products, including hair conditioners. This plant that was originally transported from western Africa is now grown very widely as a cash crop in Indonesia and Malaysia.

However, its cultivation has had a detrimental effect on the natural forest, the indigenous people as well as the flora and fauna. Other examples urge you to be aware of global consequences as a consumer.

The ever-raging conversations about plastics as packaging is also discussed. This chapter also has some DIYs (Do It Yourself) for personal care and home remedies, which include making sanitary cloth pads.

De-clutter your closet and your kitchen

The second chapter on ‘Closet’ makes you examine your wardrobe and have a conversation on sustainable fashion. But the usefulness of this book is that it caters to the Indian audience and lists places where you could swap clothes. It is a promising way to promote sustainable fashion.

There is a mention of purchasing clothes that are ethically made. However, it would have been useful for a reader if the point was elaborated. Mostly since the distinction between fast fashion and ethical slow fashion is still not obvious to many.

The book then takes you into the ‘Kitchen’ and like all chapters, this too has a zero-waste library and DIYs.  ‘Buying a composter was definitely a turning point for me,” writes Sahar.

She also mentions how ordering in bulk cut down not just waste but also made her family shift to an organic and sustainable lifestyle. This section has several recipes and the stew from vegetable scraps was rather interesting.

Home care is a whole different battle to tackle but you can do it!

‘Home Care’ can be a vast area and the authors have managed to condense and give salient features on sustainable ways to clean the home and artefacts. They have also given waste-free and energy-saving tips.

‘Unclogging the drain’ with safe products instead of aggressive chemicals, was in my opinion, a valuable tip. I say this since much of the greywater is still untreated in our country and we are directly exposed to it.

India is a land of festivals and celebrations and a much-needed chapter on assessing wastage during celebrations and sustainable gifting makes its way in the discussions. The list that is given for Zero-Waste party rentals in different cities is also useful.

Community actions matter as much as individual actions do!

If actions at individual levels are important, then actions at the community level are cardinal. Conscious consumerism, sustainable mobility, the growing volume of e-waste all have a mention in the next chapter on ‘Community.’

The chapter also lists community-led organisations, waste-warriors, and some recyclers. Understandably, all waste-warriors in India cannot be listed, but the authors could have added key persons and trail-blazers such as Almitra Patel. She is an octogenarian whose landmark 1996 Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court against the open dumping of municipal solid waste was instrumental in the drafting of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules in the year 2000.

This chapter has a DIY on deodorising one’s shoes which seemed a little incongruous and could have been shifted to the personal care section.

The next chapter takes you through the ‘Transitioning to a Circular Economy’ and then graduates to the chapter called ‘City.’

We need to take accountability for our own cities, don’t we?

Here, the example of the ‘Steel flyover beda’ (Say no to the steel flyover) citizen movement in Bangalore takes a prominent place. It describes how the city rose to the occasion to stop the construction of a steel flyover that would have affected the green cover in the area.

The worthy example of Afroz Shah, a lawyer and citizen activist whose now legendary Versova Beach clean-up is also mentioned in the chapter. However, the authors rightly mention that to make a city sustainable all stakeholders have to be involved and accountable – especially the civic administration.

This is an important chapter in the book and also lists zero-waste cities in the world and environmental action groups. Some detail on the role and accountability of municipal corporations and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) would have made this chapter airtight. Mostly as they perform a central role in the nation’s waste-management chain. In the opinion of this reviewer the reader, public and community need to know their rights when interacting with their local civic administration.

What I thought about the book

We all love to travel as we discovered last year, as we sat at home! And the last chapter tells you how we can travel more sustainably. Even the most sustainable travel creates a carbon footprint. And this reviewer urges the reader to take note of their travel habits by reading through this section.

On the whole ‘Bare Necessities- how to live a Zero-Waste Life’ has a lot of information and it may take a couple of reads for a newbie trying to go zero-waste. There is no doubt, however, that the authors have tried hard to convey why it is necessary to be conscious about going zero-waste and strive towards a circular economy.

If you’re interested in reading the book, you can find it on Amazon India here or Amazon US here!

Picture credits: Screenshot from the Bare Necessities Instagram handle

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Sangeeta Venkatesh is the co-author of 'The Waste Issue' - an interactive workbook for school

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