My Zero Waste Journey
When BeejLiving first met Sahar Mansoor at a conference, she was making toothpaste from baking soda, just one of the many DiY products she creates at home, a part of the zero waste lifestyle she follows. The Bangalore girl is the founder of Bare Necessities, a zero waste personal care and home care brand.
A University of Cambridge alumna, she has a background in environmental planning, policy and law, and has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva and the SELCO Foundation on decentralised energy policy. Sahar articulates her zero waste journey for us which started in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park decades ago.
A Bare Necessity
By Sahar Mansoor
I have subconsciously been an environmentalist since I was a little girl. My love for nature developed by spending weekends at Cubbon Park with my dad and two elder sisters, climbing trees and mostly falling off of them. My father absolutely loved nature. He never missed his morning walk. Our holidays were road trips: stopping on the way to jump into waterfalls, swimming in the ocean, soaking in sunsets and sunrises, and walking for miles.
I lost my father when I was very little and being close to nature was one way of remembering him.
During university, in 2012, I watched a video of Bea Johnson, who has been following a zero waste lifestyle since 2008, at Cambridge Professor Chris Chapples’s World Religions and Ecology class. I was blown away by Bea and her family’s lifestyle. Back then, I believed that she could afford to shop at Whole Foods and must have a lot of free time to make her own products. I conclusively dismissed that I couldn’t live a zero waste lifestyle while working three jobs, maintaining my grades for the scholarship, having a great social life and exploring the new city I came to call home.
Nevertheless, this course was the turning point in my environmental journey. It left me wanting to learn more! I remember walking into Dean Zaleeza’s office and telling him, “You don’t have the major I want to pursue.” He smiled and said, “Okay, grab a chair. Let us create one!” I added environmental planning as my second major and took some amazing classes in environmental engineering, environmental ethics and policy.
I started to ponder about our trash creation and disposal problem. The thing about trash is that we are so caught up in this web of convenience that we don’t think about the trash we personally create and often attribute it to a larger global problem that we have no control over. The only time we think about garbage is when we see it piling up or smell it stinking up our neighborhood.
Zero waste blogger and teacher Amy Korst rightly said, “Trash is intimately connected to every environmental problem we face today, from climate change and habitat destruction to water pollution and chemical exposure. It’s also intensely personal and impacts every decision in our daily lives, including everything from how much money we spend to how much weight we gain.”
From DiY to an ethical, concious brand
We are products of urbanisation and globalisation. We are so caught up in this web of convenience that we don’t think before using and disposing off a plastic water bottle in a matter of five minutes, something which takes 700 years to start decomposing in the first place. In the process, it leaches harmful chemicals into our soil and water—the same soil where you will grow the vegetables you will consume. But really, have you thought about where the plastic you threw out is actually going? Or about that tiny piece of plastic in the sushi you are eating for dinner tonight?
Waste was an environmental and a health issue to me when I looked at it through my Cambridge and WHO lenses. But when I moved back home, I began to think about our waste problem as a social justice issue. When I moved back to Bangalore in 2015, I working with a solar energy social enterprise called SELCO Foundation, working on energy solutions for the underserved.
One community I was working with were waste pickers from West Bengal. I spent time shadowing them and was confronted by the social justice issues of our waste problem! Every day thousands of waste pickers segregate broken glass, sanitary napkins and needles all with their bare hands. I wanted to stop being a part of this problem.
Going back to ancient traditions
I couldn’t believe how something as innocuous as garbage could have such personal and political connections and reverberations. I had to address my own trash problem first. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about. I had called myself an environmentalist for about six years at that time. I studied environmental planning, environmental policy and environmental economics in college and graduate school, but I needed to live a life in congruence with my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk.
When I started off I turned towards Bea’s and Lauren’s blogs, but more importantly, conversations with my grandma took me down the path I am on today. I asked her what she did before the era of shampoos being sold in plastic bottles. A lot of our Indian traditions are actually rooted in ecological practices or what we now call ‘zero waste practices.’ Our stainless steel Indian ‘tiffin’ is another example of a tradition that is celebrated by the zero waste movement. It draws its origin from 18th century British India and has been immortalised in the image of the tiffin wallahs of Bombay. This to me is an exemplary example of zero waste creating 5,000+ jobs, and supporting community health by delivering home cooked meals to over two lakh people—all without producing any trash! None of food delivery apps of this start-up era can even compare!
I took the first steps in April 2015. Over time, my friend Noorain Ahmed illustrated my journey. (More illustrations on the barenecessities.in blog! )
Little postcards articulating her journey
The transition was incremental. For instance, when I ran out of soap, instead of buying them from stores, I experimented and eventually learned how to make my own. However, I am not still not completely zero waste and I doubt it that I will ever be. It is good to know your boundaries.
During my zero-waste journey, I realised that we lived in a world with products destined for the Landfill.
Take toothbrushes, for instance. Each year, 4.7 billion of them land in the landfill, and take 200-700 years to start decomposing. So every toothbrush you and I have ever produced is sitting on our planet somewhere!
In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy and accessible for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. And thus, Bare Necessities was born. We produce-high quality, earth friendly, zero waste products (such as compostable toothbrushes, lip balms, detergents, and reusable straws). Our products are packaged in recyclable, reusable and biodegradable packaging. Our raw materials are ethically sourced from the farmers I worked with at SELCO and other local vendors. Our entire supply chain is zero waste, from sourcing to giving it to end users! Being raised by a single mum, I wanted to create an enterprise that empowers women— I am very proud to say, we are a completely a women run enterprise. Bare Necessities has grown from small DIY workshops at flea markets to selling at stores across the country!
We seek to change the narrative on waste in India. It’s not just about selling products, but about encouraging an earth-friendly lifestyle. We hope to become an interdisciplinary hub, building an ecosystem towards a circular economy.