Be Zero Ambassador Spotlight: Zero Waste India

Here at Be Zero we're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Field Crew & Ambassador Volunteer Program in their own words. Be Zero Ambassadors act as lighthouses for the Be Zero Mission in their communities by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. I'm pleased to introduce Meredith, our first Ambassador in Bangalore, India. Read about how Meredith came to India and zero waste! 

 

Written by Meredith Mull | Location: Bangalore, India 

Some time in the late 1990s, as my two-parent-four-kid family prepared for our annual summer road trip to somewhere in the American South, Southwest or Midwest, I read a how-to article on knitting in some pop-culture magazine my grandmother, Mema, subscribed to (and I read on her couch with a handful of candy from her candy dish).

I was a teenager with an affinity for creating small projects and goals for myself over summer break i.e. "improve handwriting with non-dominant hand" or "read x number of books". I also knew it'd be good to have something to work on in the car to break up the family games and naps.

Mema was a super crafty lady herself, so she already had some yarn and needles to get us (my twin sister was on board also) started.

We got our needles crossed many times as we poured over that article as well as some craft books and encyclopedias Mema shared. Along the way, I discovered crochet, changed my tool, and spent a full day practicing my single crochet stitch until I got it right. Since then, I've been hooked - on not just crochet but also DIY in general.

In 2008, I came across an article online about crocheting with plastic bags. Totally overwhelmed by plastic bag accumulation and interested in reducing my footprint, I followed the tutorial for making plastic yarn (PLARN) using whatever bags my housemate and I had stashed around the kitchen.

 A pile of plastic bags cut into strips. To make PLARN, loop-tie these strips together by bringing one loop through the other open loop and pulling one side of the outer loop into the inner loop until taut.

 A pile of plastic bags cut into strips. To make PLARN, loop-tie these strips together by bringing one loop through the other open loop and pulling one side of the outer loop into the inner loop until taut.

Around the same time, Mema, in her mid-to-late-80s by then, started simplifying her life by sorting through old clothes and jewelry closets and giving things away. Every time I visited her she had another stash for me to rummage through. Whatever her grandchildren didn't take, she would donate to charity.

Her floor-length "conference dresses", as she called them because she wore them to business conferences with my grandfather, and calf-length skirts in floral or geometric prints and solids are now some of my most-loved garments. Not to mention that 90 percent of my jewelry came from her as well.

Tapping into my own craftiness, I re-assembled some of her dresses to styles I would feel more comfortable wearing (goodbye puffy shoulders, hello draped sleeves) and began downsizing my own wardrobe as well. I also sewed a dress from a fitted sheet, restyled T-shirts into halter tops, tanks and necklaces, made bottle-cap earrings and crocheted thousands of plastic bags (I'd started collecting from colleagues and family members) into sturdy grocery bags.

Simple crafts and repurposes from my wedding: String of Hearts sign from cardboard boxes from mailed gifts, giant crochet doily from Mema's vintage scrap yarn and pattern, curtains from a thrift store that were used as part of an entrance display table.

Simple crafts and repurposes from my wedding: String of Hearts sign from cardboard boxes from mailed gifts, giant crochet doily from Mema's vintage scrap yarn and pattern, curtains from a thrift store that were used as part of an entrance display table.

 It felt so great to repurpose so much waste into something usable.

And it made me so sad how many plastic bags began showing up on my desk at work.

Today, eight years later and even with plastic bag bans in hundreds of cities around the world, plastic bags are clogging waterways, blowing in the wind, and filling stomachs of ocean and land animals. Not to mention thousands of other single-use plastic items that are thoughtlessly tossed every minute.

In 2011, I came to India, where I now live, to travel with a friend. As magical the experience of wandering in the Himalayas, traversing the countryside by train and bus, meeting traditional and contemporary Indians in small villages and some of the largest cities in the world, I was saddened and disgusted by the very public trash problem here.

Three stops for a backpacker in South India, 2011: Just after sunrise Hampi; Eucalyptus forest in Kodaikanal,Western Ghats,one of the most biodiverse regions in the world; Another angle of the Western Ghats, from the Bandipur Wildlife Reserve and Nilgiri Biosphere reserve regions.

Three stops for a backpacker in South India, 2011: Just after sunrise Hampi; Eucalyptus forest in Kodaikanal,Western Ghats,one of the most biodiverse regions in the world; Another angle of the Western Ghats, from the Bandipur Wildlife Reserve and Nilgiri Biosphere reserve regions.

In my home of Texas, where the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign rocked the world of littering decades ago, trash problems are private. You fill your 30-90 liter, city-issued, rolling trash cart and put it on the street for collection as needed, and not even your neighbors have to know with what or how much you filled it.

But in India, city officials burdened by massive populations, under-developed infrastructures and corruption are ill-equipped to manage waste effectively, and piles of trash plague almost every neighborhood. An entire block amidst residences could easily and quickly become a neighborhood "landfill" where burning happens day and night, and a body of water is too easily seen as a reasonable place to toss your candy wrapper or straw. And the waste that gets collected by the city? Well, where I live in Bangalore, it was being dumped in a small, outlying village until a few months ago. That whole village is sick now. Now the city is seeking closed quarry sites, in spite of commitments not to, for future dumping. There is even a lake in town that contains so much untreated waste it foams (like an overly-soaped wash load) into the street and spontaneously catches fire!

A small pile of trash burning on a neighborhood street in Bangalore is a common sight, but many residents are infuriated by this careless, dangerous act that creates toxic air.

A small pile of trash burning on a neighborhood street in Bangalore is a common sight, but many residents are infuriated by this careless, dangerous act that creates toxic air.

All over the world, we need to be thinking about our waste. The whole earth suffers from humanity's trash problem and addiction to consumerism. Whether an overly-filled trash can on an American city street, a pile of burning trash in India or a single-use straw put in your drink in Anytown, Anywhere, we can all see some effect.

Along the way in my timeline to zero waste, I started bringing my own bags and containers to the grocery Co-Op in Austin; carried my water bottle everywhere; learned how to pickle, brew kombucha, and make ginger soda and sourdough; switched to sustainable menstruation products; ditched personal transportation (except my bike) as often as possible; carried my own stainless steel straw to buy a coconut from the carts in India; picked up trash in parks, mountains and on the beach while traveling; packed a water filter while traveling; carried my home-packed tiffin on long flights; decorated my whole wedding with trash; bought a bamboo toothbrush and made my own toothpaste; surfed and hosted so many couches; continued to repurpose anything I could to extend its life and keep it useful. 

And right now, I'm on my way to a neighborhood meeting about waste collection with other concerned citizens hoping the future (and present) looks less and less like a mess.

This is my story to zero waste. What's yours?


Meredith lives in Bangalore, India where she teaches yoga and mindfulness and works with her local community on waste issues. She shares her waste free life on Instagram @zerowastecrafts.