The other day, I received a photo (on Whatsapp, of course) of something called ‘Organic toothbrush’ being sold at Walmart, at $15. It promised to be “Nature’s gift for whitening teeth’, and it includes ‘New Cutter!’. It looked very much like a box of neem twigs – the toothbrush of choice for our grandparents, and the generations before. I am not making this up.
It made me think of my dear old grandmothers. Will they be looking down at the world now and shaking their heads, saying ‘I told you so’, or will they just be pointing and laughing at us? Us foolish kids, now paying good money to buy things that once upon a time were freely available? Us ‘modern’ kids, with fancy technology, who thought they knew better, only to come back a full circle, and reluctantly agree, that perhaps Paati was right all along.
The hashtag #zerowaste is everywhere (a bit like… plastic). You’ll find 2,144,125 posts on Instagram alone, and plenty more on your favourite social medium. But, pretty much like yoga, this is something that has gone to the West, become popular, and we are now taking notice. Our parents, grandparents and the generations before them were naturally frugal, consuming only what was needed, and wasting very little, if at all. Here are are just some things I recall from my childhood, which would now be lauded as #zerowaste, but simply used to be natural practice at home:
1.Clothing: For starters, new clothes were bought only on 3-4 occasions in a year: Pongal, Dasara, Deepavali and birthdays. A lot of our clothes were hand-me-downs from older siblings or cousins. We shopped only as much as we needed, and ‘retail therapy’ was not even a term!
2.Milk, oil, etc.: I remember carrying a steel can to go buy milk, and a bottle to get oil. There were these milk booths where you would insert a token and press a button to fill milk – something that a 6-year-old me found highly exciting. Can you imagine the amount of plastic that would be saved if we could go back to getting milk in reusable cans or bottles?
3.Sweets, fried snacks: These would be made only on special occasions – again, birthdays and festivals. There was no question of buying packaged, processed food. This way, even if we were eating fried food, it was home-made, and we ate in moderation, because there was just about enough for everyone to go around. The bonus, of course, was that there it didn’t come wrapped in plastic, so there was no waste involved.
4.Composting: Vegetable peels, tea, coffee sediments went directly to the soil in the garden, or potted plants.
5.Storage: Big cans of paint were cleaned, washed and used to store grains. Biscuit tins, Bournvita, Horlicks and other beverage bottles were used to store tea, sugar and other pantry staples.
6.Bulk groceries: Rice, dal and other staples would be bought in bulk a couple of times a year, and stored in those big bins with neems leaves, to keep bugs away. And there were those flour mills, where we would take our grains to be ground into flour.
7.Skin care: Coconut oil for dry skin, gram flour for the skin. And reetha and shikakai for the hair. Natural, paraben-free and packaging-free!
8.Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse: Worn out clothing would get used for mopping the floors or cleaning up spills. Old sarees and dhotis would be cut up and sewn to make baby blankets, clothes and nappies. The fabric would be so soft thanks to years of use, and could anything store-bought come close to the amount of love and history contained in those?
So yes, we don’t have to search high and low for ideas. The generations before us lived simple lives, and quite in harmony with nature. The next time you’re stuck for a more sustainable solution, instead of Alexa, just ask your grandmother.