When Sahar Mansoor moved back to India from Geneva, the ever-mounting piles of garbage on the streets here—a common sight, sadly—left her shocked. That’s when she decided to take her commitment to the environment to the next level, and embark on an absolutely zero-waste lifestyle. And as part of the process, she founded, Bare Necessities, a zero-waste, social enterprise that mirrors her own values and produces everyday essential products. Since then, Sahar has been actively working towards towards a zero-waste future, seeking to change the narrative on waste in India. And her most recent contribution towards that end is Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life Book—which she has co-authored with Tim de Ridder.
In this exclusive chat, the newly-turned author talks about her latest stint, her journey towards a sustainable, eco-friendly tomorrow, some alarming environmental facts that she found out in the course of this journey, and more.
Cosmo: Tell us about Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life Book. What led to the book?
Sahar Mansoor: “The book unfolded as a number of ideas that came together after a few years of discussion. Our publisher, Penguin, and our editor, Tarini Uppal, had approached me in 2017. It was still quite early on in the formation of my social enterprise, Bare Necessities Zero Waste India, so the idea— that drew on a number of products we created and workshops we ran—remained on pause for some time.
Then in 2019, Tim [de Ridder, also the co-author] joined Bare Necessities as Sustainability Consultant. During that time, together with our colleagues, we created new products, ran workshops all over the country, and gained an understanding of what our audience wanted. We used this knowledge to create two projects, our online zero waste course, Zero Waste in 30, and our book, Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life.
The guide book addresses areas of the reader’s life in a step by step process, providing knowledge, personal insights, interactive activities and solutions that can help the reader transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.
Cosmo: When and how did your own journey to a waste-free life begin?
SM: “When I came back to India from Geneva in 2015, I felt overwhelmed with India’s trash problem. I was confronted by it every day, seeing piles of garbage on the streets. I began with spending time with the local waste pickers, and watched them sort through waste with their bare hands. That made me think of the environmental, health, and social-justice issues associated with our garbage problem.
And I wanted to stop being part of the problem…I knew 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 the time, but I decided I needed to live a life fully congruent to my environmental and social justice values—I needed to walk the talk and had to start living a zero-waste lifestyle.
Co-author Tim de Ridder with the book Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life
Cosmo: And how did you incorporate this philosophy of zero-waste life into your brand, Bare Necessities?
SM: “In my zero-waste journey, I realised that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. 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 for people who were looking to consume more mindfully, and wanted to encourage others to produce less waste. And so, Bare Necessities was born in 2016.
We produce everyday essential products that do not contribute to the waste-epidemic, and they come in recyclable, reusable and biodegradable packaging. And we rely on ethical sourcing from local farmers and vendors, and emphasizes on the employment of women.
Bare Necessities uses a people-centered and earth-centered approach to identify and address serious flaws in manufacturing, distribution, and consumption, by innovating and providing sustainable solutions to waste. Other than creating zero-waste products, we also host educational workshops and conduct sustainability consulting services, among other endeavours—seeking to change the narrative on waste in India.”
Cosmo: You apparently have a 500-gram jar of waste—which is all the waste you have produced in the past 5 years!
SM: “Yes. It was made possible simply by buying mindfully, in a plastic-free manner as far as possible. And by segregating my waste, composting my food-waste, and, DIY-ing.”
Cosmo: Other than some 'everyday' ways to lead a sustainable lifestyle, the book also talks about some alarming facts. Like how there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2050. What are some other worrisome realities that you discovered while working on the book?
SM: “There are many:
Do you know that India generates more than 25,940 tonnes of plastic every day—which equates to the same weight as 9,000 Asian elephants or 86 Boeing 747 planes?! To add to this, over half of this comes from the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Calcutta (Central Pollution Control Board, 2019).
And half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years (National Geographic, 2019).
Today, an estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world goes to waste. That’s equal to about 1.3 billion tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, seafood, and grains, that either never leave the farm, or get lost or spoiled during distribution, or are thrown away in hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and home kitchens, etc. It could be enough calories to feed every undernourished person on the planet (WWF, 2019).
40 percent of plastic produced is packaging is used just once and then discarded (National Geographic, 2018).
It takes 20,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans!
Tim de Ridder
Cosmo: And what are some key environmental issues that need immediate attention?
SM: “Climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, habitat destruction, poaching, increase in population, and increase in unprecedented consumption.”
Cosmo. The book also includes recipes, other than activities and tips. What is your personal favourite...a recipe that tops your list?
SM: “Oh, the big question! There is so much! I have loved providing stories and sharing knowledge about the reasons why we need to change our wasteful habits. Also sharing information about what people and organisations are doing in India has been special. Yet, I think my really big highlight is our Zero Waste Recipes and Zero Waste Library sub sections. The library, in particular, features at the end of each topic and contains so many ideas on how to reduce waste, it is a must-read!
My mum’s moong dal dosa recipe and Sarah Edwards signature copper and cloves broccoli almond salad are perhaps my favourite food recipes.