The Collective Flourish

Guide to Sustainable living from India

A Guide to Sustainable Living from India!

Living sustainably is about thinking sustainably. A sustainable lifestyle is about the choices you make every single day. Choices that are so simple that it is hard to imagine the impact they could possibly have on the world.

The most common dismissal of conscious sustainable choices is on the count that it will be expensive and tedious, it will require us to let go of our ways and be uncomfortable. Though if we take a moment and rethink the notion of sustainable living, we might see that sustainability isn’t about letting go, it is not ‘one at the expense of others’, it is rather about holding on, holding on to what we value.

Values are the thread that weaves India together, making it one of the most interesting places to explore sustainable living. Most of the answers we are looking for have been around us all our lives. In a world torn between prioritizing sustainability or development, India can help us see how sustainability makes development also more accessible, how sustainable living is not a pipe dream. It is not a utopia made of what one could do when they have everything. Rather it is the reality of what one does today with all that they already have. 

All of this sounds nice to read, nicer to say, as for what we can do? India has many stories to tell:

Clothes to Rags to Clothes to Rags to Clothes

The ‘circular design’ i.e a continual use of resources such that there is minimal or no waste, is no new phenomenon in most Indian households. Most old clothes turn into dusters and table cleaners, into raw materials for patchwork, and sometimes into new clothes for many others. This reluctance towards throwing anything away creates a space for being crafty with what you have, repurposing old items, and reusing most.

Invisible recyclers and a door-to-door barter system

In almost all cities in India, there is an informal barter system that has operated for many years now. The Waghris, a nomadic community, have been operating a system of trade where they would barter old clothes for new utensils and household items. This mesh of inter-community/inter-state linkages over the years has built a network of second-hand trade, a recycling system. They collect old clothes, often by the weight, and exchange them for new utensils. These clothes invariably end up in markets for second-hand items (often referred to as chor bazaars, chindi markets, mandi, etc.)  hidden in tiny lanes in big cities, to be sold and used again.


Zero-Waste Recipes

Cooking in India is not just a myriad of flavors, it is also often an inter-generational transfer of skills. Ingenious ways of making the most of every part of a plant/fruit/vegetable have been passed on from generation to generation, culture to culture in different forms. Many cultures in India have their own spin on dishes that fit into what the world is reclaiming as zero-waste cooking. Take Rajasthani food, or Bengali for that matter, the practice of using every part of watermelon including the seeds and the peels in different snacks and dishes is fairly common. In Rajasthan, where deserts and droughts are common, every resource is valued. Food was not always abundant. Rajasthani cuisines are famous for using various kinds of cactus and dried vegetables, as well as dishes made exclusively out of peels (known as chilke ki sabzi)

Act Local, Do together!

Bringing together a traditional knowledge/skill base with contemporary entrepreneurship has made some strong individual drivers of sustainability all over the country. From sustainable fashion brands rejuvenating local economies to initiatives that upcycle waste materials to create unique products and generate employment. Many entrepreneurial engineers, designers, thinkers all over the country have established unique models, the collective identity inspires many to participate in whatever way they can. An engineer developing waste management using heat addition, a designer conceptualizing zero-waste cutting in the context of weaving, a farmer coming together with social scientists to propagate permaculture, there is a lot always happening somewhere.

It then comes down to what we set out to find, what we believe in, and what we are willing to do!

If you’re feeling inspired,

To donate your old clothes  

To find a local second-hand items market

To try out some zero-waste Indian recipes 

To support a local brand:

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