Monday, 30th October 2017

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The zero-waste lady

Sujata Nandy has customised her lifestyle in a way that allows her to be almost “zero waste”

By Brinda Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 22.06.19, 10:11 PM
  • Updated 22.06.19, 10:11 PM
  • 3 mins read
After 19 years in the corporate world, Sujata Nandy (in picture) started SN Greeno-vation Services in 2015 (Pictures by Brinda Sarkar)

Sujata Nandy generates two bags of rubbish. A year. Unlike most of us, she does not hand over black packets full of waste to the garbage man every morning. She has customised her lifestyle in a way that allows her to be almost “zero waste”.

After 19 years in the corporate world, Nandy started SN Greeno-vation Services in 2015 from Bangalore. She has now returned to Dum Dum and while her company promotes and markets eco-friendly products, Nandy believes charity begins at home.

The Telegraph Salt Lake visited her Hatibagan office to learn how she leads a waste-free life —

Food waste- Nandy does not throw any kitchen waste. Instead, she composts it to make manure. “I’m composting since 2007,” she says pointing at a 20l covered plastic bucket. “In it, I add a mixture of coconut husk and microbes that speeds the decomposition and removes any odour. The compost gets ready in two and a half weeks,” she says. The mixture is available through her company at Rs 110/ 900g (once water is added it swells to 3kg).

Eating out- Nandy doesn’t leave home without a tiffin box, spoon and cup. “If anyone offers me tea or snacks, I transfer it to my own utensils and have. This way I get to avoid using thermocol plates, plastic spoons and paper cups (which are actually lined with plastic to make them water-proof). Coffee shops in Bangalore are now offering discounts if you bring your own container and I want to campaign for the same in Calcutta,” says Nandy.

Special pencils with seeds in them
Special pencils with seeds in them (Pictures by Brinda Sarkar)

Household products- To avoid the plastic packets and bottles of soap and face, Nandy makes natural substitutes using ingredients like besan, lentils and milk powder. For toothpaste she uses cloves (lobongo) and rock salt. “But I use a regular tooth brush. I also use regular shampoo though I’m experimenting to find a substitute so I do away with shampoo bottles,” she says.

She uses reusable bamboo and steel straws and special pencils with seeds in them. “Once the pencil gets tiny, I toss it in the soil and out grows a plant,” Nandy smiles.

She buys loose tea, lentils etc and brings them home in cloth bags. She grinds her own spices to avoid their packets and to wash dishes, clothes and the floor she makes solutions out of citrus peels and bio-enzymes. “The solution is available at Rs 80/ litre. If you get your own bottle it’ll be Rs 75,” she says.

To encourage others, her company has started a scheme to rent out cutlery to people having parties. That way they avoid using thermocol and plastic cutlery.

 “The (menstrual) cups are hygienic, comfortable and are becoming popular in the West,
“The (menstrual) cups are hygienic, comfortable and are becoming popular in the West," said Nandy. (Pictures by Brinda Sarkar)

Sanitary napkins- “I don’t have the figures for Calcutta but Bangalore generates produces 90 tonnes of sanitary napkins and diapers a day,” says Nandy. “And these take 500 to 800 years to decompose in our landfills.”

The way out is to use water-proof cloth pads that are to be washed and dried and in the sun after use, or menstrual cups, that Nandy has been using for the last five years. “The cups are hygienic, comfortable and are becoming popular in the West.”

The cups are made of soft medical grade silicon — the substance baby bottle nipples are made of. “Once the cup is inserted in the vagina it seals itself against the vaginal wall. It won’t come loose till one wants to remove it. One can pursue regular activities for up to 12 hours with it on, even go swimming!” she says.

The vaginal canal is separate from the urinary tract and colon and so one does not have to remove the cup while urinating or during bowel movement. “We sell cups of various companies priced at about Rs 850-1,000 but they last for about 10 years so in the long run work out way cheaper than pads,” says Nandy.

A cloth bag filled with the waste she produces in six months
A cloth bag filled with the waste she produces in six months (Pictures by Brinda Sarkar)

So what does her waste comprise?

Nandy does not have a dustbin. Dry waste such as old newspaper and glass is sold off, dust collected from sweeping the floor is added to compost and e-waste such as bulbs is disposed off to Pollution Control Board-authorised vendors. “The problem is that these vendors usually operate in large scales. They would not collect e-waste from an individual,” says Nandy, who wants to conduct e-waste collection drives in various localities soon.

“What my waste does comprise of is packets of biscuit, chocolate and chips…. These are very low grade plastic that have next to no resale value. Even rag-pickers do not want to collect them from the streets. Such plastics are only used in cement factories to burn them for heat,” she says.