Refuse, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Rot. This Mumbai Resident’s Mantra

4 mins

Meera Shah, a Mumbai based Physiotherapist is trying to make the world a better place by following a five word mantra -Refuse, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Rot. Yasa Iqbal talks with her

Meera Shah, a 32year old resident of Mumbai, India took the decision of her life two years ago, when she decided to move to a zero waste lifestyle. Physiotherapist by profession, Meera says that her mantra is following the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. She follows a minimalist lifestyle and believes that no one can find anything unnecessary or unusable in her home. From door mats to clothes, she reuses it all.

Astonishing as it may be, she hasn’t shopped for new clothes in the past two years. She believes in not buying anything that isn’t required. Refuse, as the first point goes.‘A cotton t-shirt will use around half a kilo of pesticides. We can limit the number of clothes in order to reduce the impact,’ said Meera who was inspired to change her consumer lifestyle after reading an article about theMunicipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai spending huge amounts of money on solid waste management.

She expressed ‘I am very concerned with the use of plastics… Wherever I go, I make sure I carry my container. I have a minimal number of plates and glasses at home. Just enough for ourselves and guests. Nothing extra.’

This extends to dining out in Mumbai with Nirav, her banker husband who has also come on board with his wife’s eco conscious lifestyle. The pair bring their own containers when dining out should there be any leftovers to take home at the end of the meal.

When it comes to toiletries, she is working on getting rid of chemicals which come in the form of soaps and shampoos. She is working on deriving a product from the waste of vegetables and fruits, a natural product.

She makes use of her composting bin to get rid of the waste from kitchen and other degradable items. The ‘wet waste’ as she calls is added along with the other natural wastes. ‘After having a haircut or getting my nails done, I bring the strands of hair and pieces of nail with me and put it in the bio-compost,’ said Shah. The composed is later used for gardening and other similar activities.


Shah uses all their leftovers to make compost for gardening. Image: Supplied

Calling recycling an ‘energy consuming process’, Meera says anything that can be used as fuel later down the line is donated to a local organisation that deals in renewable energy solutions. ‘I collect the packs, sachets and any kind of plastic that is unavoidable in a jar until Urja foundation’s representative turns up and collects it every month. They then convert it into a poly-fuel waste.’

Meera is also concerned with daily e-waste (electronic waste) in the form of batteries, headphones and charges. ‘We dispose these items with normal waste but they can be given to specific organisations who can reuse their content’ she said. ‘The lead in batteries leaches out into the soil through landfills and enters the food chain. Why not extract the metals instead?’.

Talking to the Ethicalist, Shah who is now a member of Facebook group Zero Waste India, says she hopes more people will follow her minimalist lifestyle.‘I wish to involve more people in waste management and composting. My society has put in place a bio-compost system so that other families can manage wet and dry waste separately.’


Meera Shah believes firmly in only owning what is essential. Image: Supplied

She looks back to the time of her ancestors and says it could only do good for all to live as they did. ‘They didn’t believe in wasting anything, and the concept of recycling was very much prevalent back then. My own grandparents, for instance, wasted almost nothing.’

Talking of the challenges she said ‘zero waste is not about changing your lifestyle in one day. It is a journey you have to take, for life. People ask me, ‘how can one person alone bring about change?’ To which I say that if a family of four – who on average generate around a kilo of waste every day – adopted this lifestyle, we could cut it down from 360kg of waste a year to nothing. Together we can do it.

We have just one planet earth. If we want to save it, we have to start working towards it. Small efforts to control waste today will result in a bigger change tomorrow.’ So why not start with Mumbai.

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