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Meet Sahar Mansoor, Who Is Going Back To ‘Bare Necessities’ To Live A Zero-Waste Lifestyle

  • IWB Post
  •  January 21, 2019

For 27-year-old Sahar Mansoor, a zero-waste lifestyle started with her love for nature. As an academic research student at the University of Cambridge, she studied the environment and the global waste problem from a health perspective.

With a background in environmental planning, policy and law, Sahar formerly worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva and SELCO Foundation on decentralised energy policy. After returning to her homeland, she closely observed the trash management problem and troubled by its effect on the environment, she sought out to live a life that moved her away from contributing to the waste. What started as living an eco-friendly lifestyle turned into a zero-waste project that led to the formation of her brand ‘Bare Necessities’. By using non-toxic, non-GMO, and cruelty-free items, Sahar is making sure that nothing ends up in a landfill.

Excerpts:

How did you get infatuated with the idea of a zero-waste lifestyle?  

I think I have subconsciously been an environmentalist since I was a little girl. My love for nature was fostered spending weekends in Cubbon park with my dad and two big sisters, climbing trees and mostly falling off of them. In my third year of college in 2012, I watched a video of Bea Johnson in Professor Chris Chapples’ World Religions and Ecology class and I remember being blown away by Bea and her family’s lifestyle. This course was the turning point in my environmental journey that left me wanting to learn more.

I added “environmental planning” as my second major and took some amazing classes in environmental engineering, environmental ethics, and policy. That’s when I started to think more about our trash problem. The thing about trash is that we are so caught up in this web of convenience that we don’t think about our personal trash and often attribute to a larger global problem that we have no control over. The only time we think about trash is when we see or smell it stinking up our neighbourhood. However, the truth is that our trash problem is much worse than that, for our environment and health.

So far, waste to me was, of course, an environmental issue and a health issue that I was looking at it through my Cambridge and WHO lenses. But moving back home forced me to think of our waste problem as a social justice issue. I moved back home to Bangalore in 2015 and was working at solar energy (social enterprise) called SELCO Foundation on energy solutions for the underserved. One community I was working with was from West Bengal, who were waste pickers. After spending time shadowing them I was confronted by the social justice issues of our waste problem. I figured that every day thousands of waster pickers segregate broken glass, sanitary napkins, and needles with their bare hands, and watching this I wanted to stop being part of the problem.

So how did you implement a zero-waste lifestyle and were there any challenges that you faced?

In my zero-waste journey, I realised that we live in a world with landfill-destined products.

Toothbrushes, for instance, 4.7 billion of them land in the landfill every year, and they take 200-700 years to start decomposing. So every toothbrush you and I have ever used is sitting on our planet somewhere. It was difficult to find high-quality products that I trusted, that were chemical free and plastic free because even if these products were available, they were hard to access or were too expensive.

In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption, and sustainability that made it easy and accessible for people looking to consume more mindfully and also to encourage them to produce less waste. And thus, Bare Necessities was born. Also, being raised by a single mum, I wanted to create an enterprise that empowers women and I am very proud to say that we are a completely women-run enterprise and Bare Necessities has grown from small DIY workshops at flea markets to selling at stores across the country.

Tell us about some of the new skills that you learned along the way.

The transition was incremental, for instance when I ran out of soap, instead of buying store bought ones, I would experiment and eventually learned how to make my own. I started carrying reusable containers to avoid using plastic boxes, foil or zip lock bags. I shifted to carrying my own shopping bags and water bottles to cut out on using packaged plastic water bottles. However, I would like to add that I am still not completely zero waste and I doubt I ever will be. It is good to know your boundaries.

Can you share a library of resources that can help us get closer to a zero-waste lifestyle (in terms of clothes, brands, websites or books)?

My blog is a good starting point and I also love Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

When it comes to the production of eco-friendly products, many are of the view that they are expensive and time consuming to make. What are your views on the same? Is your brand somehow challenging these notions? 

Yes, we are trying hard to keep our prices more accessible, but it is economies of scale, as there is more demand, we can produce at a more competitive price. We are also super transparent about how we make our products. Along with it, we also conduct DIY workshops to show people how to make products themselves so that they can reduce the costs by making it themselves.

Tell us about the things that you carry in your bag daily, so as to keep your commitment towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

Cloth bag, water bottle, my spoon and fork, my steel straw, a foldable box, my busy bee lip balm, and a few mints or cloves in a little steel box.

Basic necessities start with the concept of decluttering. Please help us with some practical solutions and suggestions to follow this lifestyle.

I suggest that if you don’t love it or “if it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it!” like Marie Kondo would say. Also, read her book ”The Life-changing Magic of Tidying” or watch “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” an eight-part series hosted by the Japanese-born decluttering expert and space healer that will help you towards living a life with basic necessities.

Take us on a walk through your home which is reflective of your eco-friendly lifestyle. 

For the kitchen, shop at your local farmer’s market with packaging-free grocery shopping and carry reusable bags with you. For your next purchase of eggs take the egg carton back for reuse. Choose milk in returnable glass bottles or make your own coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk. Welcome alternatives to disposables like paper towels, garbage liners, wax paper, aluminum sheets, disposable plates, cups, etc by swapping paper towels for reusable, sandwich bags for kitchen towels or stainless containers and drop garbage liners all together because wet waste is mostly compostable anyways.

When it comes to dishwashing powder, use the ones that are not harmful to your health and does not pollute the groundwater. At Bare Necessities, we make dishwasher detergent made from reetha/soapnuts. You can also make your own dishwasher by using borax, baking soda, washing soda, and vinegar or tamarind and rock salt. For utensils, use Steel and Copper vessels instead of non-stick pans and use natural cleaning cloths and scrubbers instead of plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges by using the ones made from coconut fibre.

Sahar Mansoor

Sahar Mansoor

How are you applying the concept of re-use in your brand?

We produce high-quality earth friendly zero waste products such as compostable toothbrushes, lip balms, detergents, and reusable straws. All of our products are packaged in recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable packaging for which the raw materials are ethically sourced from farmers who I worked with at SELCO. Our entire supply chain is zero waste, from sourcing to giving it to end users.

To live a low impact lifestyle, one initiative that we have started is asking the customers to return the Bare Necessities empty jars so as to cut on wastage. Along with it, our ‘The Last Straw’ campaign aims to reduce the use of the plastic straws in venues around India by tackling the issue from both sides, by encouraging consumers to use less plastic straws and encouraging businesses to give out less straw through staff training and information. At Bare Necessities, straws are made from bamboo and certified food-grade stainless steel that promote the concept of re-use.

How can we decompose menstrual waste in an environment-friendly way?

Pads and tampons cause environmental harm, waste resources, compromise women’s health and are unnecessarily expensive. In comparison, menstrual cups are the way to go for an environment-friendly and safe health experience. It helps in saving 5,760 sanitary pads/ 9,600 tampons and tons of boxes, plastic sachets, applicators from landing in dustbins, landfills, seas and rivers in your menstrual life cycle. Also, they are economical to use as a one-time investment of Rs. 700 helps you have waste-free periods for about ten to fifteen years.

Have there been any inspirational lessons from history for you in leading this lifestyle?

Bea Johnson has been a huge source of inspiration. My obvious resources when I started off was Bea and Lauren’s blog, but more importantly there were conversations with my grandma about what she did before shampoo started being sold in a plastic bottle.

A lot of our Indian traditions are actually rooted in ecological practices or what we now can call “zero waste practices”. Our stainless steel Indian “tiffin” is another example of an Indian tradition that is celebrated by the zero waste movement. It has its origin from 18th century British India that involves a whole range of dishes and equipment and above all, of suppliers, the tiffinwallahs of Bombay. This to me is an example of zero waste that creates 5,000+ jobs and supports community health by delivering home-cooked meals to over two lakh people, all without producing any trash. None of the food delivery apps of this start-up India era can even compare.

 

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