• Every 2 hours we throw out enough stuff to fill the world's largest container ship with trash. That's 12 container ships every single day, and 4380 container ships in one year. • By 2030 the amount of household waste will almost double to 3000 million tons annually. • Every bag of household waste has produced approximately 70 bags of waste upstream during extraction and production processes. • Most waste goes to landfills or is burned. Burning waste is the world’s largest source of dioxins, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. — www.theworldcounts.com (based in Denmark)
Though she is a great deal younger than me, my cousin Saba Ahmad and I have much in common. We both worked at the same ad agency at the same time. We’ve both suffered for years from debilitating eczema. And we both hate clutter.
Our minimalism takes different forms, however. My priority is streamlined travel. I’m obsessed with how much things weigh, how compact they are and whether I can get a solid version in place of a liquid one (these are Very Important Issues in the streamlined travelling world, I assure you).
Saba’s priority is far more noble: reducing waste. It’s not enough to recycle and think we’ve done our bit. The goal should be to avoid everything that unnecessarily increases our load on the environment in the first place: disposable items, excess packaging, and highly processed products made from non-sustainable ingredients. Her singular devotion to the cause is well known; a relative who lived near Saba in Montreal would run to hide her tissue box when she heard Saba at the door.
For the love of it
Saba moved from Montreal to New Jersey with her husband, though Bangladesh – where she grew up and has spent most of her years – remains her favourite place. She especially values how older generations here grew up using local, natural products.
I too heard similar stories of my parents’ childhood. When shopping for groceries, they would bring their own sacks to carry purchased rice and lentils. For dental hygiene, they would chew a piece of charcoal, then massage gums and teeth with an index finger, before using miswak (antimicrobial twigs) as “toothbrushes”, which could easily be discarded back to nature with no negative impact.
For Saba, her grandmother’s way of living was not merely interesting, but also inspiring. Applying the lessons to her own life, she saw how natural, sustainable ingredients were kinder to the planet, healthier for our bodies by reducing the toxic load from modern living (pollution, anyone?) and – critically – more effective than most of what’s commercially on offer today.
Saba set up her blog on conscious living and continued her intensive research on the subject. She started making her own toiletries. She asked everyone she met what they used and how they liked it, including their choice of sanitary napkins (“I got inside people’s pants!” she quips in her inimitable way).
On a sabbatical to Dhaka, Saba found a kindred spirit in Anusheh Anadil, singer, musician, activist and founder of fairtrade eco craft store, Jatra. Anusheh, for the past year, had also started making her own toothpaste and shampoo at home, and growing vegetables for her family on a rooftop garden. She had been planning a fair to raise children’s awareness on sustainable energy. Upon meeting Saba, they joined forces to create another fair first on sustainable living.
A fair look
This three-day fair, starting from Thursday 12th February, will demonstrate uses of natural and locally available ingredients for the self and home. A booklet filled with inspiringly simple ideas and recipes, collected and compiled by Saba, will also be on sale. Jatra is producing a line of products using these recipes, though the intention is to encourage us all to make our own at home.
I had the glorious pleasure of getting a look at the recipes booklet and at Jatra’s product line ahead of their release. I went to Jatra’s office as Saba’s nosy cousin to dig for ideas for my upcoming travels and came away so excited, I can’t wait to share this with everyone.
(A few of the) star ingredients Saba loves:
• Gram flour – also called chickpea flour, or beshon, as it’s known locally, available at most grocery stores. This is a traditional cleanser for hands, face, body and hair. It’s effective for removing dirt without upsetting the body’s natural moisture balance.
• Soapnuts (called reetha in Bangla, from the Sapindus tree) are actually dried fruit shells, not nuts, and used for thousands of years in Asia and by Native Americans as a natural soap. They’re great for washing clothes by hand or washing machine, and work well as a fabric softener too. They’re mild and hypoallergenic, so are perfect for those with sensitive skin. They can be reused up to three times before composting them back in nature. They’re available at New Market and Old Dhaka. (They’re now also popular in the West, and available at health food stores.)
• A mainstay in our parents’ time, real coconut oil has been replaced in recent years by refined, chemically processed and often diluted commercial versions that bear little resemblance to the original product. The raw, undiluted form has all but disappeared. I am beyond thrilled, therefore, that the real deal will be available from next week at Jatra – the first place in Dhaka to sell this. (This was sourced for Jatra by Shahid Hossain Shamim, a founder of Prabartana, another brilliant shop in Dhaka not only for traditional handloom fabrics but also organic grains.)
There are tips in the booklet on how to waterproof canvas and textiles, get the burn out of pots and pans, and reduce sugar cravings. There’s a whole section on children’s care and amusement. There are recipes for household cleaners, pest control, hair care, body care and cosmetics, including lip balm. Forever convinced makeup was the one thing I couldn’t make on my own, I’m especially excited to try the simple recipes for homemade kohl and mascara.
A few of my favourite things
Friends living in other countries are familiar with Jatra’s distinctive colourful designs as I frequently gave them gifts from this shop. Now I prefer gifting consumables so as not to clutter up their homes, but I’ll make an exception for the following, available at Jatra after the fair:
• Reusable parachute shopping bags that fold into tiny pouches – easy to keep in the handbag or pocket for any impromptu shopping trip.
• Shaving kits in wood boxes that come with mini soap for lathering, alum stone for disinfecting and a lotion bar for moisturising.
• Candles made of pure beeswax (plain or with neem or clove) in recycled glass jars that will burn for at least 16 hours.
There’s much more, including sachets of kalojeera (Nigella seeds) that you bash lightly then inhale to unblock a stuffed nose; recycled glass jars with fabric holders as a hot beverage mug to go; reusable baby diapers/nappies that almost makes me change my stance of No Babies, they’re so adorable.
Three items I’m definitely packing for my trip:
• An alum stone (phitkiri) as an effective natural, stain-free deodorant. A tiny, lightweight, packaging-free cube will last more than a year.
• A lotion bar (that is, body lotion in a solid bar that you rub over your limbs – look, no liquids!) that’s perfect for my dry skin and made with only two quality ingredients: pure beeswax and raw coconut oil. (I saw a pile of beeswax bars – also available for sale from next week at Jatra – in a wood bowl and wanted to kiss them, they’re so beautiful.)
• A fabric sponge to remove makeup and clean my face. (If you’re in the US or UK, you can use a microfiber cloth.) Using this will replace, oh let me see, eye makeup remover, face cleanser, rosewater toner, and the disposable cotton pads and q-tips required to apply these. (Saba is appalled when I mention I’m still using q-tips. “Use a soft fabric to clean your ears if you must,” she almost shouts. “And use a cloth to wipe away your eye makeup.”)
I see now that being decluttered is not enough. Venting against our consumerist culture, as I often do, is also not enough. While I put honey and oil on my skin and choose natural remedies wherever I can, I’m still using commercial shampoos and toothpastes. And all those q-tips will add up to a significant landfill contribution at the end of my life if I don’t change my habits now. This is a valuable wake-up call.
As I set off this week for some long-term travelling, I vow to consider each item in my luggage not just for its weight/size/non-liquid status, but also of how it minimises waste. Once the supply of disposable products is used up, I won’t use anything that’s single-use or even single-purpose. Very soon, my toiletry bag (by far the heaviest thing in my luggage every time) shall positively float in its lightness. Even Saba, I hope, will approve.
What: Sustainable Living Fair/Matir Mela
Where: rooftop of Jatra shop, 60 Kemal Ataturk Avenue, Bonani, Dhaka
When: 12, 13, 14 February 2015 from 10am to 8pm
“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder
*All images, unless otherwise noted, were taken at Jatra’s office, Nikunjo, Dhaka.
I’ve been an Apple devotee since I purchased my first PowerBook in 1993, in the days when it was a niche player against Microsoft’s global domination, and not the world’s most profitable company in history as it is today. I’ve stayed loyal to Apple for more than 20 years through my numerous MacBooks, iPods, iPad, iPhone. Except for the years at Disney when I was given a BlackBerry (and whose keypad I still deeply miss), I’ve stayed within the Apple eco-system for everything, including my primary phone. For the first time, however, I’m intrigued by an alternative: FairPhone, the first ever fairtrade smartphone. That means it’s produced under fair working conditions using conflict-free minerals. It also has two SIM card slots, which is handy for travellers like me. Currently sold out, a newer version will be on sale after this summer.
It took my day at Jatra to finally read a book Saba had recommended more than a year ago, as it had a profound influence on her. Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson is an inspiring, fun and detailed look at how to live consciously – and stylishly – in our urban modern world. Reading it reminds me how insanely reliant we have become on shop-bought, mass-produced, wasteful products at every hour of our day.
“Less stuff, less space = less CO2, more $, more :-)” I couldn’t agree more! Watch Life Edited founder Graham Hill’s TED talk on Less Stuff, More Happiness.