How To Reduce Your Inorganic Waste To Almost Zero

This is the fourth article in the Sustainability Champion Program series. While this article can be read independently, we recommend that you read the first, second and third article on what the program is about. The last two articles talked about how to manage your organic waste at home. 

Now that we all know what to do with our organic waste, we need to talk about inorganic waste. 

Doesn’t it break your heart every time you send down inorganic waste from your home?  I don’t think it has to be the case. It is certainly not unavoidable or inevitable!

Reducing your inorganic waste is a long term process. It took me almost four months to completely weed out single-use plastics from my life. For many, it is a lot more. 

The idea is to be able to make small and deliberate changes consistently over time.  If you do that, you will walk yourself to a time where waste doesn’t have to go out of your home anymore. (Yes, it is possible!)

Over time, I realized that there is a systematic way to do this to ensure consistent progress.  

That is exactly what I will share with you –  simple yet effective ways to stop generating inorganic waste.

The 3-step process to reduce inorganic waste

In a nutshell, this is how you should go about it: 

  1. Start a fortnightly waste audit.   
  2. At the end of the fortnight, log your waste and identify the most common types of waste 
  3. Choose 5 things to reduce for the next fortnight by either swapping with a non-waste generating alternative, or removing it altogether from your lifestyle. 

Over the next fortnight, start your next waste audit. Ensure that you follow the action plan you made for yourself. Check your success rate and follow with the next 5 things to change. Continue this cycle until it becomes a never-ending habit. 

Essentially, audit your waste, log your waste, choose 5 non-waste generating alternatives. Repeat. 

Let me explain each step below in detail.

Step 1: How to audit waste like a pro

Now, auditing waste on a fortnightly basis can seem laborious.  When I first explained this to my colleagues, they believed that the waste audit is not possible.  “How can I save waste for 14 days without sending it out?” they said. But as they started the process, each of them found a way to audit their waste in their own ways.  

I am sharing with you the different ways my colleagues went about it. This should give you ideas on how to set yours up. I came up with some cool names of my own to just have some fun with it.  

A 14-day waste audit – the key is to progressively reduce waste generated over each fortnight. Picture by Saurabh Sawant

The Hoarder  

The hoarders take away dustbins and replace it with a sack or a bag, depending on the kind and volume of waste they generate at home. They would keep this sack at close quarters always, to store the waste they generate.

At the end of the 14 days, they would typically spread out the waste from the sack onto an open mat, segregate it and see how they have done. 

Easy and simple. But this can become tedious on the day you have to do the audit (especially when the volume is high).

The Hoarder + Source Segregator

This is my favorite type. These people go beyond the hoarder in that they do not just have one sack for the waste. They have three – recyclable, non-recyclable and landfill waste.  

They will segregate the waste as it is generated and not wait till the end of 14 days to get to it. 

This is the most effective way to do it. At the end of the fortnight, you do not have to put any effort in segregating the waste. The only thing you would have to do is to log it. 

The Meticulous Logger 

Some people were either traveling continuously or sharing a common waste collection system with others. So this meant they could not collect their waste in one place for long. 

So instead, they would log their waste in their notebook as and when they generated it. They would then put the waste in their bottle brick or if it was too big, dispose it safely.   

By the end of the 14 days, they had an accurate idea of what they generated. 

This technique was followed by some of our Trek leaders who had to travel often between different treks. 

Some tips shared by Trek Leader Aashay Surve on how to generate less waste. Picture by Aashay Surve

The Dual Collector

These people would have three different waste bins inside their home. They would empty these bins into three bigger sacks on a regular basis and keep them in a separate place. 

At the end of 14 days, they log the total waste collected. 

This came in handy particularly for people who live with big families and are yet to control the amount of waste generated. 

The Single-Minded Aggregator

Here rather than focusing on all types of waste at the same time, they chose to focus on reducing or possibly eliminating one type of waste completely.  Eliminating single-use plastic and focusing solely on that can sometimes turn out to be better than doing everything at the same time. 

Find a shop near you that sells rice, wheat, pulses etc loose instead of selling them in packed plastic bags. Picture by Neha Satheesan

If you choose to do this, make sure to collect single-use plastics separately in one single location and log it at the end of the 14 days. 

You might use any of these techniques or come up with a system of your own.  Whatever technique it is, find a way to understand what is the waste you generate.  That is the first effective way to reduce it. 

Step 2: The Waste Log

Now, again, when it came to logging waste, different people went about it differently.  Some noted down each of their waste in detail while some just made an estimation of what kind of waste and where it was used. 

Ultimately, the log must help you identify places you can make a change – that is refuse, reduce or reuse.  

Step 3: Switching to sustainable alternatives

Both the audit and the waste log are meant to guide you to understand and reduce your waste patterns. So, devise your own methods keeping this in mind.  

While you are at it, there are some single-use plastic that you can immediately stop generating. I made a list of it and wanted to share it with you. 

Here’s a list of single-use plastics that you can immediately stop generating, with a list of sustainable alternatives 

Single-use plastic items Sustainable alternatives ( I call this my zero-waste kit)
Plastic bagsCloth bags
Bottled waterReusable water bottle
Plastic strawsMetal/Bamboo straws (I personally do not use them but it comes handy for people who prefer to have a straw in their drink)
Paper/Plastic cupsReusable mugs
Disposable plates, spoons, and forksTiffin box and reusable metal spoon and fork
Packaged fruits and vegetablesLoose fruits and vegetables

When I started carrying this kit, I found it necessary to pre-emptively tell the shopkeepers to stop handing me things in plastic or paper containers. It took me some time to turn it into a habit. But once I did, it became easy to reduce quite a lot of waste at source. It makes a difference.

Now, let’s talk about the not so obvious single-use plastic waste that we generate on a regular basis, and what you can use instead

Single-use plastic items Sustainable alternatives ( I call this my zero-waste kit)
Sanitary waste Menstrual cups and cloth pads 
Waste from groceries Cloth bags
Food delivery waste I buy take away food on my way home in my reusable tiffin box.  But a lot of my friends struggle with this. For them, I encourage to buy food from places where they provide compostable or reusable or minimal containers. 
ToothbrushBamboo toothbrushes 
Soap and shampoosShampoo and soap bars 

 

Make sure to always have a number of different sized cloth shopping bags. Picture by Lakshmi Selvakumaran

I am sure there is much more waste that we generate on a general basis, but with these changes, we can readily reduce most of it. 

When I followed this, I was able to make remarkable changes within a month.  As time went by, I found it difficult to find items to swap because my waste became almost nil.  I am sure you will find it to be the case as well. 

I still continue to audit as a habit because whenever I don’t, I notice that I stop realizing the indirect waste that comes to me. 

I am very interested to know how your journey to reduce your inorganic waste goes. This is usually the hardest step because it involves major lifestyle changes. However, as always, we are here to help if you feel like you are stumbling. Do share your experiences and roadblocks with me – either at lakshmi@indiahikes.com or as a comment below. 

(This article was authored by Lakshmi and edited with inputs by Aswati Anand.)

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran is the Green Trails Lead at Indiahikes. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She's currently working towards making trekking a more sustainable sport by bringing in fresh innovations and ideas that leave no carbon footprint in the mountains.

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