Week 6: Food_Part 1: Shopping Sustainably

The number one concern area for the Waste Less Project participants was waste generated from packaged food. More specifically, single-use packaging. This was confusing to me. Particularly since, in my experience, shopping for packaging-free food (in Goa) is much easier than in many other parts of urban India. Here we have local markets, vendors, kirana stores, and an accessible network of farmers, fisherfolk and bakers to help us shop sustainably. Why, then, might people opt to shop for packaged food?

1. Because it is convenient to pick up everything you need from a single shop.

  • Convenience at the expense of the planet (and future generations) is not convenience at all. Period.
  • When you shop at once, you end up buying more than you really need.

2. Because carrying your own containers is a hassle.

  • Use compartment bags, mini-cloth bags or paper bags instead. Once you get home, transfer the food into other containers.
  • Unless you walk from the shop to your home, your vehicle will do most of the carrying for you.

3. Because there are groceries like milk, mushrooms, etc which do not have alternatives.

  • Fair Enough.
  • Start by switching for items which have alternatives.

4. Because other people think you are weird, or challenge you, or force packaged goods on you.

  • Shopping package free is NOT the norm. It is likely that people might not understand what you are doing.
  • It is likely that you are the first person they have encountered shopping using their own containers or bags.
  • Take the opportunity to educate someone or reach out to them and explain why you are shopping this way.
  • The more people who make the switch, the more common it will become for stores and other shoppers and the more comfortable others will feel doing it. Embrace your change.

Procuring sustainable food in 10 difficult steps.

Step 1: Be willing to change (your habits).
A good place to start is by revisiting Week 4 guideline: Saying No.

Step 2: Find time in your life to shop for (healthy) food.
Cannot find the time? Be ready to set aside time (and money) in the future for food-related ailments.

Step 3: Build your food purchase map.
Break down your main food purchases into categories and try locating the stores you buy from and the type of packaging used. Here is what my map looks like.

Saritha’s Food Purchase Map

Step 4: Stop accepting anything that comes with plastic packaging.
Alternatives exist in India unlike in the Western world. Stop increasing the demand for plastic.

Step 5: Shop around your neighbourhood for local (or mostly regional) produce. Or better, shop at farmer’s markets.

Why must you shop at local markets and stores?

  • Because you can carry your own containers and shop package free.
  • Because you can buy the quantity that you need (thus not succumbing to excessive shopping).
  • Because you can bargain.
  • Because you are promoting local business enterprises.
  • Because it is sustainable. As the distance for food to reach you is much shorter than when a corporation packs it and transports it to the shelf of your preferred supermarket.

Step 6: Convince and convert your grocer to fill your own containers or wrap your purchases in paper instead of plastic bags.
If you have time and the will, help local vendors to spread the word. Throwback to Week 1 on Ms. Alka Damle’s efforts.

Step 7: Learn to eat according to seasons and also to accept ‘ugly’ looking produce.
An agriculturist recently told me, ”If I see a wormhole in a vegetable, I know it will be the safest, tastiest and best of the lot. I just cut out and throw the bit that the worm might have eaten and use the rest of this beautiful vegetable for myself.”

Step 8: Walk or use public transport to shop for food locally.
Why? Because using motorised means to transport food involves fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (contributing to global warming). Plus, humans are designed to walk. It helps us shop less and maintain our health & shape. It also reduces traffic and the pollution associated with traffic. Save yourself some fuel, time and money by avoiding long distance relationships with shops.

Step 9: Start a kitchen garden.
Start small with chillis, tomatoes, and leafy vegetables. Easy to grow in pots. TEDx Panaji recently conducted workshops around the subject “What’s on your plate?”. Connect with them to learn more about building your own kitchen garden.

Step 10: Attempt to eliminate shopping for essentials by making your own stuff.
Start easy with curd. Or paneer. Someday you’ll be able to make your own sourdough bread or cream cheese for cheesecake from scratch.

Buying Guides

Cotton compartment bags
Goa – Dhairyansh Green, EcoPothi by Unnaty Vahan Ancillaries Pvt. Ltd., Ponda (0832 233 0007)
Online – The Better India Shop

Refrigerator bags
Goa – Dhairyansh Green
Online – Refreshbag

Zero Waste Shop
Goa – Ecoposro

Farmer’s Markets
Goa – Earth Keeper’s Market (Every Sunday, North Goa); Goan Farmer’s Market (Every two months, Sunday, Margao); Sunday Harvest (O.M.O., Behind Post Office, Panjim)

Sourdough Bread 
Goa – Workshops by Sujit Sumitran; Bodega at Sunaparanta

Everything else
Goa – Your local market


All you need to know about Bio-Enzymes

This post is taken verbatim from the Kaustubam – Journey to a Chemical Free, Sustainable Life blog. Please follow the blog to learn more on moving to a waste less lifestyle.

How to make Bio Enzyme or Garbage Enzyme for household cleaning purposes

Part 1: Before – What are Bio Enzymes and how exactly to make them

1. What are Bio Enzymes?
Bio Enzyme (also referred to as Garbage Enzyme or Fruit Enzyme) is a multi-purpose, natural cleaner produced from vegetable/fruit peels (usually citrus) or waste. It is an effective alternative to harsh chemicals such as bleach, phenyl, and other chemical solutions that we typically use in households to wash our bathrooms, clean toilets, wipe our floors, tiles and other surfaces. Chemically, the Bio Enzymes are a mixture of complex organic substances such as proteins, salts and other materials that are by-products of the bacteria/yeast (naturally occurring) that we will use to make the Bio Enzyme. These organic substances which are in the Bio Enzyme are capable of breaking down chemical and other organic waste thus helping us in removing stains, odour, getting rid of other harmful microbes, etc. They also greatly neutralise toxins and pollutants.

2. Why do we need to use Bio Enzyme instead of chemicals cleaners?
As human population grows and our lifestyles becomes increasingly convenience driven, we are polluting our living environment more and more. A polluted environment is in no way conducive to a healthy living – causing us disease, disturbance and distress. As people who are conscious of our footprint on the environment, we must do all that we can to not just stop adding to the pollution but also to prevent it actively. One of the most important and easy way to do that is to completely eliminate all chemicals from your household and replace them with Bio Enzyme and its variations.

Moreover, it is in our personal best interest as well to switch to the Bio Enzymes! Chemical cleaners, in addition to polluting the environment, also leave chemical residues in your household – potential and slowly accumulating toxins that can cause great harm to children, pets and adults as well. A recent news article I read cited the residue of dishwash bars on vessels as one of the major causes of cancer (as they can turn carcinogenic)!! While we do not know the scientific validity of such claims, it is always easier to be safer than sorry. It’s even more safer to go green completely!

3. What are the uses of Bio Enzyme?
Bio Enzymes has a veritable list of uses – I keep discovering more and more uses to it! 

Let me try to bracket them for you:
1. As a surface cleaner: Floor Cleaner, Tile Cleaner, Toilet Cleaner, Stove/Chimney Cleaner (concentrated version or the pulpy residue), Window Cleaner, Car wash, etc.
2. As a dirt remover: Laundry liquid (with or without other additions such as soapnut), Vessel Cleaner (with or without other additions such as soapnut), stain remover, etc.
3. As a personal care product (to be used after individual testing ONLY): Body wash, Shampoo, Hair conditioner, Shoe odor remover
4. As an anti-bacterial and anti-viral: Refrigerator cleaner, Cabinet cleaner, Unclogging drains
5. Washing Vegetables and Fruits to neutralize harmful fertilizers/pesticide residues on them
6. Pest Control: Continued use of Bio Enzyme have been known to repel small insects, ants, cockroaches at home (though it doesn’t kill them). Also, Bio Enzyme is being used extremely effectively in fumigation along with Soapnuts and Neem Oil. 
7. Plant Care: It is a wonderful bloom nutrient. Also helps in managing plant pests like white flies, mealy bugs and spider mites.There may be many more uses that may just need to be discovered!

4. Who invented the Bio Enzyme?
Bio Enzyme has been developed by Dr Rosukun Poompanvong from Thailand. However, although called an Enzyme, it is not an enzyme in technical sense. Also, the term Garbage Enzyme (another name by which it is called) can also be misleading! Some call it as Fruit enzyme, but Fruit Enzyme and Garbage Enzyme are different; Fruit Enzymes are editable while Bio enzymes are not.

5. How do we exactly make Bio Enzymes?
Very simple. Remember the ratio 1:3:10 – Jaggery to Citrus Peels to Water. That is take one part of Jaggery, 3 parts of Citrus peels and 10 parts of Water. If you use one cup of Jaggery, use the same cup to measure the other two ingredients as well. But you need not be 100% accurate to the last dot – the Bio enzyme is forgiving if you add a bit more of this or that (not too much or too less though!). Take a big enough and air tight container with a lid which can accommodate this solution + still have a 10 – 15 % space left empty. Mix these three ingredients in that container, put the lid on, label it with the date of creation and leave it in a dark place (such as inside your kitchen cupboard or under the sink).

Once the solution starts fermenting (will be explained in a bit), it will start releasing some gases that will get built up in the empty space in the container. Before this gas becomes too much and “pops” outside, you will need to release them. Hence, you will need to open the lid once in a day (for first one week at least), air it out for a minute or so (no need to stir or do anything else!), put the lid back on, keep it back in the dark place and again forget it for another day. From second week onwards, the gas activity will reduce and you need not open every day – you can open every other day.

6. Can I use a metal or glass container instead of plastic?
Not advisable as metal and glass will not be able to expand. There are gases that will get released during the process of production – so plastic is a better option. You can use any old plastic container lying around.

7. Why is an airtight container required?
The airtight container is necessary to promote fermentation (minimize oxygen) and to also avoid flies from getting in.

8. How long before my Bio Enzyme will be ready?
Usually, it will take three months for the Bio Enzyme to be produced if you do not use any other additional ingredient other than that which are mentioned above (Jaggery, Citrus Peels and Water). That is why it is important that you label the container with the date of creation. This way, you can start multiple batches and stagger them so that you can get a continuous supply.

9. What is the rationale for the stipulated 3 months’ period?
During the first month of the fermentation, alcohol will be released, so you will smell alcohol when you open the container. In the second month, you will smell an acidic smell, which is the smell of acetic acid. With many compounds such as minerals and vitamins, it will continue breaking down and naturally form the enzyme. Hence, the minimum duration suggested is 3 months.

10. Does the Bio Enzyme have an expiry date?
No, you can use the Bio Enzyme lifelong! They do not get spoilt, go bad or anything like that. Of course, you need to ensure you keep them safely closed away from pests and flies.

11. What are the fruit peels I can use to make Bio Enzyme? Can I use Banana and Mango?
While the Bio Enzyme can be made with all the Fruits peels, for greater household cleaning abilities, it is usually recommended only to use Citrus Fruit peels – i.e. Lemon, Orange, Lime and Pineapple. You can either use all four of them separately in different batches to test which is more effective or combine them into one. As mentioned, you can use Banana and Mango – but they won’t be as effective as Citrus.  Plus, they may not smell as great as citrus!

12. Can I use the entire fruit instead of just the peels?
Yes, you can but why would you want to “waste” the whole fruit instead of consuming it? But if the fruit is rotten or spoilt, you can put it in whole or cut up, not a problem.

13. Should I wash the peels before I use them to make Bio Enzymes?
No, not required. During the process of creating the Bio Enzyme, all chemical residues, if any, will get neutralized completely.

14. Does the fruits/peels I must use to make the Bio Enzymes be organic?
Again, same answer as above. All chemical residues will get neutralized during the process – so it doesn’t matter if it is organic or not.

15. Why is regular opening and closing of the container needed? 
Biogases will be produced as by-products of the anaerobic breakdown of the sugars (usually hydrogen, CO2, and less likely methane). Thus, releasing the gases produced, especially during the initial stages, is essential.

16. Do I really need to open the Bio Enzyme every day? What will happen if I forget to stir for a few days?
No, not every day but every other day definitely – at least for the first 3 – 4 weeks when the bacterial activity will be at its peak. Slowly, the speed of the process will decrease and the amount of gases that will get produced will also decrease – so you can increase the gap between the time you go and check out your Enzyme from 2 days (for fist 3-4 weeks) to 4 days (for next 3-4 days) and then to once a week.

17. What is the purpose of brown sugar or Jaggery in the process?
The purpose of Jaggery or molasses or brown sugar is to provide “simple” carbon source or energy for the microorganisms to first feed and grow. When growth is sizeable, the microbes may then turn their attention to the additional food source (the waste materials or peels) that is harder to digest due to the complexity in their molecular structures. This process is usually energy consuming for the microorganisms, and the added sugar may provide them the extra energy needed for this.

18. Can I use White Sugar instead of Jaggery or Brown Sugar?
No, you can’t.

19. Can I use dried peels instead of fresh ones?
No, it’s preferable that you use fresh peels as much as possible

20. Can I use Frozen and Thawed peels?
Well, if you can’t get access to fresh peels, you may use frozen and thawed ones.

21. What do I do after three months?
Take another container (such a big enough vessel or bucket), filter out the liquid from the Bio Enzyme container using a fine mesh cloth or filter, squeeze the pulp to take out remaining liquid and voila – the Bio Enzyme is ready! The liquid (which should be clear and orange to brownish in color) you have collected in the other container is the Bio Enzyme – it might still have some very fine residue which will settle down once you keep it undisturbed for some time – you can use along with the residue, not a problem. You can retain the pulp to start another batch (along with fresh peels of course) or to use as a concentrated cleaner. Store both the liquid and the pulp safely in closed containers for everyday use.

22. Is there a way to make the Bio Enzymes that is quicker?
Yes! There are two ways you can make this process faster.
Option 1: You can add yeast (the regular Baker’s yeast you will get in Departmental stores). This will make the Bio Enzyme ready in just 20 days.
Option 2: You can add the leftover pulp of a previous batch. This will make the Bio Enzyme ready in 30 days.

23. So why can’t we just do the quicker option?
Because the main method taught here works with three ingredients (jaggery, citrus peels, and water) that are readily available in every kitchen. Many of us are not aware of yeast or do not know where to source it from or we do not want to spend on them. Moreover, the traditional method is going to take three months only for the first time. For your next batch onwards, you can use the left over pulp after filtering the Bio Enzyme as a starter and produce it in just 30 days without any yeast.

24. I want to use yeast. Will there be a difference in the quality of the Bio Enzyme produced if I use Yeast?
No, the quality of Bio Enzyme produced seems to have no difference at all if you use Yeast OR not. So, if you can source Yeast, go right ahead and use it. But don’t forget to save the pulp once your 20 days are up and you filter out the Bio Enzyme – as you need not buy yeast and incur that additional cost every time – you can use the pulp to speed up the next batch. But adding yeast (as they are will naturally occur in your Enzyme anyway over the three month process) produces more gas – so you might need to open your container every day against the every other day we will follow in the other method.2

25. What is the quantity of yeast to be used?
Just a mere small teaspoon or even lesser is fine. Active Dry Yeast will be like mini globules – so you can use just 3-4 globules actually! If you are using Yeast, just mix/stir the Enzyme-in-production for the first few days (you don’t need to stir if you are not using Yeast).

26. I use an herbal floor cleaner and find it extremely effective. Why should I shift to Bio Enzyme?
Can you be 100% certain that the “herbal” cleaner you use does not have any chemical whatsoever? And that it contains only totally natural substances? Please verify that. Clever marketing and use of words such a “herbal”, “organic”, “all natural” are becoming more and more commonplace by companies that are out to fool customers. Please do not fall pray to such tactics. Once you have verified the authenticity of your herbal cleaner, check whether they are safe to use and the residues they leave are safe to use. If you are fully satisfied, you may continue to use your herbal cleaner – but at a cost! But I wonder why you would do that when you can make your own cleaner with the least and minimum cost which will be equally effective if not more? What’s more, you can be super proud as well.

Part 2: During the process of making the Bio Enzyme

27. I’m curious to know the scientific principle behind Bio Enzyme. Can you explain?
Chemically, Bio Enzymes are a mixture of concentrated Vinegar or Alcohol (or a mixture/blend of both, along with other organic compounds) produced by microorganisms which are naturally occurring in the environment that were a part of the solution you prepared. It is a simple fermentation process where the food waste is broken down into smaller compounds along with the release of gases. Once all the food (Jaggery and what is in Citrus that you added) is digested by the microbes, they will have nothing to eat and will die naturally. But what they leave behind (as their waste product so to speak) is precious – the Bio Enzyme. As they say, one man’s waste is another man’s gold. In this case, the microbes do all the hard work and we get to enjoy their labour!

28. I see a white layer, like Fungus, forming on top of the peels! What do I do?
This is a good indication. Simply ignore the layer and keep airing out the Enzyme-in-process. The white layer is nothing but naturally occurring yeast that has come up for air. Do open it more frequently and stir in the white mixture every once in a while.

29. I have got worms in my Bio-Enzyme! Help me!
Uh-uh, someone has not been careful in keeping the lid tightly closed! So the flies have come in and laid their eggs! Well, not to worry, add some more Jaggery, put the lid back on and keep it very tight. Open and close once in 2-3 days (beware of the wriggly worms though harmless they are!). The worms will go away by themselves. Don’t ask where!

30. Is my Bio Enzyme supposed to smell a certain way?  How do we get to know if the process is completed?
Not really, since we will be using only citrus, they will only smell nicely citrusy.

Three factors to know when your Bio Enzyme is ready:
1. Time  – As mentioned, it takes 3 months to make the Bio Enzyme without any yeast. If one adds yeast, it can get done in 20-25 days (provided right environment is maintained for the microbes to flourish). This has been calculated based on lot of people’s experience and research.
2. Stopping of Gas production – As the fermentation slows down, so will the production of gases from the solution. At the end of the time period, most of the food materials, if not all, would have been converted by the microbes into Vinegar or Alcohol and there wont be anything left for them to munch. So they will start to de-activate or die. This signals that solution is ready. However, one needs to use this indicator along with the time as sometimes fermentation might slow down in between also due to unfavourable conditions (we will see more details of this below).
3. Peels settling down – the Peels we used to make the Enzyme – as they get processed by the microbes (in essence, eaten up) – will start to settle down to the bottom of the container. This is a good indicator – sometimes, some peels will continue to float while most settle down. That is okay.

31. What If your enzyme becomes very smelly like the smell of rotten eggs or faeces? 
Just add one portion of brown sugar. For instance, if a bottle contains one litre of water. Then you need to quickly add 100 grams of brown sugar to it. Stir it thoroughly and then cover the cap tightly. After you seal it, do not open it again. One month later, you will find that it’s good again when you open it.

32. What are the Gases that will get released when we make the Bio Enzymes?
Some of the gases that will be produced by Bio Enzymes are CO2, O3, NO3, CO3, etc. None of these gases are toxic or unsafe. Moreover, only negligible quantities of these gases will be produced during the process.

33. So what are some of the “unfavourable” things that can happen that can slow down or affect the Bio Enzyme production process?
1. Leaving your container open and letting in too much oxygen – As mentioned, fermentation releases carbon dioxide along with minor quantities of other gases. This CO2 needs to be let out while letting in bit of Oxygen. However, if we completely leave the container open, too much aerobic condition will affect the final quality of the Enzyme produced.

2. Worms and Flies in your Bio Enzyme container – this will also occur only if you had NOT been careful about your container and left it open at some point inviting flies to come in and breed. This can slow down fermentation to a great extent and take away the food meant for microbes. We can try to correct when worms occur (we need to add extra jaggery and by closing container in air tight manner for 1 week – hopefully, the worms will die. Otherwise, one just needs to abandon and start again.

3. Temperature – Microbes like a temperature that is close to our body temperature. So if we are able to maintain that in the solution, then the fermentation will happen pretty fast. But if we create extreme temperature fluctuations or worse make it too hot or too cold, fermentation will get affected. For example, keeping the Enzyme inside your fridge – thats a big NO. Keeping your Enzyme in direct sunlight – that’s a big NO. Shifting your container continuously from place to place causing lot of temperature fluctuations – that’s a BIG No. Tip: Try to keep the Enzyme under the sink in your kitchen (relatively warm place in your house) or even on top of your fridge (where heat is generated) protected by a cloth underneath.

4. Forgetting to open for months and months – Now, just the way leaving your container totally open is also a problem, not opening at all can also be a disaster. The built up gas, for one, can cause an explosion! Two – the accumulated CO2 will end up killing the microbes as well. Hence, the suggestion to open it once a week initially (when fermentation rate if at its highest). After that, when fermentation slows down and gas production slows down, you can open it once in two or three days.

Part 3: After your Bio Enzyme is ready

34. My Bio Enzyme is ready. Do I need to use it right away? 
When you are done making the enzyme, you don’t need to use it right away. You can keep it for years – one year, two years, three years, even 10 or 20 years. The longer the period is, the smaller the molecules become, as the mixture continues to ferment and decompose. When the molecules get smaller, it will have a better penetration. Definitely, longer durations would be more ideal to ensure a more complete fermentation process where there will be no (or little) sugars left, and higher concentrations of products could be achieved. Also, the lack of food and the low pH levels would most likely kill/deactivate the microorganisms present (safer for handling).

35. Is the Bio Enzyme alive? In other words, does it by itself contain microorganism?
No, by the time the Bio Enzyme is ready at the end of three months (in the 100% natural way of producing with just the three ingredients mentioned), all the bacteria/yeast that were working super hard to produce the Enzyme for you would have died leaving just the organic compounds and proteins behind. There might be very minor traces of them if you take them to a microscope but you don’t need to be concerned about it.

36. Is the Bio Enzyme same as Fermented Fruit Juice?
No, not at all though the FFJ is made pretty much the same way but with a different ratio and different duration. FFJ is predominantly for gardening use to aid greater flowering and fruiting in your plant. You can use the Bio Enzyme as well in your garden (in 1: 1000 dilution, mind you) as a pest control or general well-being tonic for your plants.

37. Can I use the Bio Enzymes in my garden/for my plants?
Yes, you can but in very high dilution. Also refer the question on fermented fruit juice above.

38. Can I use the Bio Enzymes in my composting?
Generally, in composting, we do not add any liquid as much as preventable – so while Bio Enzyme might help in the composting process, it would not be advisable to use it any great quantity. You can use the pulp though – just add the leftovers to your compost bin to speeden up the compost!

39. How come a single product has such multiple benefits in different areas?
The high acetic acid concentration and low pH could be the main reasons for the many purposes of GE, as vinegar is well known to be used a cleaning agent, odor removal, preventing drain blockages, etc. Ethanol is known to have antiseptic properties, while propionic acid is used in food preservation. These substances may allow Bio Enzyme to act as an anti-microbial agent, insecticide and pesticide. When diluted, it could provide nutrients to plants due to the “growth hormones”, minerals, enzymes and/or other organic compounds extracted directly or converted from the waste materials. The highlight of Bio Enzyme is that it is organic and can be homemade at low costs, as compared to other products that contain synthetic chemicals (may be toxic to human health or environment) and consume high energy in their production.

40. Is Bio Enzyme scientifically analyzed and proven?
No, the scientific community has not come out with claims either for or against the Bio Enzyme though there are a lot of critics that call the Bio Enzyme nothing more than a glorified homemade vinegar. While some tall claims like “It reduces global warming” are scoffed at, it has definitely been found effective in household cleaning to a great extent.

In essence, Bio Enzymes can help you save yourself from harsh chemicals, save money, save waste, save the clutter of multiple cleaning liquids in your house, and finally save the Earth from pollutants and restore back the balance.

Many thanks to my WhatsApp coaching students and Mrs. Meena Krishnamurthy for their questions and many suggestions to make this FAQ more effectively presented. 

Week 5: Replacing home cleaning supplies

The Waste Less Project has completed one month!! I hope last month’s guidelines have helped you to start thinking differently about the subject of waste and in finding eco-friendly alternatives. Over the next four weeks, we transition from waste reduction as an individual to waste reduction from our homes. 

At the household level, almost 60% of the total waste is food or wet waste. We’ll address solutions for reducing food waste in the coming weeks. Today, I’d like to focus on the second most waste producing source in our homes – our cleaning regimes. Most of us use commercially available, chemical products as floor, surface and glass cleaners, detergents, dishwashing soaps, liquids, for pest control, etc. While purchasing these products, do you realise that these: 

  • Are toxic products that leave chemical residues on surfaces, dishes, clothes?
  • Are packaged in hard plastics? and
  • Are polluters of the environment as the residual wastewater generated can contaminate groundwater and pollute sewage and water lines?
Image Source: Norfolk Hardware

Since commercial cleaners are waste generators from the start of their product cycle to well after we are done using them, should we really purchase such products? I say no.

Eco-friendly Alternatives

The option that I support is a multi-purpose, natural cleaner produced from citrus peels (which we tend to otherwise waste). It is an effective alternative to harsh chemical cleaners such as Harpic, Lysol, Vim, Colin, Mr. Muscle, etc. This super-cleaner is BIO-ENZYME LIQUID. I’ve only used bio-enzymes as a substitute for my cleaning requirements. But I’ve read of others who have also found these to be useful for personal care and in their gardens. Here are some of the uses of this natural cleaner:

  1. As a surface cleaner for floors, tiles, toilet bowls, washbasins, tubs, stovetops, chimneys, window, etc.
  2. As a dirt remover instead of detergents and dishwashing liquids.
  3. As pest control to repel insects, ants, cockroaches.
  4. As anti-bacterial solution for refrigerator, cabinets, microwaves, ovens
  5. As a solution to unclog greasy drains.

How do you make Bio-Enzyme?

Ingredients (Remember the magic ratio of 1:3:10)
  • 1 part jaggery
  • 3 parts citrus peel
  • 10 parts water
  • Put all the ingredients in a plastic container (at least 5 litres) with a screw top lid. Make sure you do not fill it all the way to the brim. Only fill about three-fourths of the container.
  • Mix well. Shut the lid.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.
  • Every day, open the lid and let out the carbon dioxide that forms inside the container.
  • Continue for 3 months (90 days).
  • After 90 days, strain the liquid and use as desired. The solid remnants can be disposed of with your wet waste, fed to plants or composted.
  • The best bit: The post-use water can also be used to water your plants!! So it doesn’t have to go down the drain.

I’ll write a detailed blog on bio-enzymes and it’s various uses soon. In the meantime watch this video for a better understanding of making this natural cleaner.

Other home cleaning alternatives

  • Vinegar: removes grease, deodorises, and disinfects.
  • Baking Soda: removes grease, deodorises, lifts dirt, and whitens surfaces.
  • Essential oils: helps freshen the air and diffuses unwanted odours.
  • Lemon juice: disinfects, and whitens.
  • Ash / Coffee Grinds: removes grease from utensils
All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe
  • 3 parts water
  • 1 part vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • 5-7 drops essential oil (optional)

Add ingredients to spray bottle and fill remaining amount with hot water. Spray on surface and wipe clean.

Natural Brushes, Mops, Brooms and Scrubbers

Mop: Tie a rag cloth to the end of a stick and use as required.

Natural Brushes and Brooms: Local markets and shops sell brooms and brushes made entirely of natural material.

Scrubbers: Coconut fibre (husk) or Overgrown ridge gourd dried on the plant itself can be used instead of Scotchbrite and other such branded scrubbers.

Buying Guides

Pre-made Bio-Enzyme
Goa – EcoPosro
Online – Stonesoup

Other Natural Cleaners (Powder / Bars)
Goa – EcoPosroGreen Goa Works, Natti’s Naturals (For Common Oxen), People Tree, The Goa Collective Bazaar at Hilltop, Probiotics House (Friday Night Market)
Online – Stonesoup, Bare Necessities, Rustic Art

Brushes, Brooms and Scrubbers
Goa – EcoPosroMapusa and Panjim Markets
Online – Palmera

One Last Thing

Inspire others. Share your stories via email or post it on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #wastelessproject

Week 4: Saying No. Easy but Difficult.

This week we are going to attempt learning to say NO. 

Why? Because unless each item that you use is 100% biodegradable, it or parts of it will pollute the environment at some stage in its lifecycle. To avoid owning things that you will not use frequently, learn to say NO.

Let me start by telling you my story. I grew up in the 80s Dubai – when consumerism was the mode of life and access to fresh, local produce (except fish, camel, goat, and dates) was unheard of. Most of what I ate and used came from other continents, produced months in advance and heavily packaged for transportation. It was only at the start of the century when I moved to India that I discovered a more sustainable way of living.

How does one escape this madness?
Image Source: http://www.airportwatch.org.uk

When most of you registered for the Waste Less Project, your primary concern area was the lack of alternatives to plastic packaging and single-use plastic. Until a few years ago, I was part of the majority who thought like you. I would make my shopping list, get into my car, walk into a store and pull things off the shelf. What I couldn’t find locally, I would purchase online. I would order food delivery when I didn’t feel like cooking. And not once did I think of the consequences of any of my actions. I carried cloth bags, reusable water bottle, mostly walked or cycled, never owned a television, a refrigerator or other home electronic appliances. I believed that these actions were enough to save the planet.

Image Source: www. blog.designingyourlifetoday.com

Sadly, no. I wish I could tell you there was this one moment in my life when everything changed and I stopped producing waste. Whatever habits I’ve changed, I’ve done over a period of 10 years.

I began thinking differently when I started observing garbage all around me – not glancing, not just seeing in passing but really observing. Heaps of trash everywhere – near home, near my place of work, in every city, remote villages and this began to bother me. Now, I must say this – unless the problem really starts bothering you, you won’t set out to look for solutions. Because you won’t manage to find the time in your life to change. Because of how convenient the whole existing system is.

But when it began bothering me, I started researching about it. I started re-evaluating my life and the choices I was making. Not only about my groceries and food purchases but also about everything I owned, received or planned to own at some point. And that’s how I changed my consumption patterns. Some things were relatively easy like switching from packaged groceries to shopping at kirana stores. Some were a lot more challenging – like deciding to not have a wedding because of the huge waste of money and resources. In the process, I had a lot of disagreements with my family and friends who didn’t understand my choice. The transition was not easy but it wasn’t impossible either.

Today, I lead a more minimalist life. I still have plastic from before that I reuse or upcycle. I only purchase things that I intend to use frequently and longterm. I refuse most new things. I shop (for personal things) once in two years. And my main indulgences are books and food items (most of which I make from scratch too).

I wish I had step by step guidelines on how to say no easily. But I don’t. I can start you off with a few suggestions. The rest, you have to discover yourself.

Say NO to offers. 

Every time you are in a shop and you see a BUY ONE, GET ‘X’ OFFER, stay away. You can do without the X(tra) stuff.

Say NO to disposables.

If anyone at an event or a party offers you food (or drinks) in disposable utensils, say no. Not having that one meal or food item won’t kill you. If your host feels bad, explain why you have made that choice. If they don’t understand, so be it.

Say NO to gifts and freebies.

Learn to refuse things you have no need of. Tell your family and friends that you do not wish to give or receive gifts that end up as waste. Things like seed bombs, plants, homemade goodies, etc. make wonderful gifts. It may hurt your loved ones in the beginning, but they will understand with time.

Say NO to just like that stuff. Or fads.

You only need ‘one’ of some things like watches, cell phones, sunglasses. Owning a second or third one is pointless especially when it performs the same function.

Say NO to impulsive shopping.

As an exercise, pick out all the things in your possession that you have not used for more than 2 months. The results may surprise you. The next time you contemplate making a purchase, wait for 30 days and think well before you decide to buy (or not to buy).

Say NO to convenience.

Convenience is one of the biggest enemies in the waste less journey. No one has time to figure out eco-friendly alternative shops or to make stuff at home. And I probably would have agreed many years ago. Except, I am a working professional who commutes by public transport (in Goa), does my own household chores, cooks my own food, tends to my kitchen garden, has time to do the things I love, travel, have a slip disc problem and yet exercise AND make my own stuff. And no, I am not single either. How do I do it? I am stubborn and prioritise living a waste less life and so, I manage my time.

One last thing.

Don’t be deterred if your family does not change with you. My family has a long way to go too. You start, show others it can be done and then they’ll join in.

My Universal Cleanser: Soapnut

On the course of this waste less journey, one surprising lesson has been that my kitchen almost has everything I need to change my beauty regime. Most edible stuff on the pantry shelf can be used as a harmless substitute for store-bought cosmetics. And with a little effort, a little planning and a lot of getting used to, you could be generating lesser waste.

Before I share mixing proportions and recipes to create alternatives for soaps and shampoos, I thought I’d first introduce the three things that changed my daily routine – Soapnut, Coconut Oil, and Lemon. We’ll tackle the latter two in subsequent posts.

SOAPNUT / REETHA / ARITHA (Fondly called Rita by my supplier in Panjim Market)

Till 6 months ago, I had never heard of Soapnut. Soap and nut separately, yes. But together? Never. I didn’t grow up in India and so I’ve never had a soapnut plant in my garden or ever encountered the berry in my life. Last year, after a whole week of washing dishes, I noticed that the skin on my fingers was peeling off. A quick internet search indicated that my dishwashing liquid was to blame. I then typed in “dishwashing alternatives”. And Google introduced me to the humble soapnut.

I am not an expert on reetha and if you would like to know more about the scientific properties, I suggest you read up on the subject. But what I do know is that soapnut pulp contains the compound of saponin, which has natural cleansing properties, and therefore the soapnut can be used as a cleanser for hair, skin, and clothing. Next month, I’ll share how I use this ingredient around the house but for now, let’s focus on how to clean our body.

Soap nut liquid which is a mixture of soap nuts boiled in water is the base for all other recipes and we start with learning how to make the liquid. After many trials, I found the best method and additional tidbits on Crunchy Betty which I suggest that you refer to as well.

Soap Nuts Liquid Recipe

Image Source: www.crunchybetty.com
  • 15-20 soap nuts
  • 6 cups of water (plus 3 more as you’re boiling)
  • Sterilized container to hold the liquid

Method: Soak the soapnuts overnight in 6 cups of water. Next morning, boil for about 20 minutes. Add another cup of water. Boil for 10 minutes. Add another 2 cups of water and boil again for 10 minutes. Strain the nuts from the liquid and store in the sterilized container. It’s best to store the straight liquid in the refrigerator, as it will turn rancid after a while. Keeps in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. The leftover soapnuts can be used repeatedly to make a diluted detergent liquid till only the nut in the center remains.


  • Shampoo
  • Dandruff Treatment
  • Face Cleanser
  • Body Wash
  • Foot Wash
  • Shaving Cream


  1. Soapnuts don’t lather. In fact, even commercially bought soaps don’t have to.
  2. Soapnut liquid will sting your eyes if you’re not careful, so if you’re washing your face or hair with it, remember to keep your eyes closed. Be extra careful when using it for children.
  3. Soapnut liquid does not taste good (and it could make your stomach hurt if you ingest too much), so keep your mouth closed while doing the aforementioned things, too.
  4. Soapnut liquid does spoil. If you don’t want to make it frequently, freeze the liquid in ice cube trays.


Markets. Shops that sell religious stuff. My source is a vendor opposite the shop of Tukaram Salkar in Panaji Municipal Market. Ask him for Rita. It is sold at Rs 120 for 1 kilogram (Jan 2019 rate).

If you’d like to grow your own soap nut tree, you can but it takes about 9 years to start producing fruit. So start planting.

Week 3: Daily ingredients to keep the waste away

Take a minute to think about what all you did today – from waking up to showering to getting ready for work. Now think of all the products that aided you in these processes.

Soap – Body wash – Shampoo – Conditioner – Deodorant – Face Wash – Toner – Scrub – Moisturiser – Body Lotion – Sunscreen – Hand wash

It is SO convenient to go to a shop and take these off the shelf, right? And we purchase these daily routine essentials multiple times in a year. We never stop to think that each of these comes with at least one layer of disposable plastic that goes straight into our trash bin. Some even have additional layers of packaging.

For argument’s sake, let’s say all the used containers end up in recycling facilities. Then, technically, no waste is generated. Right? Wrong.

When we use manufactured products to shower or wash our selves, we are contributing to pollution. Wastewater mixed with chemicals go down our drains and are let out, untreated, into water bodies thereby polluting the surface water. A part of it percolates into the ground and contaminates the groundwater as well.

Illustrations by Nikki Burch.
See the entire infographic at Grist.org

But should we be bothered about this?
Yes, because the food that we put INSIDE our bodies comes from the land (or the water). And our unrestricted use of synthetic products is contaminating our own food source.

What can we do about this?

  1. Be willing to change.
  2. Buy products that won’t pollute or leave any waste.
  3. Dedicate (a little) time to make our own products. Trust me, it’s fun.
  4. Share our recipes and sources with others.


Essentially understand that the three main functions of daily routine products is to clean, condition (mostly retain texture and moisture) and smell good. Surprisingly, your home has most of the stuff needed to make sure this can be achieved.

This week, let’s have some fun and play around with ingredients found in the kitchen or garden. Let’s MOO (Make Our Own).

Throughout the week, I’ll share basic recipe combinations that can help replace the cosmetics in your house. Since all of these recipes are DIY trial and error experiments, do not give up if your first attempt is not satisfactory. Add a little bit of something, reduce something else and you will get your desired formula. Also, everyone has different skin and hair type. So I recommend understanding what your needs are and what ingredients would suit you the best.


  • Soapnut (Reetha)
  • Chickpea flour (Besan)
  • Green gram flour
  • Multani Mitti
  • Baking Soda
  • Fenugreek (Methi)


  • Coconut Oil
  • Shikhakai
  • Amla
  • Aloe Vera
  • Cream
  • Egg White
  • Milk Cream
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Henna (Mehendi)


  • Citrus Peels
  • Fruit Discards
  • Rose Petals
  • Essential Oils

Already ditched commercial brands?

  • Gift someone an alternative.
  • Share your MOO recipes. 
  • Share your experiences, challenges, success stories such that others can learn and make the change as well.
  • Provide sources for DIY recipes or buyers to make it easy for people to transition.

Remember, Minimise First. Eliminate later.

If you have a recipe to share, send it to us. 
Inspire others. Share your stories via email or post it on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #wastelessproject

One last thing…

Have fun M(aking) O(ur) O(wn).

Waste less menstruation

This post is taken verbatim from the Zero Waste Lifestyle – India Facebook Forum. Please join the group to learn more on moving to a waste less lifestyle.

Post written by Deepa, Admin, Zero Waste Lifestyle – India

Menstrual Waste is that unspoken waste which no one wants to discuss.

For the last 23 years i have used both sanitary napkins and tampons. I was never aware of the harm it was causing to my body and the environment. I got lucky and was introduced to the deep cons of using a tampon and how to have a green period. I did some quick research and calculations hence the switch to a mooncup and cloth panty liners was very easy.

Mental math:
Number of periods per year from age 11- 34?
23 years X 12 months= 276 total number of periods

Number of sanitary napkins used till now?
15 sanitary napkins per period x 12 months x 10 years of sanitary napkin use= 1800 sanitary napkins

How long would my sanitary napkins take to decompose?
It would take more than 900,000 years as each takes 500- 800 years to decompose

Number of tampons used till now?
15 tampons per period x 12 months x 13 years of tampon use= 2340 tampons

How long would my tampons take to decompose?
It would take 1170 years as each tampon takes 6 months to decompose

Number of periods I am going to have before i hit menopause?
12 periods a year x 10 years= 120 periods i.e 1800 tampons

How many years of tampon waste would i save from the over flowing land fill? = 900 years of waste

Image Source: Green Humour


1. How are sanitary napkins/ tampons harmful to your body?

Most tampons and pads contain surfactants, adhesives and additives. Most pads contain polyethylene plastic whose production is a pollutant. Traces of dioxin (a known carcinogen) and the synthetic fiber rayon are also found in tampons. Dioxin is a by-product of the bleaching process in the manufacturing of tampons and the synthetic fiber rayon can leave residue in the vaginal wall, leading to possible risk of infection and overall discomfort. That’s a bunch of stuff you don’t want near or inside your body!

The Secret Life of Tampons

Meet the model who lost her leg to toxic shock syndrome

2. Why should we have a green period?
To protect yourself and the environment from various toxins that our current menstrual protection habit generate. When we dump tampons and pads in the landfills, many of these substances can leach into the environment (groundwater, streams and lakes) causing serious pollution and health concerns.

Why are we pretending that there isn’t a growing mountain of menstrual waste we need to deal with?

3. How much does it cost?
Washable panty liners: A pack of 3 pieces for Rs 340
Washable Day Pad: 1 pad for Rs 240
Washable Day Pad plus: 1 pad for Rs 260
Washable Night Pad: 1 pad for Rs 260
Mooncup: Rs 2800, free shipping

4. How much do you save?
Apart from adopting menstrual practices that are healthier for us and our earth, switching to these is also cost effective.

Washable pad/ panty liner lasts at-least 5 years
You save: Minimum Rs 255 a year and help to keep away minimum 60 panty liners away from the land fill, which takes 500 years each to decompose.

Washable panty liners last at least 5 years
You save: Minimum Rs 1320 per year and help to keep away minimum 240 pads/ tampons away from the land fill, which take at least 500 years/ 6 months each to decompose.

Moon cup lasts at-least 10 years
You save: Minimum Rs 1320 per year and help to keep away minimum 240 tampons away from the land fill, which take 6 months each to decompose.

5.Where to buy?
Ecofemme (also available with Dhairyansh Green in Goa)
Cup Women Goa
Boondh Cup

Interesting Read: Review of Boondh Cup

DIY Toothpaste Experiment

Spare a minute today to look at the ingredients on your toothpaste tube. Any of them sound familiar? I looked up the ingredients on my tube and found some contradicting opinions.

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) causes canker sores for many people.
  • Artificial colourings are linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children. Toothpaste does not need to be blue or red!
  • Fluoride can be toxic if swallowed. But other sources claimed that fluoride prevents decay.
  • Titanium dioxide is added to make a toothpaste white. 
  • Glycerin isn’t toxic, but ideally has no place in the mouth as it’s a soap that strips your body’s natural oral mucosa and leaves a film that coats the teeth. This messes with the structure of the biofilm which could alter the microbiome in the mouth.

Maybe you don’t care about the ingredients of your toothpaste. What about the packaging? The outer cardboard box claims to be recyclable (I have my doubts with all the printing and heavy lamination). But the tube is very difficult or impossible to recycle and will most likely end up in a landfill. Since there wasn’t a single brand that solved the waste problem, I decided to try the next possible solution – make my own toothpaste.

Easy 3-ingredient Toothpaste

Easy toothpaste: 2 tbsp coconut oil + 1 tbsp Baking Soda + 20 drops of peppermint oil
Image Source: http://www.trashisfortossers.com

The easiest, three-ingredient recipe that popped up online was a mixture of baking soda, organic coconut oil, and organic peppermint oil. While this was a good alternative, it couldn’t be my regular solution. Finding packaging-friendly baking soda and peppermint oil was not easy. What I needed was an option that I could whip up at home in 5 minutes and store.

DIY Waste Less Toothpowder / paste

Sangeetha Sriram has a great recipe and tips on her blog. I have tweaked it to create a tooth powder version that suits me.

  • Dry Guava Leaf Powder – 3 tsp
  • Sea Salt – 3 tsp
  • Clove – 1 tsp
  • Cardamom – 1/2 tsp 
  • Cinnamon – 1/2 tsp
  • Dry Mint Leaf Powder – 1 tsp or to taste
  • Fennel – 1/2 tsp
  • Star Anise – 1/4 tsp
  • Organic Coconut Oil (if you want paste) – 4-5 drops

Powder each dry ingredient separately (Or together if you have a spice grinder). Mix the powders, sieve, and store. To be used like a toothpowder. For paste-like consistency, add a few drops of coconut oil. Note:

  • Rinse and dry the leaves before you powder them.
  • Guava leaf can be replaced with neem (bitter) or mango leaves. I get mine from my mom’s garden. If you don’t have access to the leaves, ask a neighbour or a colleague or a friend or participants of the Waste Less Project.
  • I buy salt from municipal markets.
  • Ask your parents or grandparents for other ingredients that can be added to the mix.
  • Check out Nature’s Nurture for some additional recipe ideas.

One last thing. You are attempting to undo a habit that you have practiced all your life. The change won’t happen overnight. In the beginning, try using this powder twice a week. Then increase the frequency as per your comfort and adaptability.

Don’t have time to make your own?

Buy Bare Necessities Peppermint Party Toothpaste OR Paakshaantara Zero Waste Dentrifice by The Happy Turtle.

Transitioning to Waste Less Toothbrush Alternatives

An individual’s day begins with a toothbrush. It also happens to be one of the most taken-for-granted necessities of our life. In this post, I explain this quintessential product and alternatives that are producing lesser waste.

Short of time to read the whole post? Skip to the ‘Bottom Line’.

STEP 1: Understand a toothbrush.

A human adult would require to replace their brush every 3 months when used twice a day. Buying a toothbrush comprises of essentially purchasing three components – the handle, the bristles, and the packaging. Before you purchase your next brush (standard commercial variety or eco-friendly alternative), consider the disposal of all three components.

A standard brush is mostly synthetic plastic (usually nylon – http://www.designlife-cycle.com/plastic-toothbrush). The material used for packaging is cardboard (recyclable) usually with a piece of plastic (no mention of recyclability).

Bamboo brush types

Handles: Most options provide either bamboo or sustainably harvested wood handles. Some do not mention the actual material but claim to be 100% bio-degradable. 

Bristles: This is the tricky component in a toothbrush. Currently, there are four plant-based versions available:

  • Nylon 4 or Nylon 6 are petroleum-based plastic that has been shown in lab studies to biodegrade in the environment under certain conditions. This means once you are done with your toothbrush, you have to pull out the bristles using pliers and discard them into the recycle bin. NEVER ADD THIS TO YOUR COMPOST.
  • Bamboo / Corn-fibre – There isn’t enough information on this material composition. So I can only suggest a simple ‘burn test’. When you burn these bristles, if they melt, they have plastic. If they only burn (like a matchstick), they have zero or little plastic.
  • Charcoal infused or activated – The bristles are mostly nylon but activated with charcoal. Again, these have to be disposed of separately.
  • Plant-based – These are manufactured by Brush with Bamboo and are composed of 62% Castor Bean Oil and 38% nylon. Read more about these on https://www.brushwithbamboo.com/about-the-brush.

Packaging: The material used for packaging varies from product to product such as 100% unbleached cotton pouch, recycled paper, compostable wrapper made from plants or 100% paper.

STEP 2: Know other options

Datun is a tooth cleaning twig. One end of the twig is chewed on until frayed and this end is then used to brush the teeth. The other end can be sharpened slightly to remove food wedged in between the teeth. The used end of the twig can be chopped off to create a new end until the twig diminishes in length. Toothpaste is not required while using such twigs.

Teeth cleaning twigs can be obtained from a variety of tree species. The most common trees in India are neem and babool (kikar). If you plant a neem tree in your house, you will be able to source twigs off it in about two years. To choose a stem, look for one that is not too tender but not too brittle either. Once you use the twig, chew off the used end and place it in a glass of water. This way the same twig can be used for about 7-10 days.

Meswak is a twig made from the Salvadora persica tree. Its use is similar to the neem mentioned above. These can be found in shops selling herbal medicines and cost about twenty rupees. 

Tip: Make the switch to twigs gradually. Use once – twice a week along with your regular routine and gradually increase the frequency.

Index Finger is the finger right next to the thumb. Put some toothpaste or tooth powder on your index finger and rub this against your teeth in a circular motion. Rinse and repeat if you are not satisfied.

Image Source: Stocksy United

STEP 3: Compare your options

STEP 4: Make your choice

Ask yourself:

  • Do you really need a toothbrush?
  • Can you change your current habit?
  • How much are you willing to spend? 
  • How much waste do you want to generate?


There is no such thing as a perfect toothbrush.

Most alternatives replace the plastic handle with bamboo or sustainable wood sources that are compostable. The bristles are predominantly made of Nylon 4 and these have to be removed using pliers from the bamboo brushes and disposed of for recycling. Bio-degradable packaging is provided by most brands producing bamboo brushes. So while the bamboo toothbrush is not a 100% waste less, it is a better alternative to the plastic ones. The 100% compostable options are using twigs of trees such as neem, babool or meswak. Of course, the cheapest and most eco-friendly option is to simply use your index finger.


I came across BPA-free brushes. What is BPA?                                          

BPA is Bisphenol A and is found in the hard plastic bottles many people use every day.

Are BPA-free toothbrushes good?

I cannot comment as I am not an expert on the subject. I generally follow this rule – If the material can be eaten, it is ok to be used on the body. So, please read more on the subject yourself before deciding.

I care about the environment but the bamboo toothbrushes are expensive.

Yes. In comparison to commercial, easy to produce plastic ones, definitely. I suppose growing bamboo, harvesting it, transforming it into recognisable toothbrush shapes, packaging and marketing take a bit of an effort. If used and cared for properly, one person needs 4 in a year. That is about 1000 rupees (2019) a year

Still not convinced, just use your finger.