Adhering to a zero-waste lifestyle is no picnic. It requires meticulous focus, sacrifice and consistency. But Kolkata’s Lata Bhatia disagrees. Living the zero-waste way for the past five years, the 57-year-old green warrior now wishes to popularise the concept in the City of Joy.
With this vision, she has launched Kolkata’s first zero-waste shop last month – a one-stop-shop for the city’s sustainable needs and alternatives.
Amid the plummeting Air Quality Index (AQI) and mounting waste in landfills, Kolkata Zero Waste Bazaar in New Alipore offers a breath of fresh air to any visitor that steps in. With everything eco-friendly, organic, upcycled and recycled material under one roof, the quaint and cosy store is rapidly becoming the conscious citizens’ preference over glitzy supermarkets.
Over the past decade, Kolkata has time and again dominated the headlines for its unplanned waste management and aggravating pollution. Obnoxious heaps of waste increasingly intercepted tree-lined avenues or picture-perfect house fronts. Green initiatives were being undertaken just by individuals or non-profit entities, but it was not nearly enough to deal with the escalating problem.
Her first step towards going zero-waste
“Everywhere I looked, I could see waste and littering. It bothered me deeply. Not only was it an inconvenience for the inhabitants, but it was aesthetically repelling also,” recalls Bhatia, who officially entered the zero-waste field in 2016.
Her first step towards sustainability was composting at home. “Once I perfected the habit, I started convincing my acquaintances to start the same at their homes. It is a tiny step, but it goes a long way in reducing the waste burden on the city,” she shares.
To take her sustainable efforts a notch higher, Bhatia also started an organisation called ‘Green Legion’ – dedicated to cleaning and greening Kolkata. Along with a team of green environment enthusiasts like herself, she schooled both adults and children about the A to Z of a leading an eco-friendly living.
“Not everyone is as passionate as I am. Some of them still fail to understand the need for greener living, even at the helm of a climate emergency. But I am content even if I am making a little dent in the society,” asserts Bhatia.
How the idea of Zero Waste Bazaar came along
After achieving success in composting, afforestation and raising awareness, Bhatia started carrying her own zero-waste kit everywhere. She admits that it also helped her lead a healthier lifestyle.
“Now that I was practising it myself, I was finally able to provide answers to people’s recurring queries about sustainability. That’s when I figured that many willing individuals are unable to embark on their sustainable journey simply because of the scarcity of such products. There is not one store in Kolkata that dedicatedly sells only sustainable products,” Bhatia shares.
After two years’ worth of careful planning and preparation, Kolkata Zero Waste Bazaar opened its door for the public on 13 October 2019. And within a month, the popularity is catching up among conscious buyers.
Everything eco-friendly under one roof
Bhatia’s shop houses an extensive range of daily use items – from grocery staples or upcycled home decor. As one steps inside, one can spot foodgrains stored in traditional glass boyam (jars); steel, bamboo and wooden cutlery & kitchen essentials carefully assorted on the shelves; traditional household items like natural loofah, copper bottles etc.
Every inch of the store exudes the essence of sustainability. Her stationery items made of recycled paper, seed and wood, are among the bestsellers. She also sells the A to Z of sustainable sanitary hygiene products – from cloth sanitary napkins and diapers to menstrual cups.
Anu Ahuja, a school teacher and a mother, has made the store her regular grocery destination. “Their collection is amazing. And the prices are really cheap, compared to other organic sellers. I buy all my rice, pulses, spices everything from their shop. One of my favourite products is their paper pens and pencils. My kids will do all their homework with these,” she laughs, adding how visiting the store is inculcating the zero-waste concept in her kids’ minds as well.
Another prime attraction of Bhatia’s store is the upcycled section. She sources discarded fabrics from local boutiques and cloth shops, which are later turned into bags, pouches, keychains, bandarwals, wall hangings and a horde of other decor items. Women from lower-income families are the creators behind these beautifully crafted products.
Bhatia plans to expand her store by including organically harvested vegetables and fruits as well, by working in direct collaboration with the grassroots level farmers.
Baby steps towards inspiring the citizens
Piya Deb Roy, the store manager at Zero Waste Bazaar, feels elated to have landed the opportunity to work at such a unique venture. “It is not easy to go completely zero-waste overnight, but I have always been trying little by little. After coming here, I am learning a lot from Lata Ma’am. Now I tell all my friends to go the zero-waste way!”
“We are taking baby steps right now towards the future. The response has been satisfying so far. And then again, it’s not easy to change people’s mindset in a day. So we’ll have to propagate the idea with our own actions and lifestyles,” asserts Bhatia.
She aims to do away with the stereotype that sustainability comes with an exorbitant price tag. She doesn’t want her store to cater to an elitist section of consumers or be a luxury, which is why the prices are really affordable at her shop, unlike other organic stores.
“At the same time, I do not want my store to be the sole zero-waste outlet in Kolkata; that people are travelling 20 km to come here and adding to the carbon footprint. That negates the whole purpose of the store. So I wish to create more branches of my store across the city soon. Till then, I would continue to influence and inspire people about the need to go eco-friendly.”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)