Long before sustainability and minimalism became a fad, our mothers and grandmothers have unknowingly incorporated these principles into their daily lives. Growing up in a middle-class family, it was not uncommon to see an old nightdress being used to dust the house or the remaining aloo sabji from lunch transformed into a mouth-watering aloo bonda for dinner.
One of the central ideas of sustainability is the efficient use of scarce resources and no one does this better than an Indian mother. While shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle is often associated with higher costs this is not necessarily true. Following traditional practices passed down through the generations can easily help us make a difference to the planet as well to our health, all the while saving money.
Here are some everyday hacks for a more sustainable lifestyle that are ‘mom approved’!
Versatile milk packets
If you ever thought a milk packet could only be used once and thrown into the bin after its contents were poured out, you were wrong. Milk packets can be washed clean, dried and used for a number of hacks.
These packets can be used to prevent oil spills at home by using them as coasters or while packing your lunch bag, you can use them to prevent oil leakage from ruining your bag.
These packets can also be used as a carry bag. “Instead of throwing away the milk packets my mother would clean them and take them along with her to the fish market. Instead of asking for more plastics from the fisherwomen, she would simply ask them to place the catch in the milk packets,” says Anjali from Pune.
Old clothes rejuvenated
We tend to buy new things and discard old items without thinking about where these will ultimately land up. According to the Indian Textile Journal, in India, more than 1 million tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfills every year. Nisha Dagar shares how the women of her village in Palwal District of Haryana, including her grandmother, would cut strips of old clothes and tie them together to make a long rope. They then knit the fabric or crochet it to make carpets and mats.
That’s a wrap!
“At the start of every academic year, I remember my mother wrapping our school books in an old newspaper. They were available in plenty so why spend money on buying new paper when we can use what we have. This was my mothers logic,” says Aishani, a 22-year-old law student.
Old newspapers can be used to wrap gifts too, giving it a quirky look as well as doing away with gift wrapping paper which is often unsustainable because of the material they’re made up of.
Rohini Krishnamoorthy, a 58-year-old doctor from Bengaluru, uses old newspapers along with a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the windows and mirrors. The soiled newspaper can then be mixed with food waste and turned to compost.
Organic food for your plants
Cracked eggshells, banana peels, vegetable peels and tea leaves crowd household waste bins. What may seem like a waste to the common eye, however, serves as rich manure for plants. “Before, I would throw away the wet waste that accumulated daily. But during the lockdown when my mother came to live with me, she insisted I start taking the waste out to the garden in my building. So, what was once waste is now organic manure,” shares Nandini Gupta, a 23-year-old resident of Hyderabad.
Disposable areca leaf plates
Single-use plastic while serving food comes from dining cutlery like plastic plates, spoons and forks that are adding to the plastic waste generated in India. Arecanut leaves however provide an eco-friendly solution.
Deepa Padmar, 22, who lives in Mangalore, Karnataka, shares her 70-year-old grandmother’s hacks. “My ajji (grandmother) uses the leaves from the arecanut tree for making plates or packing food. The leaves that are naturally discarded are collected from the forest floor and can be made into durable eco-friendly plates without harming the trees,” she says. The areca tree, commonly known as the betel nut palm, are tall palms that can be found abundantly in hilly regions of South India. They can easily be grown indoors.
Churning cream into butter
Padma Pandit, an 86-year-old grandmother, has a simple recipe for homemade butter. The excess cream that forms while boiling milk can easily be made into rich delicious butter.
She tells me how collecting the bubbling cream from the milk every day and storing it in the fridge or freezer and repeating the process every day, for about ten days, will result in a bowl of butter at the end.
Upcycle old denim into bags
Before upcycling became the buzz word of the fashion industry, Indian households have been recycling old fabric to make items ranging from blankets to carpets to bags. The next time you think of spending thousands of rupees on a new bag, dig deep into your wardrobe, find a pair of old jeans and make yourself a trendy denim bag instead. “My grandmother would turn my old denim into grocery bags,” says Gopi Karelia from Mumbai.
A homemade healing salve
Before modern research-backed the medicinal properties of aloe it was used as home remedies for many maladies in Indian homes. Mixing melted candle wax along with a spoonful of aloe vera gel and coconut oil will give you a paste that serves the same purpose as any modern foot cream.
“My mother used to have cracked feet as do I. We come from a small village in central Karnataka where we didn’t have any ‘Krack’ cream. So she tried out this mixture, which is a common folk remedy from back in the day. She’d melt a candle, add a spoonful of aloe vera gel and some coconut oil. This ointment when applied to the feet helps them go from painful to smooth soles,” shares 66-year-old Mahalaxmi Hegde from Bengaluru.
Choose to reuse plastic
A common sight in Indian households is to see plastic containers being used as pots for plants or storage containers for coffee, pulses or flour. Sushma Muniraj, an engineer from Bengaluru, says, “At home, my mother never discards the plastic containers that we get along with our food deliveries. She always cleans it and keeps it aside so that we can use it to store our spices.” So, before discarding the takeout containers think about what your mother would do.
The nine lives of saris
Your mother’s old saris can be turned into skirts, dresses or even blankets. Sanjana Lal, 22, shares how her mother would take three old saris and stitch them together to make a quilt.
“When we didn’t need the quilt in summer we would use it as a rug or a fashionable throw to decorate the house,” says Sanjana.
Clothes, containers and other common household items probably have nine lives in Indian homes. It is up to us to think twice before absent-mindedly discarding them.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)