Engineer-turned-illustrator Shubhashree Sangameswaran feels that we shouldn’t wait for the government to take the initiative to ban plastic. Personally, she has been actively cutting down on waste, especially plastics, in the last few years. Her instagram account The Hungry Palette (@thehungrypalette) has several tips and flow charts to help others follow suit.
In 2018, Shubhashree brought out a handbook Let’s Talk Trash (available on https://www.thehungrypalette.com), with a collection of her illustrations on what can be done to move towards zero waste lifestyle. She’s recently followed it up with Let’s Talk Trash: The Kids’ Activity Book , extending the same concept. In this book are illustrations to teach toddlers a few basics — what are landfills, the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable, wet and dry waste — and fun activities like a board game titled ‘Are you a waste warrior?’. In this game a player has to go back a few steps if he/she litters the path, and gets extra credit and can move forward for carrying their own cutlery, and so on.
- Use newspapers instead of shiny plastic gift wrappers.
- Switch to cloth diapers for infants.
- Use completely biodegradable sanitary napkins or better still, a menstrual cup.
- Say no to straws.
- While travelling, carry your own cutlery, hand towels, and a water bottle.
- At an ice cream parlour, ask for a cone instead of a disposable cup.
- Store-bought idli and dosa batters might be time savers but they come in plastic packaging. Make the batter at home.
- Get a compost bin to process the kitchen wet waste.
Catch them young
Her four-year-old daughter Amaya was the motivation for Shubhashree to work on an activity book. “My daughter knows that I’ve come out with these two books and she calls out when someone brings home a plastic bag,” says Shubhashree. Starting young, she feels, will not only make children more eco-conscious but will also force everyone around them to think on similar lines.
Bengaluru-born Shubhashree had initially wanted to study arts. But the IT boom in 2000 pushed her towards engineering. She went on to work in different organisations and art took a backseat. Years later, she and her friend took up a 100-day sketching project after Amaya was born. Back then, she eagerly looked forward to the end of the day when she could put pen to paper. Then, she and her husband moved to Hyderabad and she took a break from work for a few months. Eventually, her twin interests in illustrations and an eco-conscious lifestyle led to Let’s Talk Trash when she read about The Sketchbook Project, a global art project that displays sketchbooks from around the world at The Brooklyn Arts Library. She completed her sketchbook, sent it to them, and also posted a few illustrations on Instagram. The positive response on Instagram led her to print more copies and make the books available through her website.
On Instagram, her illustrations elicit an enthusiastic dialogue with followers chipping in with personal experiences of minimising plastic waste and suggesting alternatives. “It feels good when people who’ve read the book or follow my illustrations tell me that they think twice before buying things packaged in plastic,” says Shubhashree.
Minimise, if you can’t eliminate
Having been on the journey of minimising wastage, Shubhashree acknowledges that a zero plastic lifestyle isn’t easy. Certainly the non-essentials can be cut down. For instance, she refrains from buying packets of chips and biscuits. But how do you work around essentials such as groceries that come pre-packaged in plastic? “Unless we find stores that allow us to carry our own dabbas , we should at least ensure that the plastics are given away to waste management agencies that will recycle them,” says Shubhashree.
Plastic waste is only one part of waste management. Shubhashree is quite particular about not using disposable paper plates, cups, and tissue rolls. Steel cutlery and good-old handkerchiefs are her preferred alternatives. She looks back at the lifestyles led by her mother and her grandmother. She remembers the time when milk was bought in cans or glass bottles. Groceries came wrapped in paper and oil in reusable, non-plastic containers. Growing up in a middle-class household in the 80s, very little was thrown away, she recalls. All that has helped her incorporate lifestyle changes.
Her new illustrations on Instagram touch upon valuing food on the plate. The purpose is to make children understand where their food comes from so that they don’t waste it. Like they say, every small step counts.
(Planet Healers celebrates eco-conscious initiatives. If you know an eco-warrior, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org)