Plastic waste

This Mumbai teacher is heralding eco-friendly initiatives for a greener India

In an exclusive conversation with Soulveda, Sagar Singh, the co-founder of Going Zero, a platform that encourages plastic-free, cruelty-free and chemical-free, vegan, zero-waste products, talks about his journey, the challenges he’s faced and what drives him to do the work he does.

Most of us are aware of the harmful effects of plastic bags but we still use them on a daily basis. It’s not like there’s a dearth of alternatives. We can carry a jute or a cloth bag when we are out shopping. Yet, we ask for plastic bags from vendors and shopkeepers. Once we have used the plastic bags, we dump them in the dustbins or throw them on the streets. That’s why, no matter where we go, plastic waste is one of the most disgusting yet ubiquitous sights across the country.

In India, as much as 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2018-19, according to a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report. This is roughly translated to 9,200 tonnes a day. These numbers are scary and call for urgent action to counter these environmental threats. But achieving a greener planet is our collective responsibility, and we can’t expect a sweeping change unless we start getting involved ourselves. But some individuals are consciously taking the responsibility of conserving the environment. One among them is Sagar Singh, a 28-year-old social science teacher from Mumbai. His initiative, Going Zero encourages plastic-free, cruelty-free and chemical-free, vegan, zero-waste products. “It is a platform where the small businesses, especially the eco-friendly ones get an opportunity (to showcase their products). But at the same time, what I am doing is eliminating plastic,” Singh claims.

He is also the founder of Eco Warriors India, a community working to conserve the environment. They strive to make their city greener and plastic-free by organising beach clean-up drives, tree plantation campaigns and initiating other water conservation projects. “When you have a lot of people around you supporting the cause you have undertaken, it leads to a domino effect,” Singh says.

In an exclusive conversation with Soulveda, Singh talks about his journey, the challenges he has faced, and what drives him to continue working for the environment.

You are involved in many environmental causes such as planting trees, organising clean-up drives, water conservation and climate change. What motivates you to do this work?

Motivation comes directly when you realise we are all connected to the same web of life. Being a social science teacher, what I do is very small when you look at the bigger picture. Think about it. By 2025 India would be the most populated country in the world. Now, the country needs a conscious population: people who are aware of what’s happening around them.

Among these causes, what are you most passionate about?

I want to touch people’s lives through my words and actions. I believe that everything is interlinked. Let’s say when I talk about water conservation, people only see one perspective, which is saving water. But it is inter-connected. Many people are going to get affected if there is no water. For example, farmers won’t be able to grow crops without it.

Currently, I am focussing on (plastic) waste. I promised myself that plastic is the one area that I wanted to focus on because most of the oxygen that we breathe comes from the ocean. Now plastic waste is being released into our oceans and seas, killing planktons. They are plant-like organisms that produce oxygen.

India’s plastic waste crisis is a massive environmental challenge. What are your suggestions for tackling this issue?

Plastic is being thrown in the rivers, where it will never decompose. Then it will break down and turn into microplastic and comes back into our food chain. Plastic is a major threat to the collapsing ecosystem. And we have no idea (how to get rid of it).

My dream is to make at least one zero-waste ward (in Mumbai), where we can convert wet waste into compost. I am focussing on the D-ward in the South of Mumbai. That comprises many conscious and educated people. So, it is easy to make them understand. Once one ward in Mumbai becomes zero-waste, automatically others will follow.

Convincing people to be responsible for the environment isn’t easy. How do you encourage them to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle?

Through my community, I try to plant seeds of consciousness in people’s minds. For example, I organise short clean-up trip drives intending to make them aware of environmental issues. Usually, I conduct treks near the Western Ghats. I try and teach people how to identify plants. I also conduct forest bathing and grounding events. It is more like eco-tourism and once we are back from the trek, we collect plastic garbage wherever we go.

How does adopting a minimalistic lifestyle benefit the environment?

Minimalism is nothing but prioritising your needs over your wants. I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t buy anything. But you should know why you are buying things. For example, the phone that you use will be out of date after 3-4 years. What do you do then, you throw it away or put it for recycle (and buy a new one). Eventually, it goes to the landfill. This is a whole cycle (that goes on and on). So, it is important to know about your needs.

Tell us how India’s youth can be more involved in environmental causes?

When you change an individual, society also changes. An individual has to take care of themselves. If you are not taking care of yourself, there is something wrong with you. How do you fix that? Start with deleting all the external voices. Some people will tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. But in truth, they themselves have no idea about it. Delete them and listen to that little voice inside, which knows what’s right and wrong.

  • Sagar Singh is a social science teacher and an environmentalist based out of Mumbai. He is the co-founder of Going Zero, an e-commerce store that aims to provide a conscious, eco-friendly alternative to people who opt for a zero-waste lifestyle, and the founder of Eco Warriors India, a community of like-minded individuals who are working to conserve the environment. Currently, he is pursuing MSc in Environmental Science and Technology from Institute of Environment Science BVP deemed University.

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