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Sustainability Lessons We Can Learn From Our Grandparents

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Written by: Susanna Cherian

We could all learn a lot from our grandparents’ generation about green living. ‘Organic’ and ‘sustainable’ might be buzzwords today, but they have been following these principles in their daily lives since long before, without resorting to fancy terms. Today, plastic permeates every sphere of our lives, and we have more clothes in our closet than we need. Where do these things go when they have served their purpose? Into a landfill, most likely. Is this convenience something worth destroying our planet over?

Image has been provided by the author.

It’s true that our grandparents lived in much simpler times and didn’t have access to the many luxuries we enjoy today. Plastic bags didn’t even become popular until the 1960s, and before then, frugality was the order of the day for most countries that were recovering from the damages of war. People learned to make the most of what they had, and needless to say, those old-fashioned methods of running a household are worth taking note of. Here are a few practices followed by our elders that we hope will inspire you to make lifestyle choices that are more minimalist and eco-friendly.

1. Recreate Grandma’s Magical Box

You don’t need to be an expert at sewing to fix a button, patch a hole or mend a seam. Image Source: Unsplash

You might remember a box your grandmother clung on to very dearly — her sewing box. Filled with a collection of colourful threads, buttons in an assortment of shapes and sizes, a measuring tape, needles and other tailoring bits and bobs, this box would be brought out every time there was some mending to be done.

The next time you find an opened seam or a missing button, fix it instead of buying new clothes. You don’t need to be an expert at sewing, but a needle and thread (and learning a few types of stitches) can bring your clothes back to life. If you’re adept at sewing, you could take another tip from grandma and turn old clothing like saris into colorful embroidered purses, pillow cases or patchwork quilts. Another thing you can make that will protect you during this pandemic? A cloth mask!

2. Cook More, Order Less

Try recipes that are easy to put together and cook meals at home. Image Source: Pixabay

Back in the day, families would bond over home-cooked meals and potlucks made from scratch. But today, we are eating out (and ordering in) more often than we ever have, and what we don’t realise is that our need for convenience comes at a huge cost to our environment. Start moving away from old habits with these tips: make weekly grocery trips; plan a menu for the week ahead; find recipes for one-pot dishes that are easy to put together; cook a lot and freeze the extra. If you have to order in, ask the restaurant to exclude extras such as plastic cutlery, straws or ketchup sachets. If the restaurant isn’t too far away, you can carry your own containers to collect the food. Alternatively, you can support eateries that use sustainable packaging.

3. Get Creative With Food Waste

Wash and crush eggshells and sprinkle them over plant soil to tackle crawling pests. Image Source: Unsplash

Instead of tossing out food scraps, our grandmother would often be repurpose them into new dishes — turning stale bread into bread pudding, or veggie peels into a delicious broth. And if you have a home garden (or decide to start one), using kitchen waste can earn you healthy plants!

Wash and crush eggshells and sprinkle them over plant soil to tackle crawling pests. You can make optimal use of garbage from your bins by learning the art of composting. You can add in vegetable and fruit peels, tea bags or dried leaves and even leftover eggshells — a great source of calcium — to your compost to create fertile soil and see your plants flourish.

4. Befriend Your Neighbourhood Favourites

Find repair shops in your neighbourhood that can mend broken items such as watches, shoes, electrical appliances. Image Source: Flickr

While today, we don’t think twice before buying a new watch when the one we own breaks, our grandparents would get the most use out of their accessories. They would buy for durability, choosing a more expensive, quality product that would last longer than multiple cheap versions. That said, whether it is a broken watch, umbrella or shoe, you are bound to find repair shops in your neighbourhood that will mend these items for you at minimal cost.

When it comes to non-functioning electrical appliances and gadgets, too, it is best to check with the store where the purchase was made if they offer repairs. They might be able to fix the issue or replace a faulty part, saving you the money you would have spent upgrading to a new appliance or device.

5. Gift Sensibly

Attempt a DIY gift and wrap it in sustainable packaging. Image Source: Pexels

Gifting plays an important role in our culture. For the next special occasion, try and include thoughtful gifts that are not just decorative, but also practical. If you would like to attempt a DIY gift, there are plenty of tutorials online on making beautiful items out of materials available at home. Home-baked goods are another lovely gesture, which would be appreciated by your loved ones. Whatever gift you choose to present, don’t forget to wrap it in a newspaper or cloth, and finish it off with a lovely handwritten note.

Note: This article was initially published on Ethico India.

About the Author: Susanna is a journalism major from Sophia College, Mumbai. A Christian blogger and music enthusiast, you will often find her experimenting in the kitchen. She loves sticking to schedules and keeping things organised.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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