New Delhi: “I don’t understand what idea of progress one can potentially pursue, if it doesn’t include the health and the balance of our environment and ecology,” feels the United Nations Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador, Dia Mirza. From being Miss Asia Pacific 2000 to making a name for herself in the Hindi film industry, Dia used her popularity to voice her views about issues close to her heart and also moved on to taking action and genuinely make a difference on the ground, take for instance the #BeatPlasticPollution initiative started on Environment Day in 2018, as an active participant in the campaign, Dia urged people to give up the use of single-use plastic and managed to popularise the campaign by garnering support from fellow actors like Sonam Kapoor Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, among others, who in turn spread the message about dangers of plastic further.
What makes her one of the Heroes of Swachh India is the willingness imbibe the practices she preaches and the effort she makes to influence people around her to embrace the principles of cleanliness and leading a zero-waste sustainable lifestyle. Dia spoke to NDTV over the phone from Indore, which has been declared India’s cleanest city for three years in a row and where she was travelling for an event.
You have been a great advocate of lifestyle changes. What are some of the changes you have made in your life that are simple yet effective?
It is very important for us human beings to check our patterns of consumption on a daily basis. Plastic and single-use plastics are the biggest contributors to waste and I have applied every measure in my everyday life to ensure that I use absolutely no single use plastics. No plastic bags are used in my house, we opt for cloth bags and sustainable options.
Second thing that we don’t use as a family is packaged water bottles or any kind of packaged beverage that isn’t recyclable. The third item we don’t use at all are plastic straws, plastic cutlery, cups. Simple things like keeping your own mugs with you for your takeaway coffees or carrying your own metal water bottles. Since three years now, I’ve been using my own metal bottle and my use of single use plastics has gone way down and I’m sure I have saved thousands of plastic bottles.
Hello! Meet my #TravelingBottle. Whether I’m in different part of the country or world I drink (filtered water straight from the kitchen) in my own bottles. #NoPlastic #BeatPollution #SundayMotivation pic.twitter.com/GUaWCywUB2
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) January 14, 2018
The fourth thing that one can do is start ensuring that they refuse to buy any vegetables and fruits in plastic packaging. Reducing your consumption of packaged food can make a huge difference on the waste crisis that we are facing today.
I have also replaced my regular sanitary napkins which are made mostly of plastics with biodegradable ones. Earlier, I would use incinerators but it releases toxicity to soil and air.
I have also managed to ensure that not just me,but my entire residential complex segregates waste at source. Wet waste is being composted within our society and the dry waste is also segregated and disposed properly. We collect the e-waste in a box and give it to the vendor who comes and collects it. This has made us realise about the amount as well as the kind of waste that we are producing.
Talking about inspiring your residential complex to segregate waste at source, how tough was it to implement something like this?
We implemented it three and a half years ago, and initially it was a little difficult because nobody would remember that they have to segregate waste, so regular reminders were needed to be given. We spent a lot of time in helping them understand how it would benefit them, their kids and our health at the end of the day. I think when they understood the connection between environment and their personal health, they started doing better.
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) September 10, 2017
Also I think when the collection system becomes efficient, the person who is collecting the waste door to door, is coming with two separate bins, and people start seeing the composting process, that inspires them to do better. It obviously takes sometime initially but once its up and running, and on a roll its not difficult to sustain. Its been almost 4 years and we’ve been able to manage our waste in an efficient way.
You have always been very vocal about environmental crisis like air pollution, waste management and plastic pollution. Can you share some of your early life experiences that made you sensitive towards the environment and prompted you to embrace this cause?
I think my love for the environment is influenced by a couple of instances from my childhood – one is that I was born in 1981, which is the year that the scientists released a report that that stated the climate is changing owing to the pattern of human and industrial consumption. This must have had a deep impact on my parents and my school principal, so both at home and at school, there were robust efforts made to engage with us and help us understand how our consumption patterns affect the environment and impacts our life, our health, our well-being and overall progress.
I remember when I was about 6 or 7 year old; I watched my father making a solar basket with his own hands, and he explained to me that this will help the house to be heated with solar energy and help save out planet. As a kid that was very fascinating for me!
They always looked for ways and means to reduce consumption – whether it was electricity, or water, there was a strict rule in the house that any main switches of any appliances should be switched off after use. It was like a grave-grave mistake, if we left room or house with the fan or the light on and this was done to not just save money but for the environment. To make me understand that I have to use every facility that I am privileged to have with consciousness, and that of course became an understanding and a way of life.
When did you realise that you need to use your voice as an actor to encourage others to adopt this way of ‘environmentally conscious’ life?
When I became an actor I started travelling a lot, I started witnessing the level of environmental degradation in our country due to the pursuit of urbanisation. There was very little awareness related to the environment and I started witnessing the amount of green cover, deforestation and the threat that the wildlife was experiencing. I think at some point I realised that I had to do more to lend a voice to the scientists, environmentalist and people who are working on the ground relentlessly to protect the environment.
Science has to be accessible to civil society for them to change the way they may be harming the environment in their everyday life. I feel really proud that I’ve had some part to play in bringing about that change in the country, in the last fifteen years now and I hope to continue the work that I’m doing because it really matters a lot to me.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing our vision of a truly Swachh India?
I think our biggest challenge today is waste management as we do not have adequate infrastructure to manage the density of the waste that we produce on a daily basis. There is a remarkable work happening in specific places in the country, for example Indore, which has won the Swachh Survekshan survey title of the cleanest city in India for three years in a row, in fact I’m here right now, and it’s incredible to see how there’s absolutely no waste, no littering anywhere in sight.
It is a great example of how civic body and civil societies coming together is a possibility. More than anything else, I believe it’s a model example to preparing an infrastructure for managing end to end waste. From consumption to disposal, to segregation and collection, to introducing waste into a circular economy is a priority. Indore’s model of waste management is absolutely necessary for the rest of the country to follow, according to me.
It deeply concerns me that a circular economy is still a distant dream for India. I think if there’s one thing that will enable us to manage our waste better, it is an extended producer’s responsibility*, when all the stakeholders – civil society, government and waste producers come together and prioritise waste management. Waste is contaminating and polluting our soil, water and our air, other than the fact that it is just plain ugly to see garbage lying around in any open space in any part of the country.
When you go to the interiors or the mountains or villages and you see what’s happing with the waste – packaged food wrappers are littered everywhere but the technology to collect and clean it is nowhere in sight. This leads to people burning the waste and dumping it in the rivers and drains which reaches the oceans. Waste is choking everything – from our drainage system to rivers to our oceans, it’s just really sad.
Yes yes yes! Waste collection systems, adoption of segregation at source by citizens, industries, malls, hotels, restaurants and hospitals. Installation large bins that can hold quantum of waste generated in market areas. And ‘End Producers Responsibility’ to be made mandatory. https://t.co/j9sGuaR4wC
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) February 1, 2019
Waste management systems and awareness in consumption is the urgent need of the hour. This image says so much… https://t.co/Lgq3qTRqzc
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) June 11, 2017
You have been associated with UN Environment for quite some time now, how did you get involved with them and how does it empower you to make a difference and bring about constructive change?
The UN Environment acknowledged my continuous efforts by appointing me as their ambassador and now by appointing me as the UN Secretary General’s Advocate. I was completely blown away by this news, because I was one of seventeen people on the planet to hold this position, each of whom is a remarkable human being. It just really felt like a wonderful opportunity to continue doing good work, understand and have access to solution based science to be able to make it accessible to people. I think the biggest advantage of my involvement with the United Nations is that I have an access to the policy makers and that is fundamental, because no change is possible unless our policy makers understand the urgency and the immediate need to act upon saving the environment.
I was working on a campaign related to Ganga river pollution and I travelled on a boat in the Ganga. It is common knowledge that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world and also the most worshipped river, makes me wonder – we worship her and yet actively pollute her. When you travel through the river, you get to see what is happening on ground and how visibly polluted it is.
Interestingly, I think my mission to bring attention to waste was really born from this journey and one of the first few things I addressed to the UN environment when I met them for the first time was waste. From which the cause #BeatPlasticPollution was born, that’s how it works, we observe, learn and understand the things we need to draw focus to.
It is an honour and privilege to be appointed the UN Secretary General's Advocate of Sustainable Development Goals. I will strive to convey the importance of achieving sustainable development for #Peace #Planet #Prosperity. #GlobalGoals #SDGs @antonioguterres @UN @UNEnvironment pic.twitter.com/1dekTI6goA
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) May 10, 2019
On the ground, what are some of the initiatives that you have been involved with and are extremely proud of?
#BeatPlasticPollution was the theme for last year’s Environment Day (2018) and is one of the major campaigns I’ve been part of. The success of the campaign is such that I see more and more people at the airports and other public spaces, carrying their own metal bottles or copper bottles, which is great because you realise that the impact of your initiatives are far reaching and actually making people understand the hazards of plastic waste. The clean up drives where people saw all the plastic waste, the advocacy against use of single-use plastic and the constant reminders, communicating through social media, several interviews about the fact that we need to beat plastic pollution.
“There is an umblical link that connects ecology and economy. Human well-being and quality of life is only possible through resource efficiency and environmental sustainability” Honour to speak at ‘Shared Vision For Urban Sustainability’ organised by @teriin #WorldEnviornmentDay pic.twitter.com/kmkFAMsKuZ
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) June 3, 2018
I’m also proud of the green Ganesha campaign that I took part in. Through the initiative, people understood how environmentally hazardous inorganic god idols are. Today, I see a big difference in people’s attitude and their desire to keep the environment healthy and bring home a ‘green Ganesha’. Of course this wasn’t an overnight transformation, it happened over the years, with awareness activities like beach clean-ups helping people see the impact of inorganic god idols and understand the message.
With initiatives and campaigns like she mentioned above, Dia Mirza is the environmentalists we need to make our country Swachh. With her continuous efforts, she aims to truly make a difference. As she says, there is no future plans or in future, we need to act now!
*In the field of waste management, extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a strategy to add all of the environmental costs associated with a product throughout the product life cycle to the market price of that product.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.