Mumbai: Having lived in Marathahalli, an eastern suburb of Bengaluru, coming in contact with plastic waste and other littering items had become an everyday scenario for Prachee Mandlekar, Debyani Basu and Shikha Agarwal in the last decade. The trio noticed that with a rise in consumerism and population, there has been a growth in plastic consumption as well. Living in the same complex and having the same determination to get freedom from plastic pollution, Prachee, Debyani and Shikha opened a one-of-its-kind zero waste store last year in November.
It does not take an expert to figure out the ever-increasing plastic menace in urban spaces. All three of us have also been victims of plastic pollution. There came a point in all our lives when we decided to bring a small difference in people’s lifestyles. We have been friends for a very long time now and after brainstorming ideas we zeroed on a zero-waste store to promote plastic-free packaging, 41-year-old Prachee tells NDTV.
With no prior education or experience in the environmental sector, they decided to take baby steps and started their first venture, ‘Green Mantra’ to rent cutlery on August 15 last year.
Today, parties are thrown on every occasion, from birthdays, promotions, baby showers to even scoring good grades in an exam. With social gatherings becoming an integral part of our lifestyles, the use of plastic cutleries has increased at a high rate. The easiest step, we thought, in making a shift from plastic items is to replace the plastic cutlery and thus, we started to rent out steel cutleries, explains Prachee.
Wondering how the concept of rent-a-cutlery works? Anyone can place an order with Green Mantra and a set of steel cutlery including glasses, spoons, bowls and plates will be delivered. After using the cutlery, it has to be washed and return. Green Mantra on their part will wash it again to ensure hygiene and cleanliness before renting it out. It was during this venture, when the trio realised that people are willing to make a switch but due to lack of alternative options available, the habit of using plastic items continues.
A few months into the venture, Prachee quit her lucrative job in an IT sector and along with Debyani, an artist by profession and Shikha, a homemaker decided to open a zero-waste store. On November 18, the trio inaugurated the zero-waste store or a store where the products and packaging are biodegradable.
Green Mantra: The Place Where You Can Contribute Towards The Environment
Being a general store, keeping all kinds of every day use items like toiletries, grains, groceries, bakery and dairy products was necessary for the shop to attract people. To begin with, the three women looked for vendors who are either supplying products with eco-friendly packaging or are willing to do so.
As owners of the shop we have to ensure that the products we sell involve no harmful elements like plastic at the manufacturing stage. Thus, we have tied up with suppliers who have the same priority. Our vendors are mostly from Bengaluru to keep products as local as possible. However, we do import certain items like eco-friendly toothbrushes from Hyderabad due to its unavailability in the city, says Debyani.
Further elaborating on changing people’s mindset through the store, Debyani says,
Besides being completely against plastic packaging, we encourage customers to bring their own reusable cloth or glass containers to carry items. In case they don’t carry, we provide them with the containers at Rs 10. If they bring back the container then we refund this amount.
On visiting the store, one will find freshly grounded masalas (spices) stored in glass jars and grains kept in steel containers. One can also opt for sustainable products like cloth sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, wooden combs, toothbrushes made from bamboos, natural soaps, steel straws, etc. With over a hundred products, Green Mantra is the one stop destination for people who want to lead a plastic-free life.
From paper and cloth bags, glass jars, steel containers to traditional bowls made from leaves, the Green Mantra store offers several packaging options to its customers.
Another interesting feature about Green Mantra is that it not only sells eco-friendly products, it also conducts workshops for children and adults on composting at household level. The store also sells composting bins starting from Rs 499.
Simply teaching people how to compost is not enough, providing means to carry out the process is equally important. With no unit or bin to practice, people tend to forget their learnings. Thus, after every workshop we tell people about our store and the composting bins available there, says Prachee.
Giving an example of how the zero-waste is proving to be beneficial for children, Prachee says that parents are choosing composting bins made for children as a gift for birthdays.
As for the price range of the products, most of them are at par with the regular products. However, there are items that are expensive by Rs 5-10 but the trio believes that one should not shy away from spending extra pennies if it means safeguarding our future.
How Zero-Waste Store Is Bringing A Difference
It has been almost three months since the store was launched and so far, it has managed to get 70 loyal customers who do their weekly or monthly purchases from Green Mantra. The rise in customers has been slow but steady. Many people who have visited the store have expressed concerns related to the hygiene and maintenance of the products.
When people come to know that we believe in plastic-free packaging they assume the items are kept in open. They fear insects and dust might ruin the food items. Convincing people is hard but not impossible, says Shikha.
On such occasions, the trio gives a small tour to the customers and explains how every product is maintained and from where it was purchased. Traditional methods like keeping neem inside the grains and pulses prevents intrusion of insects and other worms.
While they have lost out on customers, there are customers who often get nostalgic about the times when the presence of plastic was minimal or absent from their lives.
Our customers get delighted by the ambiance of the store. Many customers remember their childhood days of buying things in cloth bags and own containers and mention of becoming nostalgic. For us, it is immense pleasure to make our customers happy, adds Shikha.
Through Green Mantra, the trio have sold close to 1,000 bamboo toothbrushes and successfully saved 40 kilos of plastic from reaching landfills. They have managed to sell 100 kilos of grocery, and 75 kilos of dairy and bakery products without any kind of harmful packaging.
Since the system of home delivery is gaining a stronghold across India, Green Mantra has also started Home-Refill model. As per this model, anyone can order a product online. The product will be given in a steel or glass container. If the customer wishes to retain the container, he/she can do so by giving Rs 10-15.
To increase their customer base, the trio are now coming up with offers and discounts that are centered around the theme of plastic pollution. For instance, throughout February they are running the ‘Plastic Toothbrush Free’ drive. People can go exchange their plastic toothbrush with bamboo toothbrush and get a discount.
Our aim is to grow our customer base from 70 to 700 by 2020, the trio signs off.
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.