30 desi ways to go eco-friendly

Who ever said Indians didn’t know how to live sustainably? Here are 30 desi eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products we use.


Who ever said Indians didn’t know how to live sustainably? Here are 30 desi eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products we use.

Living outside India has made me immensely more conscious of my cultural roots and I feel more attached to India! Every day I am reminded of the milkman’s cycle bell, the tarakari vendor’s call of “Soppoo“, the autorickshaw signaling someone coming in to our street, the Basavanna’s nadaswaram, the rhythm of Ali Jula, the microphone from the nearby temple blaring “Kausalya Suprajarama“, the adjacent mosque echoing “Alla hu Akbar” and children calling out “Ganesha ittideera“.

The smell of home-sambrani to dry my hair, mallige bushes in the front yard, freshly ground wheat flour at the mill, butter turning into ghee; the sight of people at home, people everywhere, colorfully painted houses of various sizes and shapes, traffic, cows chewing leaves at the city market, Gulmohar, Neem, coconut and drumstick trees, Kadalekai parshe, Karaga and Yakshagana…

And as far as an eco friendly lifestyle goes, most of the traditional Indian ways serve as a model example! Each region in India has its own set of eco-friendly habits It is important to educate our younger generation about these habits.

Here’s a list of desi eco-friendly alternatives to products that we buy from supermarkets that we can use in our daily lives:

1. Coconut fibre instead of plastic scrubbers

We all know that plastic is choking the earth. Why not go back to using coconut fibre to scrub dishes?

2. Soap nut/besan instead of soap bars

The bath soaps that we buy tend to have artificial fragrances and foaming agents that are harmful to the skin and the bath water mixed with the residue is harmful to the soil. Think about reviving the use of soap nut [antvalada kai], Besan and wholewheat flour make excellent skin scrubbers too!

3. Tamarind/rock salt instead of dishwashing soaps

Dishwashing soaps also have chemicals that are rough on your hands, and you may unknowingly be eating some of it if traces are left on the dishes after washing. Tamarind and rock salt and ash from your fire place make excellent scrubbers for even the tough and greasy stains.

4. Dhoopam stick instead of air fresheners

Instead of using aerosols that are harmful to the environment why not light a Dhoopam stick? Keeps away mosquitoes too!

5. Shikakai powder instead of shampoos

Chemicals and foaming agents in shampoos are harmful to your hair and scalp in the long run, and the residue is also harmful to the soil. Why not go back to Shikakai powder, which is also a natural conditioner? Try mixing Methi powder in coconut milk and apply on your hair before taking a bath, for that shiny, silky look! Or dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water, apply on hair and wash it off with water!

6. Steel bottles/travel mugs insted of plastic water bottles

If you drink regularly from a plastic water bottle, you ingest harmful substances too. How about steel bottles/travel mugs?

7. Copper vessels instead of nonstick utensils

It is better to use thick bottomed copper/steel/brass vessels than the non-stick cookware. They are safe and last forever whereas the nonstick cookware has to be discarded once the Teflon coating wears out.

8. Steel bins instead of plastic storage boxes

Grandma’s steel dabbas are best to store dry ingredients in your larder and to carry lunch!

9. Pots instead of water coolers

Remember the good old kooja? The water tastes delicious and is healthy too!

10. Henna instead of nail polish

Nail paints contain plastic and harmful chemicals. How about painting your hands with henna?

11. Ecosystems instead of manicured lawns

As more residential areas in our cities blindly ape the west and construct manicured lawns in front of their houses, precious insect and bird habitats are disturbed and are even going extinct. Did you know sparrows are vanishing from Bengaluru? Let nature be. Grow plants and grass that are native to your region to preserve ecosystems.

12. Cotton instead of synthetic clothes

Cotton clothes allow your skin to breathe and regulate perspiration. Nylon and other synthetic fabrics are nothing but different types of plastic! And please let’s not breed and kill anymore silk worms!!

13. Ghee instead of chapsticks

Apply a little ghee or oil when your lips are dry. You can eat it too!

14. Neti kriya instead of nasal drops

Neti kriya helps address the root of the problem, whereas nasal drops provide temporary relief, if any.

15. Natural composting instead of chemical composts

Don’t throw away your kitchen scraps along with your garbage. Collect them in a covered box, introduce a few worms, and soon, you will be making your own, all natural compost! Great for potted plants and kitchen garden.

16. Straw mats instead of carpets

Carpets that are mostly made from synthetic fiber gather dust mites, which can cause allergies. Our good old straw mats are best, and you can roll and stack them in a corner when you don’t need them. They are easy to clean too, without the need of a vacuum cleaner.

17. Slow cooking instead of pressure cooking

Pressure cooking is quick and efficient, but food can get overcooked and there is a lot of nutrient loss. Direct, slow cooking helps prevent this and food tastes better too.

18. Stone grinding instead of electric mixers

Grinding chutney, batter and powders in a stone grinder provides excellent exercise for the arms and the texture, aroma and taste of the food is unparalleled!

19. Leaf plates and cups instead of styrofoam ones

Styrofoam is worse than plastic. It is not only hazardous because it is not biodegradable and animals choke on them, but the manufacturing process itself releases hazardous chemicals that are very harmful to those employed in the industry. Let us go back to ‘plates’ and cups made of leaves and other plant products, especially when we serve food during weddings and festivals.

20. Yoga instead of gymming

You can exercise and strengthen your body at the gym but nothing can beat yoga when it comes to fitness of the mind and the body!

21. Meditation instead of medication

Meditate rather than medicate! Our ancestors have proven that meditation prepares the mind to face life’s ups and downs with equanimity. It is free, it is safe, it is non-invasive and has ONLY positive effects!

22. Farm produce instead of supermarkets

Supermarkets are convenient but food sits on the shelves longer, thanks to preservatives. Support local farmers and vendors by buying fresh produce directly from them, or subscribing to a co op. You will know where your food is coming from!

23. Neem/Somf/Mint insted of  toothpaste

Toothpastes also have artificial whiteners and foaming agents. How about going back to chewing on the neem twig and using somf as a mouth freshner? Mint leaves do the job too!

24. Jaggery/Honey instead of refined sugar

We all know the ill effects of refined sugar, yet we use it because its convenient. Why not go back to jaggery and honey? I prefer to prepare savories using jaggery. The result is much more flavorful and healthy!

25. Community socialising instead of television

Instead of mindlessly surfing channels, why not attend live programs, or gather with friends/relatives for music sessions? Also consider supporting and preserving local traditions like the karaga and yakshagana. Find out what’s unique to your region.

26. Pickling instead of chemical preservation

Thanks to our ancient culinary traditions, we know how to preserve food naturally. Let’s go back to seasonal pickling, making papads and sandiges and vettals! No artificial anything there!

27. Natural fermenting instead of fermenting agents

Whoever discovered the recipe for idli and dosa knew about natural fermenting! No need of yeast or other artificial fermenting agents here!

28. Eating with hands instead of plastic cutlery

Eating with our fingers is a great art that we should be proud of! The way we eat even runny Rasam with rice is quite a skill that comes naturally to us, don’t you think? Definitely eliminate plastic cutlery from your kitchen.

29. Handmade grocery bags instead of plastic bags

Many places are banning plastic grocery bags, because animals forage on the ones we dump in the dumpsters. Why not make your own shopping bags out of old sarees, dupattas or curtains?

30. Biogas instead of commercial gas

Try installing biogas units for individual houses or groups of houses in your locality. Make use of free, yard waste and save on commercial gas!

Feel free to add your own and spread the word!


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I belong to a family that is passionate about conservation, sustainability and simple lifestyle. My passion pervades my workplace too. When the weather is good and when I am not writing or teaching, I am busy tending to my kitchen garden or photographing the beautiful birds that visit our backyard for their share of produce in our garden. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I belong to a family that is passionate about conservation, sustainability and simple lifestyle. My passion pervades my workplace too. When the weather is good and when I am not writing or teaching, I am busy tending to my kitchen garden or photographing the beautiful birds that visit our backyard for their share of produce in our garden. more

Discuss this article on Facebook

  • Nice collection. Just one thing though. It’s preferable to do composting with maggots to vermicomposting, especially those involving the introcution of African earthworms. Composting based on more local species like soldier flies may be better, no?

    • Rama Cousik

      Thanks. I have no knowledge about vermicomposting but according to a book by Kale (2010) different species of earth worm are used across different regions in India based on weather and soil conditions, and E eugeniae or African night crawler is favored in the south. And a recent study by Gujarathi and Madhuri recommends use of soldier flies in India due to favorable tropical conditions

  • Rama Cousik

    Other great alternatives for dish washing powder are borax, baking soda, washing soda and vinegar. Each has common and unique properties-deodorizing, antifungal, degreasing, stain removing, etc. Try a little one at a time, or in combination.

  • Apurva Rathod

    Vicco vajradanti is also very good. Strengthens your teeth though they get stained faint red for some time.