9 Tips From UN Ambassador Dia Mirza’s Sustainability Guidebook | Verve Magazine
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July 12, 2019

9 Tips From UN Ambassador Dia Mirza’s Sustainability Guidebook

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Image courtesy: Dia's Instagram

Use and throw in a sustainable way, urges the actor, as she recognises the urgent need to safeguard our ecosystem

Over the years, Dia Mirza has made several choices that have defined not just her professional trajectory (the latest one being her entry into the domain of web-series with Kaafir) but have also shaped her personal space and life. Perhaps, the most important one, – and she claims this changed her life permanently – was her resolution to live more sustainably.  This is a decision that she is truly proud of, and a way of living that she follows with great passion. It is no wonder then that Mirza was appointed UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India in November 2017.

Post her recent participation as a panellist in Verve & EcoVero’s discussion on ‘The Past, Present and Future of Sustainable Fashion’ at Studio Mumbai in Byculla, where she expounded the importance of changing one’s thoughts and way of living – and gave us glimpses on how she has reinvented her personal space – I meet her in a suburban studio to delve deeper into her views on the matter.

Speaking at the macro level, Mirza says, “We are all a part of nature, not apart from nature. Even though we are living a city life, we are very much an integral part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, unlike other species that perform important functions to maintain the fragile balance in the ecosystem, human beings have, in the last 150 years, started to destroy it through their ways of living. So, when we start to talk about how our lifestyles have affected the planet, we begin to understand that every little thing we use on a daily basis – the way we grow, package and consume food, how it reaches our plates; personal hygiene products we own like soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other cleaning products; the clothes we wear and more – all of them have a journey. They come from the earth and go back to the earth. But when we send many of these things back to the earth, they don’t organically mix with it but cause it harm instead – like plastics.”

Mirza states that her shift in consciousness perhaps came easily because nature has always been an indelible part of her life. “I grew up in a home where my parents encouraged the understanding that all creativity, growth and sense of self come from nature. I went to a school where the underlying philosophy was derived in part from the teachings of the philosopher J Krishnamurti. Later, in 2006/7, when I had been an actor for a few years and was in the public eye, a necessary narrative was encouraged in the media about the need to acknowledge our patterns of consumption and waste and the need to incorporate environmentalism in our everyday life. I was asked to contribute to the narrative. And this culminated in a list of simple things that soon became a part of my daily life.”

She recognises the immense social importance of doing so. And she recalls, “When the conversation about environmentalism started, I discovered that too little was being shared with the general public. There was science available but that was not easily accessible to the common man. Because I understood the science, believed in and cared for it, I recognised that it was instrumental in securing our future. I became doggedly obsessed with wanting to impart more. I started pursuing environmental organisations like Sanctuary Asia and individuals like Bittu Sahgal, Vivek Menon and Prerna Singh Bindra, and I learnt many things from them. As I learnt, I started to share. And by the time I started to share information, social media platforms like Twitter had gotten popular. A community began following me, and became receptive to what I was sharing.. I did a special show called Ganga, The Soul of India that followed the River Ganga from its source to the sea, where I had the opportunity to not just highlight the beautiful states it flows through, but help people understand how interconnected our lives were with the existence of the river, how it has nurtured the lives of millions of people over generations and that its existence is endangered because of the levels of toxicity that have entered the water stream.”

Celebrations: Our culture and history is rooted in nature. Unfortunately, a complete loss of that consciousness has led to a new way of observing or celebrating festivals. Earth and clay idols slowly got replaced by those made from plaster of Paris. But, now more people are opting for Green Ganeshas, a change that I wholeheartedly advocate. Whether it is a wedding, birthday or a festival, I try to celebrate in an eco-friendly way. We do not use plastic cutlery, serving plates, balloons or streamers. I basically ensure that all birthdays are completely free of single-use plastic and use recyclable decorations that are environmentally friendly.

Gifting: I express love through actions and experiences as opposed to things. For instance, if a friend has delivered a baby, I will get a 100 trees planted in a sanctuary in the child’s name and give the certificate as a gift. It is a powerful gift of life and has a beautiful impact on the receiver, when the child grows up and can understand it. I have also found more sustainable ways of gift-wrapping, by using recyclable paper. Another great option is seed paper.

Plastic: I have ensured the complete discontinuation of any kind of plastic in my life, especially single-use plastic. I used a bamboo brush made with natural bristles. And instead of toothpaste, I use charcoal. I use bamboo ear buds and have replaced regular sanitary napkins with completely biodegradable sanitary napkins, when I learnt that the former were made mostly of plastic. The other safe and hygienic option is the use of menstrual cups. I don’t use plastic straws, even when I eat out. And plastic bags are a complete no-no. I always have a folded cloth bag in my handbag. If I indulge in an impromptu shopping spree, I always have that carry bag to dump my shopping into. All of us have bags like this at home, and there is one in my vehicle too. We do not accept home delivery if the items are delivered in a plastic bag. So everyone – from the corner shop to the vegetable vendor – knows that they cannot deliver anything to us that comes in a plastic bag.

Drinking water: I carry my own water bottle with me, wherever I go. You should check out the hashtag #travellingbottle. I realised that less than one per cent of all packaged bottles are recycled. That is a lot of bottles that we use and throw that have nowhere to go, and they end up in our water bodies – rivers and oceans – to be retrieved and burnt. I have made my production house single- use plastic free. We fill our bottles at the water filters.

Waste management: We segregate our wet and dry waste. All of our kitchen waste is composted. Only dry waste is delivered to the corporation. We remove all e-waste and recyclable waste, and the society earns money and gets paid when this is collected and sold. We have created a circular economy and are being responsible about the waste we generate.

Home décor: When we renovated our home,   we tried to reuse what we have. Furniture is such a malleable commodity that its items can be redesigned and reused. When we were decorating our home, a lot of what we had was broken down and reused.

Food: I learnt that following a vegetarian diet makes a huge difference. Buy local, eat local. Eat unpackaged food to make a difference. Ninety per cent of the time, our home menu is vegetarian — vegan, in fact. And there are no absolutes with veganism. What I have discovered is that if your body craves protein, and you have lived on a non-vegetarian diet, you can make an exception and have meat.

Transport: In an ideal world, my mode of transport would have been a public one or a cycle. I love cycling. But both of these things are, in my case, a little difficult. There are no cycling tracks in my neighbourhood. And people at home think it is unsafe for me to cycle around our area. In an ideal world, I would have an e-car but we don’t have recharging stations. So, to be able to bring about the change, I work with policy-makers.

Fashion: Clothes are a very big item of consumption, particularly with fast fashion. We have inherited the idea that new is good, and more is not good enough. We seem to want the newest and the best of everything when it comes to the market. I try to choose labels and brands that are sustainable and ones that last longer. I feel a sense of pride and joy in reusing what I have. It’s great fun, because you can innovate with old clothes and still feel responsible as you are not trashing the planet in the name of fashion.

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