By Manvi Pant
Indian eco-warriors Srini Swaminathan and Shubhashree Sangameswaran don’t believe in mincing words: they term environmental protection ‘a shared responsibility’.
With world leaders repeatedly failing to tackle the environmental crisis, a new generation of climate activists across the globe, like Srini and Shubhashree, are using whatever means they have to stand up for the ecosystem.
By adopting a more practical approach to change, these two eco-campaigners and zero-waste practitioners are calling for collaborative actions and urging people to lead a sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle.
“There is no Plan(et) B. Humans have already unleashed enormous damage on our planet, and if we do not wake up and collectively do something about it, it will be too late,” says Srini, a social development consultant based in Chennai.
Bangalore-based engineer-turned-illustrator Shubhashree adds, “We are deluding ourselves if we think these problems will go away on their own.”
Srini’s eco-journey began when, during his travels outside India, he wondered how local government bodies and citizens kept their cities clean. (Little did he know then that a lot of their waste was picked, packed, and shipped to developing countries!) And so, around eight years ago, inspired by The Ugly Indian initiative in Bengaluru, he started plogging (picking plastic trash while running) and took part in other clean-up activities in Chennai.
“I also volunteered to plant saplings, and at the time we dug holes to plant trees, I noticed plastic garbage even at a depth of six or seven feet,” shares the 41-year-old, who has taken part in 28 full marathons, and cycled from Kashmir to Kanyakumari!
He decided to curtail the waste he generated as a citizen by leading a minimal waste life. What started as a sense of realisation culminated into a life goal. Soon, the BITS Pilani alumnus started Spotfix Chennai, an initiative where a group of anonymous volunteers would gather at a filthy spot, clean it up and share before-and-after pictures on social media to spread awareness and inspire others.
Srini’s friend Shubhashree’s journey to sustainable living started at home. She was raised in a household where wasting or throwing away things was frowned upon. But as she grew older, she began to care more about convenience.
Eventually, in 2014, after the birth of her daughter, when the visual artist was looking for eco-friendly alternatives to disposable diapers, she read about the zero-waste movement in the West and got re-inclined towards the road to sustainability.
“I realised that the only way to reduce waste generation is to adopt the same lifestyle as our parents and grandparents,” the 40-year-old says.
In 2018, as an ode to the environment, she participated in Brooklyn Art Library’s ‘Sketchbook Project’, a global art project that puts up sketchbooks from all around the world on display.
The success of the sketchbook project and its subsequent translation into a book paved the way for environmental activism. Shubhashree says, “It became instrumental in making me realise the impact of my actions on the environment and how I can bring a change.”
The duo have been using social media and community engagement to raise awareness, to make the planet’s well-being an essential conversation, and are particularly focusing on children and youth to drive the message.
The books point out everyday mistakes that urban dwellers make, such as using “green bio-degradable” plastic bags that are sold as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.
“Most of those likely end up in a landfill where they won’t biodegrade without sunlight and oxygen. They will remain there just like any other plastic bag. The same goes for disposable menstrual pads. Unless you’ve personally composted them in your compost bin, don’t buy into such claims. Menstrual cups and cloth pads are the most sustainable options for menstruators,” shares Shubhashree.
While actively educating people on far-reaching environmental challenges, the two also try to live sustainably in their routine life. For instance, Srini rigorously avoids generating non-biodegradable waste by adopting backward planning and composts all the organic waste in the compost pit. Shubhashree uses homemade bio enzymes from fruit peels for most household cleaning.
“It’s not that we live perfect zero-waste lives,” she says. “But managing the waste is key.”