Mumbai City Urban Living
Finding The Middle Path To Sustainable Urban Living

Introduction

Sustainability and Urban living are often not seen as the best of friends.

As an example, in case of large metro cities, we don’t often get to choose where we live and where we work and are thus practically unable to choose the transport means with the least environmental impact which is to walk to work or not travel at all to work (work from home).

(On a positive note, the Covid lockdown however has made many organizations realize that work from home when feasible is not only a viable and efficient option for the same if not better work out put. Not only does this providing better work life but is also better for the environment, as a result of fewer automobiles on the road.)

The question we then ask is what is the next best thing? That is what finding the middle path to sustainable urban living is all about. It is not the same for everyone but changing and variable from person to person within a broader range of actions that we can take to change the way we live and move towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

As a family of 4, comprising of me, my husband and our 2 children aged 7 and 15, living in one of the largest cities in India, we are constantly trying to find the middle path to live a more sustainable life.

We experiment with our choices and actions to find what sustainable choices work best for us. Some we are able to sustain and some get regressed. It’s always a work in progress.

We don’t have a tiny jar to show the minimal waste we generate, but as a family we are aware and conscious of our consumption behaviour and are constantly trying to reduces our waste and live more responsibly.

For ease of understanding, I have staggered choices and actions based on their level of impact towards a sustainable lifestyle and have called them the three paths towards sustainable urban living.

The Three Paths to Sustainable Urban Living

I use the diagram below to illustrate the three path concept. This stacked venn diagram has three levels of actions.

    1. The Easy Way
    2. The Middle Path
    3. The Hard Way

The easy way is the smallest area, being what we can do easily or actions that are easy to adapt. The Middle Path area encompasses the easy actions and includes actions that need a little more conscious effort but is one that can be sustained for the long term and the final circle represents  The Hard Way including various best practices that we can work towards as our final goals.The larger the area, the more positive impact your sustainable actions will have!

Three paths to Sustainable Urban Living

Figure 1 – The Three Paths to Sustainable Urban Living

To illustrate this concept, we circle back to the choices we make to get from our home to our place of work.

In a city like Mumbai, the average distance between a person’s home and their place of work is in the range of 10-12 kms with a total commute time of around 2 hours. Using local transportation by train which a majority of people do is actually the next best thing. This is often not a choice for most people but a necessity.

For the person who chooses to go to work using their personal vehicle there are decisions and choices to be made to find the middle path. In increasing order of sustainability, the choices are to car pool which is the easiest or least you can do, use an electric vehicle if feasible, moving on to carpooling in an electric vehicle… you get the idea (the order may not be precise but is more a judgement call)

Now using the three path diagram our actions towards sustainable urban living in the case of getting from out home to our place of work will look something like the figure below.

Sustainable Urban Transport options

Figure 2 – Example of the three paths to sustainable transport between home and place of work.

In the tables below I have laid out actionable points for a few of our lifestyle choices that impact how sustainably we can live. These actions have been graded based on the hierarchy of impact from the Easy way, the Middle Path to the Hard Way.

The Middle Path is more than what I consider as the path of least resistance or the easy way but choices and actions that can be sustained in the long term with a little conscious effort. The actions described below are indicative ideas of what can be our choices. These are examples and not an exhaustive list.

I have explored the following areas here 

    1. Managing the waste we generate at home
    2. Clothing Choices
    3. Reducing Plastic Consumption
    4. Urban Transportation
    5. Personal and Household Care
    6. Food Choices
    7. Supporting your local community

Managing the waste we generate at home

segregating glass for recycling

Figure 3 – Segregating waste at home 

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way

E.g.

  • Segregate your waste and send dry waste for recycling
  • Use compostable bin liners for wet waste

 

 

The Easy Way +

  •  Compost waste at home or ensure you have a tie up with a composting facility at an apartment building, community or neighbourhood level
  • Always take your own bags when you purchase groceries or fresh produce
  • Engage with a refill service for household essentials if your city has one

The Middle Path +

  • You don’t generate much dry waste because you only bulk shop for zero waste stores.
  • Compost all your organic and wet waste yourself.
  • Always take your own containers for takeout meals and excess food when you eat out. 

Clothing choices

take care of your clothes

Figure 4 – Take care of your existing clothing

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way

E.g.

  • Take care of your existing clothing and use them well.
  • Repair and mend your garments to extend their usability.
  • Organize your wardrobe and bring all clothing into circulation.
  • Donate old clothes. Swap / borrow occasional wear with other.
  • Use eco-friendly detergents to wash your clothes. Avoid using chlorine bleach.

The Easy Way +

  • When you purchase new clothing, buy natural and organic fabrics/clothing as far as possible in cotton, hemp, linen or new age sustainable fabrics like Tencel.
  • Try out sustainable indigenous fabrics like organic kala cotton.
  •  Thrift shop / borrow occasional wear including clothing specific for travel and adventure which are often made of synthetic materials.
  •  Purchase clothing from local and small businesses as far as possible

The Middle Path +

  •  You have a minimalist wardrobe
  •  You do not succumb to “ I have nothing to wear” and “ I love that dress and must have it”.
  • You new clothing purchases are all made of organic and natural.

 Reducing Plastic Consumption

Figure 5 – Madhu Wrap reusable beeswax food wraps

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way

E.g.

  • Do not throw out existing and usable plastic products and containers.
  • Use all existing plastic products till their full life, including toothbrushes.
  • Avoid buying new plastic storage containers for uses where other recyclable options are easily available like steel, aluminium and glass.
  •  Avoid accepting and buying single use plastic items.
  • Carry your own water bottle, cloth shopping bag etc
 

The Easy Way +

  • Find stores that will give you grocery in your own bags and containers.
  • Use reusable options for conventional single use items like replacing cling film and aluminium foil with beeswax food wraps, cloth food covers, cotton vegetable and produce storage bento bags , cotton mesh bags and draw string produce storage bags.
  • When you order in food from restaurants, ask them not to send extra tissues, cutlery etc.
  • Enroll in a refill program for cleaning and personal care products if there is an option in your city.
  • Insist on plastic free shipping from online stores.
  • Buy products that come with minimal packing
  • Swap products that need plastic packing with once that don’t, like opt for using a shampoo bar instead of liquid shampoo in a plastic bottle.

 

The Middle Path +

  • You only shop a bulk stores that allow you to bring your own containers.
  •  You grow your own herbs.
  • When you order from a restaurants you only opt for takeout in your own containers.
  •  You keep your online shopping to a minimal 

Urban TransportationMumbai Local Train

Figure 6 – Using Local Mass Transport Systems

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way
E.g.

  • Walk or bicycle where ever you can
  •  Car Pool for school runs or transport from home to work
  • Maintain and upkeep your personal vehicle to optimize fuel consumption

The Easy Way +

  • When it is time to change your personal vehicle, explore the option of an electric vehicle,
  • Use public transport when ever possible

 

The Middle Path +

  • Use Mass Public Transport like local trains & metro services  

 

 Personal and Household Care

Figure 7 – Natural home fragrances

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way

E.g.

  • Read product labels and be an informed consumer.
  • Find more people and earth-friendly alternatives to personal and home care products you might consume.

 

The Easy Way +

  • Try out DIY recipes. They are fun and rewarding.
  • When it comes to personal and home care, our pantries are treasure troves. Even basic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda make great non-toxic and safe cleaning alternatives.
  • Avoid the use of products with synthetic fragrances. Use natural home fragrance products like natural scented wax tablets, potpourri and dried botanicals and spices.
  • Try to purchase items with minimal plastic packaging or alternatives which do not require plastic packaging.
  •  Experiment with alternative plastic free products like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets.

 

The Middle Path +

 Food Choices

Local and Seasonal Foods

Figure 8 – Local and seasonal foods

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way

E.g.

  • Eat less meat.
  • Eat more locally grown produce.
  • Shop smartly to minimize food wastage.
  • Plan a weekly menu based on the perishability of vegetables and fruits. E.g Consume easily perishable items like greens first and carrots or cabbage which have a longer shelf life later.

 

The Easy Way +

  • As far as possible opt for local and seasonal foods.
  •  Buy organic food if you can. Shop from local vendors and farmers markets.
  • Research on the best ways to store fresh produce as well as dry grocery to avoid wastage.
  • Use cloth bags and reusable food wraps like beeswax food wraps to keep food fresher for longer.
  • Research zero waste recipes to use all parts of fresh vegetables and fruits.

 

The Middle Path +

  • Grow your own herbs and vegetables if you can.
  •  Shop for only organic, local and seasonal produce.
  •  Practice low waste to zero waste cooking.
  •  

 Supporting your local community

Local Tailor Shop

Figure 9 – Support local business like your neighbourhood tailors

The Easy Way

The Middle Path The Hard Way
E.g.

  •  Shop locally as far as possible from local vendors and farmers market.
  •  Treat your community  service providers including domestic help with kindness and respect

 

The Easy Way +

  •  Support small homegrown brands and businesses
  • Reduce your purchases from giant conglomerations and mass market brands

The Middle Path +

  • Provide health insurance to your domestic help.
  • Support children’s education of disadvantaged people who work for you
  • Involve your self in your community activities

What we have learnt on the way to finding the middle path to sustainable urban living

Here is what we have learnt over the last few years of trying to live more consciously. Sustainable and conscious living is not just about living a low waste life style or buying organic clothing and eating organic food, it is all that and also about supporting your local community and small businesses. It is about treating people with fairness, kindness, and respect, especially people who form the backbone of our community support network are socially and economically dependent on us.  At its crux, it is about building a more healthy, resilient, and conscious community.

One thought on “Finding The Middle Path To Sustainable Urban Living”

  1. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It will always be interesting to read through articles from other writers and use a little something from other sites.

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