Environmentalist and Eco-preneur Rhea Chhabria on living consciously

by Drishti Mistry

She is the founder of the startup, SuckIN Eco Straws and the NGO, India for its Oceans. SuckIN which was founded in January 2018, manufactures and supply eco friendly alternatives of single use plastic to the hospitality industry. For instance, steel straws, cutlery and toiletries made of various sustainable materials such as bamboo and reclaimed teak wood. India for its Oceans, on the other hand, is just a year old with an aim to unite NGOs and like-minded people in helping the oceans become healthier.When she isn’t busy leading one of her two initiatives, she can be found rescuing animals, making art or scuba diving in the oceans. This Earth Day, we thought of reaching out to this millennial eco-preneur and got her to answer all that we wanted to know about living sustainably in this day and age. Scroll down to find what she had to say…

What does it mean to be a millennial environmentalist?
Millennials make up the largest portion of the population today. It’s great to be a part of a generation that is so aware and sensitive to the needs of our planet. It’s now very common to read about some millennial coming up with solutions to environmental issues which were probably never considered to be problems by the previous generations. People our age believe and want to make a difference which is so inspirational and motivating hence you see a rise in so many conscious companies in all sectors be it food, fashion and all the way to automotive.

In what ways does sustainability seep into your lifestyle?
Sustainability is a way of living – it’s a lifestyle choice. It plays an integral part of every choice you make or everything you do. You need to rethink your diet, your closet, your carbon footprint and try to reduce your consumption of the limited natural resources we have left. Our main focus should be on refuse, reduce, reuse, reinvent, repurpose, recycle and rethink. We follow a very strict waste segregation protocol at home and in the office; it helped us become conscious of the amount of waste we produce every month. Now we have found alternatives to so many single use items and our dry waste (which goes to the BMC) has become half!

Is your closet a conscious one too?
I for one turned vegetarian (on the path of veganism), stopped purchasing any leather goods and ditched plastic products and packaging. All these lifestyle choices impacted the way I shop in general from my clothes, shoes, bags, make up everything. It’s a common myth that sustainable brands have a particular style or make you look a certain way, which is not true at all. You can still shop at designer stores and find products to match these criterias e.i. I’ve bought handbags from various international fashion houses that do not have any leather so I am not compromising on my aesthetic or my taste in any way. The great thing is that brands too are realizing the need of making a difference and are now making sustainable choices. Overall, I have reduced the amount of clothes I purchase and now prefer buying good quality clothes which can be styled in various ways to look new every single time I wear them. I limit shopping to when I travel, shop local, reduce online purchases to reduce all the packaging that comes with it.

What are some of the sustainable labels that find favour in your closet?
I prefer natural fabrics that are easy on the skin and the planet like cotton, jute, linen and recycled polyester for working out. Rawcycle makes T-shirts from recycled plastic bottles which are perfect for exercise. Similarly Adidas, Nike (some collections), Stella McCartney, Cult Gaia, Miele Bianco, Wicker weaves, Cord, Doodlage, Chola the label, Shift by Nimish Shah, Bodice, H&M conscious to name a few have a variety of stylish sustainable wear. If you want to make a sustainable fashion choice simply look at the label, check for what the product is made of and where it comes from. Try and shop local ‘Made in India’ and support local communities especially now more than ever.

What are some of the easier and smaller ways amateurs can take a step towards eco-conscious living?
Start with setting small goals, pick one cause and just do it e.g. I will carry a set of reusable cutlery and never use single use disposable cutlery again. Permanent lifestyle changes don’t come overnight. Do them one step at a time. If you set a large and over ambitious goal like “I will not purchase any new clothes for 365 days”, either you will fail or on day 366 you’ll go on a shopping spree. Pick something easy to begin with and once you achieve that then build on it with a new goal. This practice will ensure a lifestyle change vs something temporary. Use your creativity and think about how I would do this differently for example think about styling the same garment in various ways to make it look fresh and new vs going and buying a new outfit. Wear different blouses with different bottoms and throw on a third dupatta, you may discover that inner stylist in you.

Could this deadly pandemic have been avoided had we consumed our resources more consciously?
We do not have any factual information that links the two but yes the virus outbreak is making people introspect on their previous lifestyle choices and making them more aware of their impact on our planet. To be honest our planet has been in a volatile state from much before the pandemic hit and is in
need of recovery. Our planet needed us to slow down in order to heal. People are enjoying hearing the birds chirp again, spotting wild animals in cities, breathing fresher air and are appreciating these beautiful things that we once took for granted. The COVID crisis is teaching us to live off lesser resources and learning to value them. We are learning to walk instead of taking the car, limit unnecessary items, shop locally and plan ahead of time rather than making hasty decisions. We are wearing our thinking hats rather than those of mere convenience. To think about it this is exactly how our grandparents spent their whole lives and they enjoyed themselves without such a cost to the environment as we do today. We need to remember that we have borrowed this planet from our future generations and it is our duty to give it back to them in a much better way than we got it.

Your advice for fellow millennials to make this earth a better place to live on?
Before you buy anything, be it food, clothes, any products think about where they come from and where they will go after you are done using them. With this simple formula you will automatically make more eco-friendly choices e.g. can I replace the plastic milk bag with fresh milk from the dairy? It’s not only better for the environment but a healthier choice for you too. Take this time to get creative, find new ways to reinvent, repurpose and up-cycle (loads of DIY videos online) rather than purchasing new items. Few easy ideas for this lockdown – clean your wardrobe and do a clothes swap with your family members; you never know what you will find. I‘ve turned my brother’s old floral shirt into an oversized tie up and my dad’s 30-year-old spectacles into vintage glasses for myself!

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