Zero Waste Shopping at the Ooty Municipal Market

Before the more extensive ban on single-use disposables and plastic water bottles in the Nilgiris last year, I had at times questioned the ‘Plastic-free Nilgiris’ –slogan, since it only applied for plastic shopping bags – which of course was a major first step! – but because there was no other effort in place to deal with all the plastic food packaging. No recycling, garbage segregation and waste management system and no products with alternative packaging materials (or so I thought!). Also it seemed to me that often the talk about plastic waste went around kind of 'luxury products' like chips & biscuit packages without considering the fact that lots of the every day staples; flour, sugar, milk, beans, lentils, pasta – all come in plastic packaging as well. Growing up in Finland I was used to seeing most of those products come in recyclable paper or cartoon packages and the recycling bins are available for most people and that is probably why I had had my eyes on these ordinary, daily food products that in India I was buying in plastic because I had no choice (or so I thought!).


When my friend Annette left India to move to Canada almost two years ago now and distributed among her friends things she did not want to take to Canada, she gave me white cotton table cloth with blue flowers printed on it. It was a very pretty cloth but because I am not much of a table-cloth-using –kind of person (except on Christmas), I immediately saw the opportunity to make it into produce bags and start finally doing my dry staples groceries from the bulk bins at the Ooty municipal market instead of buying them packaged in plastic. That time I had just occasionally come across news and stories about zero waste bulk bin shops being opened up in some big cities in Europe and in the US but I had never thought what a great opportunity for zero waste groceries was right here in Ooty, at the municipal market. 




Of course we had been always buying all our vegetables and fruits from there and there is never any packaging involved. And since we totally love popcorn (we eat HUGE bowls of it and all without salt, too), we had also for years been buying popcorn seeds from a bulk bin vendor at the market. But into a plastic bag provided by the shopkeeper. Until I had those new cloth bags made of Annette’s table cloth, I had not bought anything other than vegetables and fruits  to my own bags.

According to Wikipedia, The Ooty Municipal Market has been previously considered to be a model market of India. -  It features 1500 permanent sales outlets and 500 temporary outlets. The market is visited by 3,500 to 4,000 people on a typical weekday and between 4000 to 5000 people on weekends. During the summer tourist season in Ooty, the average number of visitors per day is more than 5000.”

Nowadays I’m hooked. I find it so satisfying to be able to avoid plastic packaging when I go to the market and by atta, maida, ragi flour, popcorn seeds, baking soda, corn flour, pasta, soya balls, sugar, whatever beans and lentils I need – from the bulk bins into my own bags. At home I then transfer them to containers. I have also got really good service and understanding for my wish to not have plastic packaging at the Sri Krishna Stores where I normally go for my groceries. Zero Waste is about empowering ourselves to have a choice. Choice to choose less single-use plastic, less disposables, less packaging materials. In the Ooty market, choosing the alternative packaging - your own cloth bag - is very easy!


Today I made some new discoveries as well. You can buy dates in bulk (with seeds) and sesame seeds and groundnuts. So I can make zero waste peanutbutter!!!! I was also tempted at the coffee-grinding shop to buy coffee powder from bulk bin to avoid the packages from my instant coffee powder. Problem is that I still like instant coffee more than filter coffee. So my short-term solution is to buy instant coffee in a 1 kg bag (biggest I have found so far) and divide it across our place in Ooty, the Farm and my office to reduce packaging. Long-term plan is to learn to like filter coffee and then buy coffee powder from the bulk bin and directly to my own glass jar.