how deep sea diving made richa malik an ecopreneur

how deep sea diving made richa malik an ecopreneur

learn about green washing, zero-waste living and how can you and I live a more sustainable life from richa malik
so, not going to look up even now? Reading how deep sea diving made richa malik an ecopreneur 22 minutes Next planet-friendly living made easy with shravan shankar



Today, the Green Shoots team dives into the Indian plastic story. We start by giving you a sense of the plastic waste landscape, and then meet Richa Malik, the founder of  

Richa has made it her life's mission to make people & organizations aware of the plastic menace and is generous enough to distill her years of experience within 2 podcast episodes.  Here is her linkedin profile to know more about her

In this episode, you will learn about green washing, zero-waste living and how can you and I live a more sustainable life.

The profiles of the Green Shoots team members in this interview are mentioned below:

Please keep writing to us at

You can check out and Subscribe to GreenShoots channel directly on SpotifyApple or Google podcast





Let's just understand - what is this big deal about plastic? Plastic today is everywhere, but that was not the case a few decades back. In 1950, the global production of plastic was practically zero and today, it is 360 million tonnes. Lightweight,. durable, flexible, inexpensive to produce, plastic has many benefits leading to its widespread use. 

Coming specifically to India. In 2018, we generated 18.5 million tons of plastic waste. Alright, not the total production, the waste is 18.5 million tons. I was thinking a lot about how to convey this into a number that we can understand and this is the best I could come up with. If you can come up with a better way to articulate this number so that people understand, please do share with us. We all know that blue whale is the heaviest animal on the planet? It weighs 140 tons. Compared to that, an elephant only weighs 5 tons, practically a feather. We produced 70,000 blue whales in weight, 70,000 blue whales in one year as waste. There are only 25,000 blue whales in our oceans today. So that is the kind of plastic waste that we have generated as a country. Imagine what is getting generated globally. It can take hundreds, or even thousands of years for plastic to break down. So, the environmental damage is long-lasting. Most plastic can only be recycled once or twice before it has to be down cycled. So, recycling plastic only goes a certain distance. On top of that, only nine percent of global plastic is actually recycled and 80% ends up in landfills or water bodies and it is estimated by study done by USA Today, that we are consuming one plastic credit card, every week in the form of microplastic, one plastic credit card every week. Honestly, these are not pleasant numbers at all. And idea is not to scare ourselves into inaction, idea is to motivate us to do something about it. Today, in conversation with Richa, we will discuss how we can know more about plastic, as individuals we can contribute to the whole plastic waste management process. Now that I have done the easy job of stating the problem, Let's go meet Richa and Tania to get all our answers. 

In an Awenest Chat with Richa Malik, we learn about her incredible journey of a zerowaster, her philosophy of sustainable living and what can people do to drive change in their society.  

Hosts - Tania and Kinshuk


Team Awenest : Hi Richa, it is great to have you here. Could you tell us a bit about the factors that pushed you to start Happy Turtle?

Richa: I am Richa Malik. I'm the founder of a company called the Happy Turtle. We're a small start-up based out of Delhi and we work towards reducing plastic consumption. Our intent is to try and drive a circular economy on plastics and reduce wasteful consumption on plastic. I've been in the corporate world. I worked with P&G and Unilever for about six years and then I quit corporate life and I became a scuba diving instructor in Indonesia and that’s of course where you see a lot of sea life but you also see a lot of plastic underwater, including brands that I used to sell. So it was a kind of dharam-sankat moment and Karma came full circle. And after a lot of such incidents, I finally decided that okay, I can put my educational background and work experience and skills to some better use than just selling for other companies and stuff. So, I decided to try and promote a sustainable lifestyle and came back to India and started The Happy Turtle. That's why the company's called The Happy Turtle as well. These Turtles are definitely happier without plastic. 


Team Awenest - thats a fantastic story! What are the most urgent and critical problems that need to be solved when it comes to India. As a changemaker, what do you feel needs Immediate attention? 

Richa: I would probably look at it from each of the stakeholders. So, from the government standpoint, and if I talk plastics particularly, I would look at it as the government addressing the problem of multi-layered plastics. They are working on it, but the progress is very slow and very insignificant so far. That's from the government standpoint. From the big companies and FMCG giants, etc, I think of a big problem that we keep coming across repeatedly is a lot of greenwashing by them. By just putting, you know, like a dash of aloe vera in a product and saying, oh, it's eco-friendly, but selling it in the same plastic packaging and it still has the same load of chemicals and the same 60, 70 percent, water base, Etc. It will help a lot if FMCG companies can actually put genuine efforts towards sustainability versus just marketing it and PR efforts of claiming that things that are sustainable when they're actually not and from individuals, I think the biggest thing that needs to change is wasteful consumption and waste segregation. So, start segregating your household waste because that's one of the biggest challenges that comes in recycling as well where clean waste streams are not available because people just don't think about segregating their household waste.


Team Awenest - Who do you think has the largest responsibility in ushering in these tides of change? While, of course, none can work in isolation. But is it the individual user who holds the power or is it the manufacturers or is it the state policymakers? 

Richa: Individuals. Because companies follow consumer Trends. The governments will have to fall in line as the power of the people grows and says, one thing and one thing alone. We've seen that happen with regards to climate change. We're seeing that happen with regards to renewable energy, Electric vehicles. We always underestimate ourselves that we are not a part of the solution. We can't do anything about it. Companies should, the government should, but the government is made of people from our standpoint, right? And still we don't talk about it. Till we don't make noise about it, I don't think things will change. So, I definitely think individuals play a very very big role.


Q - But don't you think manufacturers with a role that they have been playing, in driving buying patterns, in influencing what we want, have traditionally worked to move consumer buying habits away from what can be deemed sustainable?

Richa: Yes, they have, but I think from the standpoint of Manufacturers, it's always going to be a vicious cycle, right. Companies look at making profits and selling more to make profits. There are a lot of companies that exist right now, which are selling products that you actually don't need, that are bad for you. And they are, what I would probably call, created needs. It's not a perfect world. In a perfect world, I would probably think of an organisation only selling healthy beverages but that's not going to happen. So, we can't expect it. One, we obviously can't expect all manufacturers to shoulder the responsibility and we see that as well. We can't just keep saying that Oh, yeah, companies should change. Yes. Keep blaming the companies, keep calling them out on the wrong habits and stuff, but we can't expect all manufacturers to change. We can expect some manufacturers to change, but I think those manufacturers are the ones who will realise that going forward now, it's reached a point that we can't abuse the Earth's resources relentlessly and for them to survive for the next 20, 30, 40 years, they need to switch to sustainable practices. Those manufacturers who are realizing it, who are switching to those habits, I think they will survive longer in the longer run. 

Q - What role is The Happy Turtle playing in driving the change to a sustainable living?

Richa: We aim for our website to become the one place where individuals can do anything and everything when it comes to living in a relatively plastic-free way, zero waste sort of a lifestyle. We have a plastic footprint calculator, which helps them start by understanding that, yes, you are a part of the problem. It provides you with solutions as well because a lot of things that we are using right now, we don't need them. It's about sustainable lifestyle overall being cost-saving as well because there's a lot of habit changes involved. Then we have a plastic free supply chain where we make our reusable alternatives to plastic and they have a social impact. So, they help rural Artisans, women from SHGs. It's a small-scale manufacturing but of course it can be expanded if you think of assembly line and large scale manufacturing as well, the key aspect being that it is plastic free. With the government, we hope to work with them on, providing them with the right data because the plastic footprint calculator, we have two versions - We have one for businesses, where we help, you know, like Corporate Offices, Etc, reduce their plastic Footprints, so both the business and the individual tool give us a lot of consumption data, which currently in India is not available. 


Team Awenest :  If I wanted to know about the carbon footprint or a plastic footprint of a brand, not an individual, would that be possible? Also, is the information openly available for any specific brand?

Richa: It is a little tricky to get that data out, but you can try comparison, and read into the back of products to delve deeper and understand the company and their range of products. Carbon Footprints have been measured for a lot of companies for a lot of time. With carbon neutrality coming in and carbon credits model in place, of course, companies are offsetting what their carbon footprints are. It is just a matter of them not sharing it publicly,which is what makes it challenging, which is where a few, you know, simple dipstick concepts can help people understand that.


If you are just asking yourself questions like, okay, how do I think this is made or where do I think this is made or just reading the back of pack of a lot of labels. That helps you understand that product A versus product B, if product A is made completely in India, is going to obviously have a lower carbon footprint versus something imported because shipping in maritime is one of the biggest carbon footprint contributions on our planet right now. It might be cheaper because of economies of scale, but it definitely would not be ecologically, or environmentally more beneficial. if you're using garbage bags and bin liners at your house, that’s going to be your highest footprint, and that's where the tool comes in because a lot of people, they would be worried about plastic pollution but they don't know where they can start. 


Team Awenest - There are these compostable or biodegradable, or even oxo, biodegradable garbage bags available in the market. What's the real picture here? Are they actually eco-friendly? 

Richa: No. No, it's all my favorite category of products called greenwashing. So, Oxo biodegradable is basically nothing but an additive in your normal plastic, which will make it break down. So, basically that Catalyst gets activated with UV light. So even in normal sunlight, it will start breaking back down into microplastics faster. So essentially, it's saying instead of this becoming microplastics, 20, 40, 80 years later, it will become microplastics in six months. So, you will end up eating what bags you consume effectively speaking. 

Team Awenest: Okay, instead of two generations, you're consuming.

Richa: Yes (laughs) Now the term "biodegradability" in itself is a catch-22 because everything is biodegradable. Even diamonds are biodegradable, because biodegradability doesn't have a timeline attached to it. So eventually everything will break down. Once the Planet is dead, of course, everything has biodegraded by that time, right? So, biodegradability in itself, just because it has a term bio tends to confuse people a lot. Biodegradability should not be taken as a term of something being eco-friendly. Compostability on the other hand, has a timeline attached to it and certain conditions attached to it. So, when you say something is compostable, banana peel is compostable under any condition. These compostable bags, their conditions of compostability are that they need industrial composting facility to break down which means they need a temperature of 65 degrees and above, they need 1.7 atmospheric pressure or above and they need the exactly right microbial cocktail for at least 60 days before they can start breaking down and they break down into compost after that. But they also release microplastics. They also release other toxic chemicals, within permissible limits. 2 percent of 1 kilo is nothing but 2 percent of one ton is a lot, right? So, these products are not at all eco-friendly, and imagine our country’s scenario where people don't segregate, where people are putting everything into this garbage bag. Can you actually send that garbage bag to the Industrial composting facility? And by the way, we barely have 40 or 50 of these industrial composting facilities in India, to begin with. So, imagine these bags reaching that facility and then breaking down like the probability of that is probably as close to zero as possible. So, these bags are nothing but green washing. 


Team Awenest - Where can people access this kind of information? How do you get information to people? What can be the biggest source for that? 

Richa: So, the biggest issue with regards to even well-meaning individuals right now is this information asymmetry. We do try to disseminate this information through social media or through our website. For waste audit one, I would obviously shamelessly recommend my plastic footprint calculator which you can visit on our website, and you can calculate it. It looks at most of your common household Plastic Products, but not everything, because within three minutes it is difficult to audit everything, but it does give you a very broad understanding of where you are using how much of Plastic. We also put up a lot of links of documentaries, of research papers etc, which people would normally not be able to find. 

Team Awenest - One Question that we keep encountering is whether sustainable choices impede the growth agenda of third world countries. Are both possible at the same time? Will our country continue to grow if it makes sustainable choices?

Richa: Yes. One, conscious consumerism does not mean zero consumerism. A lot of habits currently, even if you look at the bottom of the pyramid in India, a lot of their current habits are more sustainable than our urban habits. And those are not the ones where we should be looking at, you know, so-called developing them, because it's not developing them. It's something we should be learning from them. Where we should be developing them and trying to pull them out of poverty is definitely healthcare medicines, essential benefits. So, building consumerism on the right pillars in those areas definitely makes sense. Conscious consumerism is profitable for both the businesses and the planet and it's more economical for the consumer. 

Because the products will last longer, the products will help them and improve their health overall and it doesn't bear on their pocket in a way that they end up piling on medical expenses.

Constructing roads has a carbon footprint. Yes. Absolutely. It does. And it releases microplastics into the neighboring soil as well. But is it a necessary cost? Yes, it is. If it is a necessary cost to get medicines to a village faster. Absolutely. We should go for it. So, there's always going to be a bit of a compromise. In fact, the UN Sustainable development goals are called sustainable development goals, Sustainable development Goals SDGs and not development goals because they need to be sustainable in that aspect. They need to be sustainable that we're not robbing from the environment more than we can manage to. We're not ripping off the planet in a way just to claim that it's economically beneficial and there's a lot of talk on climate justice as well, which developing countries are talking about where of course, there's going to be more emissions from a developing country as they start developing further as compared to a developed Nation. Currently, per capita carbon emissions for developed countries are the highest and the developing nations are among the lowest which is where they see that, okay, you should reduce your per capita carbon emissions because that's harming the planet more and you've been emitting for much longer and at a higher level versus us, and now you're going to rob us of the chance of development. Absolutely agree, but per capita consumption definitely needs to come down. The U.S uses 40 kilos of plastic per capita per annum compared to an average Indian of 11 kilos and urban Indian of 24 kilos, right? So, absolutely, they are using more per person and absolutely their use needs to come down, right? But at the same time, do we need to pump in more plastics into our Villages? No, we don’t. Can we not look at refill models? Can you look at models of how markets have been working like how people in the village buy oil right now? They go and buy oil in their own bottles. They buy oil in their dabbas like they used to.

Team Awenest - You spoke about how consumers have the biggest role to play. But a village or a small town looks up to cities for the model of their development, and cities are the places where both emissions and plastic consumption are the highest. It's natural for them to emulate what they look up to. How can that be put a pause to? Will this be government-led? And what rule can they play? 


Richa: So if I talk about the remotest of places. We did a project in Teerthan Valley in Himachal and that's as remote as it can get. Because it has its tourist influence, the people have a traditional way of living, yet single-use plastic has crept into the valley. The government needs to step in from a ban and a regulation standpoint, something which Sikkim has done well in a couple of districts like Lachang Lachang. You're not even allowed to take plastic bottles in the district. In these places, focusing on education in a way that it's more focused towards how do you keep your valley clean and Teerthan Valley had that. They need to see the right examples and they should also share examples of places like Leh. As far off as remote it is, Leh has managed a very good waste segregation and waste management system. You have Indore and Bhopal, who have managed to clear out their landfills. And they understand, like, even in the Teerthan valley, everybody understands. The moment, I would say I'm from Delhi immediately they would associate air pollution and landfill pictures with it. They do understand it. They do see it. 


Team Awenest - So examples of good behavior are needed. You spoke about a lot of  data in the process. You also spoke about top contributors to pollution, sachet impact, Etc. If anyone was interested, where would they find this kind of information?

Richa: By product, information is a little cumbersome to get. There are a few papers by UN environment. So, on the UN environment India website, UNEP website, you can get some details. On UNDP, you can get some pollution details and CPCB releases an annual report on plastic waste. Then you also have industry organizations, like FICCI and CII and AIPMA, which is the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association. The easiest resource is definitely the CPCB website and the annual report to start with, because it's an unbiased government report. I think CSE and TERI, CSE releases a good Plastics report as well, CEEW is another organization. Then you have big waste management NGOs, like SAAHAS and Chintan Environmental Research and research Association, which work a lot on rag pickers, a lot on Waste Management, and a lot of the challenges on waste management. 


Team Awenest -  Is anything happening in the social sector about teaching at a much younger age what sustainability means, or is it right now still up to NGOs and well-meaning individuals to pick up the mantle? 

Richa: Most of the education boards in India have a mandatory environment subject now, both at school levels and at college levels. You will find a lot of these private, play schools and preschools and even young kids who are taught about plastic. They actually go back home and tell their parents, oh we're not going to use a plastic straw from today or we're not going to use a plastic bag from today, etc. A lot of the interns that we get are way more passionate about the environment than even we used to be in college. They study about it. They know about it. And in fact, I think the number of courses that have been made available on sustainable MBAs, sustainable businesses, social impact, environmental impact, just the sheer number of courses that are now available at undergraduate and postgraduate level. 

Team Awenest:

 In the next episode which shares a recipe for making your own food powder in a jiffy and other super easy tips to bring about small changes in your daily life, to live more sustainably. 

You can reach us at We will see you again soon with something very engaging and very entertaining. Please keep supporting us with all the love. Thank you.


Author - team awenest

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