Meet the woman transforming water conservation in Bengaluru with simple, sustainable practices

“I bathe with three mugs of water; I don’t smell,” says Odette, who has been saving water for the last 15 years
Odette holding a mug full of bioenzyme which she made out 
of fruit and vegetable peels and wasted RO water.
Odette holding a mug full of bioenzyme which she made out of fruit and vegetable peels and wasted RO water.

BENGALURU : Way before water scarcity hit the headlines, Odette Katrak, an environment and sustainability changemaker and co-founder of Beautiful Bharat, has been taking extreme measures to conserve water... from taking baths with just three mugs of water to watering over 350 plants without fresh water since 2009. Her bathing practice has been a butt of joke among her friends, who tease her about auto-correct changing “Odette” to “Odour”.

With her unique ways, she has inspired many, including Anand Raaj -- the man behind Eat Raja, a zero-waste juice bar located at Malleswaram in Bengaluru. He is now keeping up with the motto, “use less, reuse more”, in his business.

Raaj said, “On an average if we have 100-150 customers visiting, we require approximately 30 litres of water to thoroughly wash 250 ml glasses. However, the target audience exceeds 500 each day. At Eat Raja, we serve juice in fruit shells which are often consumed. However, when it is discarded, we use them to prepare manure. Moreover, even for cleaning slabs and floors at the shop, only waste RO water is used.”

Growing up in a joint family in Chennai amid water scarcity, Odette realised the severity of the crisis from a young age as each member was allotted only a limited quantity of water. But it was not until she stumbled upon a presentation titled “A Letter to 2070” that her conservation efforts took a more urgent and severe turn.

The letter, penned by a father to his son, portrayed a world devoid of water in the most dire and severe terms imaginable. It depicted a dystopian scenario where people were reduced to shaving and had no option but to apply oil to their bodies because of the scarcity of water. The grim portrayal left a profound impact on Odette, compelling her to intensify her efforts to conserve water.

Reflecting on her early experiences in Bellandur after relocating to Bengaluru, she recounted observing women fetching water. Among them was a mother carrying her infant, who also held an empty bucket. “That prompted me to ponder, would we appreciate the value of water if we had to carry and pay for it?”

She said, “Even with plenty of water flowing from my taps, I have realised it is crucial to conserve water as it is a shared resource. This realisation has prompted me to not only save water in my own home, but also to create awareness among others that just because we pay for water tankers it does not justify wastefulness.”

She has created a unique framework that she terms “Ecowaternomics” to make it easy to save water using a water-based hierarchy.  

To explain, she often poses a question, “Would you bathe with mineral water?” She highlights how we would not use water of higher purity for bathing, yet we frequently use fresh tap water for tasks like washing mops or rinsing dirty dishes, though water of lower purity would suffice just as well.

According to her calculations, the majority of households only need fresh water for 30-40 percent of their needs. The rest of their water requirements can be fulfilled by reusing water even if it is cloudy, soapy, or muddy from secondary hidden sources like water from washing hands, pulses, fruits and vegetables, waste RO water, water from defrosting, and washing machine outlet water. “Water that goes down the drain can always serve another purpose,” she advises.

Why wait for a water crisis to begin, she questions. Saving water should not be limited to Bengalureans and only for summer, but it is a year-round habit everyone could adopt, she highlights.

Through her social media handles @odettekatrak and @beautifulbharatorg, she consistently creates content to raise awareness about easy ways to save water. Her upcoming project focuses on creating small clips aimed at educating domestic helps about water conservation.

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The New Indian Express