New Delhi: Rejection can either hold you back or push you to achieve more. For 13-year-old Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar a simple resolution, “I will not give you my newspaper waste” opened up new avenues to manage waste effectively and provide livelihood to hundreds of women. The story of Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar, founder of Max Xchange, dates back to 2015 when Vikramjeet, fondly known as Max, was in fifth grade in Delhi Public School and took up a community service project. Recalling his initial days in the field of waste management, Max says,
As part of our curriculum, we are supposed to take up a project through which we give back to the society. I decided to help people through waste. For the same, I started collecting old newspapers from neighbourhood, selling it to a local scrap dealer and buying stationery for under privileged. Over a period of time, I realised that the amount of newspaper waste being collected was reducing.
This went on for a couple of months when one fine day a woman refused to give papers to Max. The rejection came as a surprise as despite having a stash of newspaper waste, the woman declined to give it away.
That’s when I understood that a normal person’s perspective is like that of a shopkeeper’s that is, you give me something and only then I will give you something in return. Even if it’s a Rs. 10 thing you would value that more than you would value a free thing because you have spent your hard earned money in buying that item, says Max.
This one incident changed Max’s style of working and gave birth to Max Xchange, which allows people to exchange their dry and recyclable waste for upcycled products like home furnishings – cushions, notepads, glassware, furniture, newspaper bin liners, planters, among others.
Max Xchange Gives A New Lease Of Life To Waste
What started as a humble school project and involved only newspaper waste now addresses all kinds of dry and recyclable waste including apparels. Yes, you read that right! So how does Max, a teenager, make this happen? Elaborating on the process of waste collection and upcycling, Kiran Kanwar, Max’s mother says,
From paper, cardboard, different types of plastic waste – multi-layer plastic, single-use palstic, PET bottles, containers, metal, glass bottles, tyres, we collect all kinds of recyclables. Currently, we collect waste from over 150 locations in Gurgaon (now Gurugram), Faridabad, and some parts of Delhi. Each residential building, organisation, society, has a one to two point of contact. The contact person/lead takes care of the waste collection part. We also have waste collection vehicles and a fixed timetable.
The collected waste is then segregated and sent for the purpose of upcycling to different teams. For instance, a team is dedicated to segregating and upcycling plastic waste as plastic requires expertise.
The problem is not with the plastic but the way it is discarded. What people don’t know is that almost everything they use is made of plastic. From shoes, denim, pens, to milk packets, everything has plastic in it and every form of plastic is recyclable. Max has developed a way to manufacture tiles using multi-layer and single-use plastic and has even applied for a patent, says Kiran.
Newspaper waste is used to make pencils. While machines are used to roll paper over graphite and make a pencil, the packaging is done by disabled kids belonging to various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like Red Cross who are then paid in both cash and kind, as the organsiers wish. Also, old clothes like shirts, denim are used in making beautiful and unique cushions.
The inside of the cushion is also made using rejected fabric so even if some pieces are not pretty, it doesn’t matter; we use them. We stitch the pieces together and then cover it with a nice piece of shirt or denim, says Kiran.
Similarly, flower waste and other sacred waste collected from places of worship are used in making incense cones, Panchagavya, Hawan Kund and other things; old beer bottles are repurposed into glasses; tyres into furniture; and the list is endless.
Talking about the team, Max says,
No one works under me, in fact everyone works with me. Our team can be divided into four categories – mentor – who have guided me throughout; volunteers who are responsible for collection of waste and creating awareness; unprivileged women and children who help us create some items and we provide them livelihood; people who work for us in the factories and warehouse.
As of today, Max Xchange collects 750 kg to one tonne of recyclable on a daily basis. Of the one tonne of waste, 600-750kg is plastic waste. Using waste, Max Xchange creates over 100 kinds of products.
But it took a while and lot of experiments to come this far. Talking about the same, Max says,
Thanks to my tutors and mentors who guided me throughout and helped me understand the process of upcycling, recycling, different machineries involved in the process. Obviously there were challenges like when we were making glasses out of alcohol bottles; we didn’t have any expertise in glass products. Around 20 bottles were wasted while cutting it and then another 5-10 were lost during the final process of shaping.
Max Xchange Brings Back Barter System
The recyclable waste is collected in exchange of X points – the currency of Max Xchange. Depending on the current rate of waste, an individual gets points. For example, the rate of newspaper waste is 10 X points per kg, so a 10 kg load will give you 100 X points. These points can be redeemed for an upcycled product.
The rate of waste is decided on the basis of the standard market rate and the cost of labour and raw materials. We try to keep it as close or mostly above the market rate. For instance, the current market rate of waste paper is Rs. 8-9 per kg and cardboard is Rs. 4 per kg, however, we have maintained it as Rs. 10 and Rs. 5 respectively, says Max.
While the home furnishings, stationery, glassware and other products are sold under the name of ‘Max Rebuilds’, incense cones made using flower waste collected from temples, mosque, Gurudwaras, and other places of worship are sold under the brand name ‘Pushp’.
The idea is to motivate people to participate in the waste management process and to encourage them to do so we offer upcycled products in exchange of waste. But since we need money to sustain the idea, pay salaries and we have stock of upcycled products, we sell as well, says Kiran.
Today, Max Xchange has a customer base of over 3,600, has recycled approximately 15 tonnes of plastic waste, repurposed 54 kg of flower waste and has saved 162 trees by recycling about 14,256 kg of paper.
Also Read: Opt For Incense Stick Made From Flower Waste
Before I joined hands with Max Xchange, I had the perception that I live a very environmentally responsible life. We compost our waste, reuse most of the waste that we generate, use cloth bags, etc. But after being involved with Max Xchange and segregating waste, I was surprised to see the amount of plastic waste I was generating. That was the moment – a real eye opener. In my society, we (25 households) have been associated with Max for last four months and the work flow has been smooth. They ensure pickup happens twice a month. Recently, we got 150 points per household and I bought bamboo toothbrush which is of a superior quality. One of my neighbours purchased incense cones and the fragrance is amazing, says Jaishree Jindel, resident of GPL Eden Heights in Gurgaon.
Having done this, Max wishes to expand his venture to various parts of Delhi and then get involved in wet waste management as well.