These are the perennial problem of tackling waste – plastic bags. It is all around us. From the trash bin to city’s dumping yards to the waste which is littered on the road, plastic bags have become indispensable in our daily lives. And, today, they are the ‘No.1’ cause of environment pollution on earth. From landfills to oceans, parks, beaches and streets, each passing day, plastic pollution is rising dangerously. About 100,000 animals, such as dolphins, turtles, whales, penguins are killed every year due to these bags. And, if they are burned, they infuse the air with toxic fumes. But now two waste warriors – Amita Deshpande and Nandan Bhat have found a simple technique to fight the growing plastic menace. They are upcycling these culprits, plastic bags and giving them a makeover into fashionable accessories.
Amita and Nandan are both former IT professionals from Pune who met each other due to their common love for trekking.
We used to go for treks together and one common thing which always made us sad was the fact that our tourist places are badly littered. Be it wrappers of different products or simply the poly bags, this was the common sight we used to find while trekking across the country. We often discussed what happens to this waste which is found commonly littered everywhere in our country. But, we hardly came to any conclusions, explains 34-year-old, Amita Deshpande who completed her M.Sc degree from USA and left her well-paying job just so that she can involve herself in socially relevant work.
Nandan Bhat is from Kashmir and he migrated to Pune long back with his family for studies, after completing his engineering he started working in a corporate company but he too was looking to start something of his own.
When I came back from USA, I met Nandan again, we both felt strongly about the growing plastic pollution and wanted to do something about it. In 2013, we decided to collaborate and start our own company Aarohana EcoSocial Developments. However, initially, plastic upcycling didn’t feature on our agenda, added Amita Deshpande.
The duo started with environment conservation, employment generation and overall development of rural areas and in progress to that took projects in association with companies and NGOs.
Our idea was on the lines of recycling plastics and environment conservation, and we surely wanted to do something with the waste products. In 2015, we started thinking in terms of product generation in the market. We wanted to bring out a product made out of waste materials in the market so that people get to know this simple fact that trash can be managed well, added Amita Deshpande who has successfully upcycled more than 200,000 plastic bags.
Upcycling The Waste Plastic Bags Into Fashion Accessories
The duo started upcycling plastic bags into beautifully handcrafted handbags, purses, wallets, office décor items like notebook cover, laptop bags and home décor items like floor mats and there has been no looking back. In the past one and half year, the duo has set up a unit in a tribal hamlet in Dadra Nagar Haveli, and is providing tribal women and youth a source of livelihood by giving them employment at Aarohana.
This is where I spent most of my childhood and I know for the fact that like other tribal areas, this has poor alternatives for a sustainable livelihood. When we started the company, the motto was simple, to improve the socially backward areas by providing the people there employment and secondly, make use of plastic waste in some or the other way, added Amita Deshpande.
The Process Of Upcycling
In simple words, upcycling means reusing the trash in a creative form by repurposing it into a useful product. It is like giving trash a new life without affecting or polluting the environment.
Explaining the process of how the plastic bags are converted into beautiful handcrafted products, Amita added, first the plastic bags are washed and dried properly and are then shredded into small strips. Then the strips are woven together into a cloth or fabric using handlooms and charkhas. Once the cloth/fabric is ready, we craft beautiful handcrafted products from it. What’s great is that these products are eco-social products, because there’s no harm to the environment in the process. To make these products we don’t even need electricity, it is all manual work.
The Benefits Of Upcycling
The first and foremost benefit is that it reuses the dangerous plastic waste which can clog drains, cause floods, pollute the landfills and oceans and harm the marine life. In this process of upcycling about 30-40 polythene bags are used to make an average-sized handbag.
Secondly, since plastics have long shelf life, the durability of the product increases to a great extent.
Challenges On The Road To Plastic Free Nation
Talking about the concept of upcycling, Amita explained, this is the new concept for the people of India, one of the major challenges we face in this process is that we don’t get an adequate amount of plastic waste even though it is the most littered item around the country. The reasons are simple, firstly, we don’t segregate our waste, and secondly, all the plastic generated by us goes to the landfills where it ends up staying for many years without any effective treatment.
The second challenge is awareness about the process of upcycling, Amita said, “When we go out in the market to sell our product, people think, since the product is made out of plastic it will be very cheap. What, they don’t understand is the fact that to make one product out of waste, it takes a lot of effort and time.”
The waste warriors sign off by adding that, the need of the hour in our country is education and awareness about upcycling and why it is necessary to make this green switch. It is only then that the dream of a plastic free nation will become true to some extent.
Today, thanks to this duo around 200,000 typical small grocery plastic bags have been upcycled successfully and efficiently.