By: Aishwarya Upadhye
What goes around, comes back around.But what if discarded polythene bags and wrappers returned in the form of colourful laptop holdalls, dining mats or even pencil pouches?
Pune-based Aarohana EcoSocial Development has been involved in upcycling for the past two years now. The brainchild of two former IT professionals - Amita Deshpande (34) and Nandan Bhat (37) - this little green venture has been churning out chic from rubbish through garbage-collection collaborations. "We both love nature and are regular trekkers. For several years now, these trekking locations have been under the assault of discarded waste. The litter was taking the `green' out of these spots. This loss inspired our venture," says Bhat, a resident of Hadapsar.
The duo started by targeting discarded plastic bags.
"We visited several upcycling projects and finally , decided to make commodities out of polythene bags. I remember making this trip to the Kutch area in Gujarat and seeing several plastic bags stuck in bushes. That sight confirmed we were on the right track and soon, Aarohana was set up," adds Bhat.
The organisation began collaborating with several waste-collection groups for raw material. The gathered polythene bags and wrappers are given a bath, dried and then, manually shredded into strips.The strips are later woven like cloth or fabric using a loom - giving discarded plastic a fresh lease of life.
But Aarohana's upcycling process has one more aim - job creation. The venture relies completely on a manual proc ess and avoids using machines.Which is why the weaving unit has been set up in a tribal hamlet in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, where Deshpande is originally from.
"The aim was also to provide full-time employment to the women and youth of that area - a population largely dependent on agriculture for income. At Aarohana, the process is completely manual and we don't even use electricity .So, the level of human involvement, without the need for other resources, allows the unit to run out of a tribal hamlet," says Deshpande.
The final woven fabric is then transported to Pune where designers use it to create bags and items of home decor.
"We started with just handbags, which we displayed at various exhibitions, because we wanted to sell our concept first. We put a lot of focus on customer feedback and used people's responses to evolve as a company . When we came up with upcycled handbags, someone suggested we make laptop bags. Later, someone said we should also consider making lunchbox carriers and gym bags," says Deshpande, a resident of Karve Nagar in the city.
Aarohana uses discarded denim to make handles for their bags; old flexiboards are used to print their logo; and foam from old furniture is used to make the protective padding for laptop bags.
The eco-social venture is.however, facing a very human hurdle - the reluctance of people to separate their wet and dry waste. The failure to do so completely disrupts the upcycling process.
"Nobody wants to touch soiled bags. People fill wet waste in plastic bags and throw them. They should know that these bags then cannot be used because they smell. Waste segregation is crucial if we want to overcome the country's garbage crisis," Deshpande adds.