This Pune-based startup, EcoKaari, is on its way to turning your chips packet into a handcrafted product.
When we think of Sustainable India, we think of India making clean energy, free from all the fights of humanity, and being environmentally safe. Moreover, environmental stability is much needed for a higher quality of life. Plastics being a major source of pollution has marked an uncertain scenario towards the environment. Starting from food wrappers, beverage bottles, and plastic bags to containers, lids, etc., plastics have found their way into the human body through the food chain. And disposing of them safely has been proven ineffective. All the plastics lying in the landfills and ocean body are essentially harming nature.
Releasing Center for Science and Environment’s (CSE’s) background paper on management of plastic waste in India, Sunita Narain, the director of CSE, said, “We had imagined that we had solved the problem of plastic waste through recycling it, or burying it, or shipping it out of our sight. But we were wrong. Plastic waste is everywhere today. It is in our faces. It is filling up our oceans and destroying marine life, and even invading our food chain to get into our bodies. Our per capita use of plastics is growing—and as we become richer, we will end up generating more plastic waste.”
Despite plastic being harmful to the environment, it is still used in packaging because it is easy to manufacture and transport, cost-effective, and also protects foods from being spoiled.
But imagine a scenario where the plastics you use can be upcycled and transformed into a beautiful tote bag or a hand clutch, or a home décor item. This is now a reality with EcoKaari.
The Bottom Line
EcoKaari aims for sustainable development by weaving their fabric made from plastics using the charkha and handloom in a traditional way, causing no harm to the environment. The founder, Kashmir-based Nandan Bhat, found his inspiration while trekking and travelling to various locations. He saw tourists littering the beautiful locations with plastics and thought of reducing plastic presence in those locations by using plastic to make something else. Manufacturing fabric through plastics had already been in practice, but weaving it in charkha and handlooms is EcoKaari’s speciality. As its name signifies, ‘eco’ means eco-friendly and ‘kaari’ refers to kaarigar (worker). The name of the organization, thus, points towards the interdependence of the two. Its all-manual process does not use any kind of energy or machines—just the traditional equipment, artisans and a determination to make a change!
EcoKaari aims to upcycle, which means creatively reusing a product without breaking it down, just like taking a simple thing and converting it into a higher quality product on your own. They gather waste plastic from an organization and promote to donate the household plastic, which can be grocery plastic bags, chips packets (which has to be trimmed horizontally only), gift wrappers, transparent plastic sheets, foams, and foams and even Amazon and Flipkart bags. These waste plastic are first sorted according to their thickness and size; the unsuitable ones are donated. Then they are washed thoroughly, sanitised, and then sun-dried. Afterwards, they are sorted into different colours and trimmed manually using scissors to make long strips for spinning. The plastic is then carried to a charkha for spinning, making it a weft for weaving and later woven into a handloom to make a fabric. The designing process comes into the picture now, where these fabrics are stitched according to the preferred designs, colour, and size and are manually checked to ensure their usability. The handcrafted products are then available online. EcoKaari also offers customisation.
Even the packaging they provide is eco-friendly: they take the waste cotton fabric used for inner lining in products, stitch them together, and reuse them in packaging their orders. Moreover, they support their artisans and encourage less privileged people to learn and contribute to the process.
The Challenges Confronted
As the initial stage of any start-up is always difficult, Nandan Bhat faced two major difficulties as well. The first one was teaching less privileged people weaving because traditionally, weaving is an activity limited to certain communities and passed over through generations. While Mr Bhat learnt how to weave himself at a blind school that taught arts and crafts, encouraging people to learn weaving outside of those communities was a challenge. For 3–4 months, he tried to implement a working model where people could weave from home, but it did not work out because, in India, weaving done at home is seen as an activity only accessible to certain castes, so the weavers faced discrimination from communities. A centralized unit was set up to resolve this, where weaving and handloom both occur, and people can come to the hub, weave, and go home. The second was the collection of ‘right’ plastic. Though plastic is available everywhere, the collection of the right kind was initially difficult because plastic segregation as a practice is still not common. Therefore, the organisation tied hands with some NGOs dealing with plastic and accepted household plastics’ donation. Currently, they get hundreds of parcels from households.
Keeping its chin high, the organization aims to expand its units all over India. To help people teach about and eliminate plastic, Mr Bhat will continue to set up more centralized units, especially in remote parts of the country because of the clean manufacturing process, as it requires no use of energy or electricity.
As someone dedicated to the cause of elimination of plastic use, Mr Bhat encourages people to keep in mind the 4 Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle and also practice upcycling. Carrying a cloth bag, your own water bottle, and not preferring the plastic ones, using a bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic are small steps that individuals can take to make a big impact on environmental conservation. The plastics that we use can be donated to an organization that recycles, reuses, or upcycles them.
Let’s take a step closer to be sustainable: Even your minor contribution pays off in one way or the other. And if we stand together, in no time, the Earth will be green.
Read how a Bengaluru based green startup, Spectalite, is increasing the sustainability quotient of industries like automobile, packaging, logistics and disposables with its sustainable materials.
Written by Nishi Mantri, Team ulaunch