Over 100,000 metric tonnes of waste is generated every day in India. Landfills are being stretched to the limit, and the continuously mounting garbage is contaminating natural resources like soil and groundwater.
To help fix this vicious cycle of consumerism and waste disposal, 41-year old Shailaja Rangarajan – who is based in Bangalore, India’s third-largest city – is charting a new path towards conscious consumerism. While waste management is usually seen as the process of segregating and recycling, she has gone a step further by promoting the “upcycling” waste.
“I was volunteering in solid waste management for my apartment and later at the municipality level. I was working on segregating and routing the waste to recycling units or for composting and I kept wondering, why are we even generating this waste?” says Rangarajan.
“Just because I am recycling, it is not an excuse to consume so much and then discard it all,” she adds. “It is important to take a step back and change our consumption patterns. Right now the volume of waste is huge and upcycling is a way forward.”
Through her venture, Rimagined, discarded waste and junk such as old clothes, plastics, tyre tubes, broken glass, wood pieces and even multilayered plastic packaging like juice boxes are turned into stylish products, which people can buy both online or through a retail shop.
This idea of repurposing waste has traditional roots in her country, Rangarajan says. “The concept of upcycling is not new to India. It is ingrained in us as individuals. Traditionally, we don’t discard clothes without putting them to other uses. For example we use them as rags and dusters till they can’t be used further.”
From fashion accessories and home decor to stationery and furniture, Rimagined sells a wide range of products that are made from available resources and that also reduce the amount of garbage produced. Innovative as well as artistic, the start-up’s products appeal to both environmentally conscious people looking to reduce their waste burden as well as those who want to buy something unique for their home or wardrobe.
Since its launch in 2016, the company has developed over 300 products of its own out of waste. It sells another 200 products created by other initiatives. According to Rimagined, they have transformed at least 30 tonnes of waste into useful and stylish products.
Creating marketable products out of waste is not easy. The process involves challenging steps like collecting the waste, sifting, sorting, cleaning and finally designing the product. Score are also given to each product, providing the buyer with additional information like the decomposition rate or its environmental footprint.
“We don’t think of a product and then collect waste, as that would not solve the problem and would encourage a certain type of waste. Rather we get waste first and brainstorm over what to do with it, depending on what’s available. So it needs a lot of effort, research, playing around with the material and designing before transformation,” added Rangarajan.
The company is also heavily invested in the well-being of its workers. They ensure responsible employment by providing livelihood opportunities to women from rural communities and giving them skillsets to bring them into the mainstream workforce.
Rangarajan is now developing a workforce of women in different cities that specialize in handling specific kind of waste material and creating certain products out of them. For example, in Kolkata, an entire workforce is dedicated to working only with denims and converting them into into carpets, rugs and bags.
Learn more about the transition to a green economy.