One Women Repurposing Plastic Waste with Charkha
Aug 5th , 2021 | Bharati Bastade Koot
Reimagine Our Plastic Waste
Charkha has a special place in our hearts for its role in the freedom movement of our Nation. Today, although it is less popular, Charkha is being used to reimagine our waste plastic in a different way. Yes, you read it correctly. Amita Deshpande, Founder of reCharkha - a Social Enterprise, is defining an alternative lifestyle out of waste plastic using Charkha and Handlooms. Through her EcoSocial vision, this IT professional is very keen to work on today’s plastic waste issues.
Amita worked in the IT field for a couple of years after completing Engineering studies. Despite her technical background, she always had environmental concerns in her mind. She used to see how plastic waste is harming our nature and waste is disposed of without any care. “Since childhood, I always wished that somehow all the waste disappears and our planet becomes clean”, Amita recalls as she narrates. Her love and care for the environment grew along with her. She would volunteer for various activities during her college days. And when she went to the USA for her Masters’ education, she studied it with a focus on sustainable development.
She did work on CSR consulting and reporting projects while abroad. But there was always a nagging in her head that she wanted to work on plastic waste. Eventually, it made her fly back to India leaving a well-paying job. We hear her determined voice saying, “I always wanted to work in a social setup rather than only talking about waste”.
She believes the social and environmental sectors go hand-in-hand. To begin her work, she co-founded Aarohana Ecosocial Developments, a Social Enterprise. They did CSR consulting and got associated with NGO projects. They saw the upcycling of plastic waste happening with the help of Charkha and picked up the idea for their projects. She says, “Our focus was very clear, that is to protect the environment and generate livelihood”. In continuation to her vision, reCharkha was born afresh in 2020 to revive charkha and waste plastic together on a greater scale.
Communicating Bigger Problems
Today we see reCharkha is rolling at a speed, but the beginning of all this was not so easy. When we hear Amita saying, “the family eventually supported the idea of me jumping into social entrepreneurship”, we realize she must have had enough rounds of convincing them. First leaving the job in the IT field, then returning from a well-set abroad career, and bringing back her husband too along with her, must have been an eye-widening phenomenon for all of her family and friends. But, she could do this because of her great love for her country, its people, and a passion for working on its environmental issues. She continues by saying about the early days, “Initially, everything was gray, as the project was so unique. Nobody knew how to make it, will it work or will it be just a failure”. But, as it started, keeping going forward was only the choice she made to pursue her dream to work on plastic waste.
“The waste plastic wrappers and thin plastic are a big problem because of their volume to weight ratio which is very high. Also, they do not get much monetary value hence they end up in landfills”, Amita highlights as she continues highlighting plastic waste issues. With such plastic waste as the core input, reCharkha upcycles them using Charkha and Handloom and turns them into uniquely designed useful lifestyle products like purses, bags, home decor products, etc. Yet, it is interesting to listen to her saying, “we are not providing a solution to plastic waste, we are communicating that it is the big problem”. Amita wants to make people aware that plastic should not be used in the first place and Refuse, Reduce, Reuse to be followed over Recycle. Further, she adds, “We will be happy to see plastic disappearing from Earth”. She has begun with a greater and noble end in her mind.
Creating Livelihood for local people
She trained the tribals for the weaving process using Charkha and Handlooms. The setup for this is created in the tribal village itself. Amita clearly says, she didn’t want to bring them to cities and then work here. She knew they will end up living a poor quality of life at the cost and speed of the city compared to their natural habitats. The problems of migrant workers that we faced during the early days of the covid19 pandemic were kind of envisioned by Amita and the team back several years ago. “I went there to make them settle where they are rather than making them wander around in the city”, Amita added. Although the supervision team is placed in the village, it is still expensive for them to go and work in villages. But, Amita is keen not to work on anything where they employ migrant workers. And that’s right also. As with waste segregation at source is beneficial, creating employment locally is equally beneficial for various economic and environmental reasons.
At reCharkha plastic waste is converted into a fabric with the help of charkha and handloom. This process is done in tribal villages. This fabric is then stitched into a variety of products at their Pune center. They source the raw material from a few trained waste pickers and fellow followers. As the initial processing with Charkha and Handlooms happens at the tribal village, this raw material is moved there once every six months. About the plastic waste generated during production, she adds, “We try to standardize our fabric sizes to minimize waste. We are coming up with experiments where all of that waste gets used, or if anything is left that goes to Rudra Solutions for ultimate recycling”. A tag is provided to each of their product to take care of the damage or end of the life cycle. As plastic out of their products remains as is, they ensure to carefully upcycle or dispose of it.
Always Looking Out for Possibilities
Amita is a woman of possibilities. She puts her views on how we can deal with our waste issues by doing what is possible to do. She cleverly says that “the alternative packaging from suppliers and conscious choices from consumers alone can solve many of the waste issues”. Further, she adds, “we can shop as zero waste even at our local grocery shop if we decide to make it possible”. She thinks our waste management policies are good enough but lack implementation. So the government and people should work together to bring them into action. And of course, education and awareness is the key to achieve that. But she mentions that whatever awareness is happening currently is in very little percentage and far away from villages. Keeping that at the core, Amita has also initiated My EcoSocial Planet NGO. Through this, she invites volunteers and waste-aware people to come forward and become their Eco Buddy to spread awareness about waste and the environment.
reCharkha has always got a good response from responsible consumers. Amita mentions, “We have to educate people about what they are buying”. This is clearly because people are not used to such alternatives made out of waste plastic, they have never seen them before. But when they learn about it they are pleasantly surprised. Amita feels good to route some of the waste plastic from landfills to meaningful products. Over this period, she has learned ways to convince people for sustainable life and she will continue doing it with all the inspiration coming from around her.
Amita truly is an inspiration for all of us who traveled on her passion path and is making an impact.
To Continue and Make a Lot of Difference
“I never felt the journey this far was challenging being a woman. Women are generally better at doing a lot of things, but I feel everyone should jump into waste management responsibilities. Even if they don’t end up becoming an entrepreneur, they should start taking responsibility for their waste at the individual and family level.”
~ Amita Deshpande
She has a dream to develop a sustainable village where all aspects of sustainability are demonstrated and showcased. She believes it is possible to have such a village. And through this, she wants to make it a lighthouse for others to follow and the whole world can become more sustainable.
Amita and the team had stood high amidst the challenging pandemic situation. With a lot of uncertainty around due to covid19, they were closed down for a few months. But they remembered to keep going and came out with bright flying colors. She says, “we continued, and made a lot of difference”.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The spinning wheel and the spinning wheel alone will solve if anything will solve, the problem of the deepening poverty of India.”. And, today we see visionary people like Amita, who are firm on using Spinning Wheel, ie. Charkha to solve today’s problems of plastic waste, the environment, and rural unemployment altogether.
We, Team Inwaster, truly respect and appreciate Team reCharkha and Amita’s vision. We humbly wish that reCharkha flies higher with many more colors of success.
Dear readers, do you wanna be an EcoBuddy or an EcoConsumer or both? Look at the ‘what and how’ of reCharkha bringing an alternative lifestyle made out of plastic waste. To grab your favourite picks or lend your support, do visit reCharkha!
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