The Green Shopper: Go from junk to funk with Green The Gap

Shop at Green The Gap, and you’ll not just be part of the upcycling-recycling chain of sustainability—you’ll be creating job opportunities!


The Yamuna, a prime source of fresh water in North India, has been polluted with garbage for too long now. While individual efforts to clean the water may just be a drop in the ocean, they seem to be the only way.

“I come from a small town in Bihar and I’d seen clean rivers there, and I didn’t know why Delhi, the capital of India, that boasts so much about power, energy, electricity, and politics still doesn’t have a clean river,” says Vimlendu Jha, founder of Sweccha – an NGO that works with environment, sustainability, empowerment, with schools, colleges and young people. “So I took a year off from studies and started a group called V for Yamuna, and within a month and a half we had 500 volunteers. It grew gradually, and within 1 year it became one of the strongest voices primarily creating noise about the river because there was nobody talking about Yamuna at that time. Not a single NGO looked at it, the government didn’t really bother, and that’s how my journey with Sweccha started.”

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Decor at the Sweccha office

The Story: Greening the gap

While Sweccha is the larger part of the organisation that Jha founded and has been around for 12 years now, there is a smaller social enterprise called Green The Gap, which has been around for four years. Green The Gap concentrates on creating unique products from waste that emerges from the dustbins of the city. It has two aspects: creating livelihood opportunities at the BOP and sustainability – making good of waste.

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Artisans in the Green The Gap workshops making a handbag from rubber that has been reduced from tyres.

“Green The Gap was also required to create profit so we can fund the programs of Sweccha the NGO. Sweccha is a non-profit, registered NGO and Green The Gap is a private limited company. The marketing aspect of Green The Gap is for-profit, but the process and program part of it is not for profit,” says Jha, seated in his office which is filled with vases made from cut bottles and bags made from tetrapack cartons and rubber tubes.

The Material: Truckloads of garbage

Vimlendu smiles as he tells me there are actually organized markets for garbage- all sorts of garbage. “We either get it straight from the rag pickers or from the neighbourhood kabadiwalas or from an organized waste market that exists in New Delhi. Tyres, for examples, we buy from Sadak bazaar where there’s a whole big market for punctured flat tyres or tubes. Seelampur is where we get our old fabric from, off cuts from factories – Okhla and Seelampur. Beer cans we get from the nearby kabadiwalas, tetra pack and milk cartons from rag pickers who ever come and deliver.”

Obviously, it’s not a design project – it’s about utility. That yesterday this was in the trash can and today I’m using it in my everyday life. Green The Gap works with denim, tyres, tetra-pack – they do have a few staple garbage products that are discarded in bulk and can be reused effectively.

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Juice and milk cartons are being used to make pen stands in the workshop.

The Process: Bringing life to trash

They use what they get and we get what we want to use. But even when scouting for waste, they do have a rough idea of the product in mind. “Sometimes I get a tyre and I want to make a diary – so it’s a combination of both things”, says Vimlendu. “Just because I’ve upcycled and introduced more value in the core, that shouldn’t take away from design and utility or quality. Our products are made by poor people and made out of trash, but you won’t see a single thread go haywire.”

They have a small workshop with about 5-10 artisans producing all the nifty goods they sell online. “But we’re also aggregators”, says Jha “We’re a collective. We also promote other people’s products with similar underlying philosophies. We have about twenty other brands if you go to our online store.”

“I haven’t employed the artisans in the workshop because they are poor. The sad truth is that most karigars in our country are poor.” – Vimlendu Jha

The Product: Home made dabba lunches to wonders from waste

With the help of women from the slum community of Jagdamba, Sweccha realized that for them it is not just about education but also about financial empowerment. “We realized that well, they all know how to cook as they all work as maids and servants in different households. So it started with the idea of financial empowerment for these women. We started a small kitchen upstairs and on May 1 we started the tiffin delivery program and in two months we have around 100-120 lunches that get delivered to different parts of Delhi,”  informs Jha.

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Another sub-brand M.O.M, has mothers are employed to make candles (or mom-battis). Similar to the women who work in LB17, a smaller group is employed to work on these candles out of trash bottles and things. Another group makes jewellery out of trash. The boys work through the year while the women work alongside their jobs as maids and cooks. They all live here, so based on how much they work (2 or 4 hours) they also come and study here and take workshops.

How does Green The Gap convince someone to buy something that’s made out of trash?

“You don’t choose the product, the product chooses you.” – Vimlendu Jha

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Key holds, wallets and pen stands designed from garbage at the Green the Gap workshop.

Vimlendu further explains that no two products from Green The Gap are the same. All of us want cheap products but we also need to understand what goes behind the cheap products – if the resources or labour are cheaply treated. It’s been difficult for them to bring that consciousness to Indian consumers, he says, because they don’t understand fair trade and if they actually have to spend a certain amount of money they’d rather go and buy fancy branded stuff than something that will go to the rural artisans and sustain their livelihoods. “That’s the Indian mentality and that’s why my idea of short term pessimism yet long term optimism is what has kept me going.”

You can buy Green The Gap products in their online store.

The Green Shopper is a place to discover a range of eco-friendly everyday products that can power your home and life, and the people and organisations that bring them to you.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An engineer by fluke, an artist by choice and a writer by default, Ayeesha finds herself in her happy place in the arms of a good book and coffee. With a published short love story being the only feather in her cap, she's been putting together parts of herself in her blog, ( http://lazyandtheoverthinker.wordpress.com/ ) hoping to assemble them into a novel someday. She also wants her own Wiki p... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An engineer by fluke, an artist by choice and a writer by default, Ayeesha finds herself in her happy place in the arms of a good book and coffee. With a published short love story being the only feather in her cap, she's been putting together parts of herself in her blog, ( http://lazyandtheoverthinker.wordpress.com/ ) hoping to assemble them into a novel someday. She also wants her own Wiki p... more

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