Bharat recycles as India celebrates Independence day

It’s the right time to reinvent the swadeshi movement by going back to our roots, where living is inherently sustainable.


pencil holder

The more economically affluent a society becomes, the more consumerist they tend to become. This leads to greater waste generation, mainly from packaged, one-time use and convenience products, typically prevalent in urban areas. As a result, landfills in the cities and its peripheries are bursting at its seams. These landfills have hazardous consequences such as soil contamination from the poisonous leachate, air pollution from the noxious fumes, water pollution from the leachate that seeps into the nearest water body and into groundwater, ingestion by animals mistaking plastic and scrap for food, rodent infestation and a host of other ills. An economically wealthy society is also generally less inclined to reduce, recycle, reuse, or mend, stemming from a use and throw culture.

Many city residents however, have woken up to the dangers of improper waste management practises, and several community-led waste management practises and social enterprises have ventured into sustainable waste management practises at source. For example, Daily Dump, Smartbins by Greentech life, Ecobins for organic waste management and Paperman and many more for inorganic waste management.

On the other hand, rural India is perhaps a poster region and inspiration for creative recycling of inorganic waste, besides traditional composting methods or feeding their organic waste to livestock. Villagers are creatively transforming the most mundane of inorganic and often non-recyclable waste material, which has somehow crept into their daily lives with the new consumerist culture, into beautiful products of everyday use.

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The last couple of days spent in small villages in the state of Uttarakhand made me sit up and take notice of myriad ways of creative recycling that happens here. The traditional cot called the ‘khat’ is made with four wooden legs and two wooden poles placed lengthwise that are held together in the middle with a criss-cross, woven, sturdy rope. However, with the cost of rope spiralling and new-age plastic and plastic-foil packets, such as chips packets, piling up in homes even in the remotest of villages, they have successfully experimented with a novel way of weaving khats. Tightly strung plastic-foil waste and is now woven into dazzling and sturdy ‘khats’. Interestingly, the English word ‘cot’ which means a light portable bed, was derived from the Hindi word ‘khat’ in the mid-17th century.

Raghu Bisht

Raghu Bisht from Bauli Kholani village, in the picturesque Bhikia Sain tehsil in Uttarakhand, is a young socio-environmental worker, an art & craft buff, a poet and an inspiration for many in the region on creative recycling ideas, including women’s self-help groups and school children. He has put his passion for craft to good use by creatively transforming waste material into beautiful products of daily use and ornamental objects.

Raghu makes plastic flowers from discarded thin micron plastic bags, exquisite ‘jaali work’ type of wall hangings or ornamental grills made with toilet roll cardboard tubes, and long petal flowers carved out of soft plastic bottles. Waste cloth and old magazines and newspapers are woven securely in a criss-cross fashion and turned into stunning table mats and sturdy shopping bags. Waste newspapers are tightly rolled and transformed into lovely pencil and pen holders and containers to keep bric-a-brac.

A marigold flower made from plastic

shopping bag made of paper and cloth

Another example of innovative recycling that is common not just in rural Uttarakhand but also in parts of Shillong in the north-eastern part of India, is colourful mats crocheted with woven waste plastic packaging. Empty incense stick cartons are creatively transformed into hand fans with bits of waste cloth procured from tailors.

Plastic mats and incense stick carton handfans

With India celebrating it’s 69th Independence Day, it’s about time we become truly independent by not imprisoning ourselves in the consumerist and capitalist web. We need to reinvent the swadeshi movement by going back to our roots, where sustainable living was not an alternative lifestyle but very much the mainstream.

All images courtesy Maya Ganesh. 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maya Ganesh is a sustainability practitioner, socio-environmental educator, researcher and writer with a specific interest in community-led sustainable initiatives, urban-rural linkages, and waste management at source. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maya Ganesh is a sustainability practitioner, socio-environmental educator, researcher and writer with a specific interest in community-led sustainable initiatives, urban-rural linkages, and waste management at source. more

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  • Anshul Grover

    Amazing writeup! Wish everyone of us had love and respect for nature like Raghu Bisht.

    • Maya Ganesh

      Thanks Anshul! For more details on recycling or to buy products made by Raghu, please get in touch with him on raghubishtuk@gmail.com.