Would you carry a bag made from Lays wrappers or pouches made from biscuit wrappers? Marathakam, the brand under which products made from upcycled plastic are sold, come from households in Paravur, parts of Angamaly and Aluva. “Close to 70 women are employed to collect waste from homes in these areas and sort them into 52 categories of waste including paper waste, FMCG packaging like biscuit and chips packets, plastic bottles etc., explains Sooraj Abraham, a part-time lecturer at Union Christian College Aluva and one of the founders of Plan@Earth.
Founded in 2009 by four like-minded people, Plan@Earth is registered as a non-profit organization. They began by creating awareness in schools, colleges and residential areas about climate change and waste management. “What began as creating awareness about the environment in 2009, eventually became a waste management organization by 2010-11,” Sooraj says.
The organization aims to increase the lifespan of plastic and other waste by turning them into products like bags and pouches. “All the waste is carefully sorted cleaned and either given for recycling or upcycling. Old clothes and fabric waste is often turned into table runners, coasters, wall hangings and more,” he says.
The Aluva-based organization encourages households to segregate waste in a neat manner before giving it off for recycling. “It could be ideal if people rinse milk packets and other plastic packaging that contain wet food. Example, take away containers can be rinsed once before putting it into the dry waste pile,” Sooraj says. He also recommends this to be the ideal way to manage waste at home. The food waste and plant-based waste can easily be composted, while recyclable waste can be given off to licensed recyclers. Diapers and sanitary napkins need to be burnt. “That is the only option for that as of now. And as far as medical waste is concerned, empty pill packages can be recycled while needles and syringes can be given off to agencies that specially deal with medical waste.
While conducting awareness programs at organizations, Plan@Earth recommends them to opt for more permanent form of utensils to serve food to employees and other staff like steel plates and mugs so that the amount of plastic and paper waste generated everyday is less. “You know for sure that the number of employees you will serve food each day will be the same. So why not start by cutting unnecessary waste there,” he says.
The charitable organization too, sends off its paper waste to Tamil Nadu to be recycled while the plastic recyclables are sent off to Gujarat. The products from other non-recyclable waste like bags, table runners etc. are entirely handmade. Plan@Earth that sells upcycled products under the brand Marathakam, hopes to popularize upcycling as a part of lifestyle.
Apart from getting contracts from municipal corporations to manage waste, they also offer to pay money to organizations to take away their waste. Plan@Earth has also been conducting workshops for institutions and government bodies on how to compost and conduct waste audits so that people are aware and wastage of resources is reduced. Not only this, they have also been accepting old clothes and e-waste or old gadgets from households, which are eventually upcycled. Last month, the team at Plan@Earth along with students at St. Xavier’s College helped clean banks of the river Periyar after the Sivarathri festival at Aluva and collected close to 40 kilos of waste.
Last month, the women who work with this organisation to collect waste and sort them into categories faced an unusual problem from the Head Load workers who insisted that the loading of the waste into trucks that take the waste away be loaded by them and not the women. The issue was eventually settled when the team approached the High Court, and the Court granted police protection for the women. Officers at the Aluva Police station oversaw a compromise meeting where trade union workers agreed not to harass the women and let them continue their work.
For more information, visit Plan@Earth.