Mountains of waste may look disgusting to most but Suren Vikhash U., 23, founder of Thunk in India Pvt. Ltd, sees them as potential shoulder bags, pouches, laptop cases and table mats. The recent graduate of Bangalore’s Srishti School of Art works with Waste Management and Solution, a Bangalore-based non-profit organization to collect garbage from hotels, residential properties, IT parks and coffee shops in the city to make eco-friendly products from shredded plastic bags and Tetra Pak. The waste is segregated, the plastic and Tetra Pak is cleaned, shredded or cut and woven to make the products.
Waste not: Suren, founder of Thunk in India, works with a Bangalore-based non-profit organization to collect garbage from hotels, residential properties, IT parks and coffee shops in the city to make eco-friendly products from shredded plastic bags and Tetra Pak. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Starting 5 June (World Environment Day), boutique retailers in Bangalore such as Mother Earth, Satva, Ants and, cafés such as Java City and Daily Bread will sell the products under the Thunk brand name.
Vikhash says his products will be priced competitively, with a Tetra Pak photo frame costing Rs50 and a shredded plastic laptop bag priced at Rs1,500. Most products are made of 90% waste and 10% new material. For instance, the outer covering of a laptop bag is made of recycled plastic, but it is fitted with new zippers and straps to make the bag look attractive and durable.
Retailing apart, Thunk is in negotiations with two large IT services firms to buy waste from them and sell them corporate gifts made of the same material.
According to the latest available 2001 census, India creates 42 million tonnes of garbage per annum. Between 1997 and 2001, the volume of garbage was almost steady but since then it has seen a 5% year-on-year growth.
We want to see more companies in this space (of waste recycling), says Amiya Kumar Sahu, president of Mumbai-based National Solid Waste Association of India, a partly government-funded, non-profit organization in the field of solid waste management. As more people turn environment conscious, Sahu says he is seeing more action, albeit at a slow pace, in this sphere.
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If there are more companies such as Thunk, they can provide employment to slum dwellers and ragpickers and also help recycle waste, says Helen Govindraj, director, Waste Management and Solution. Govindraj, with her 150 workers, collects at least a tonne of waste a day, a part of which is given to Thunk.
Thunk, which engages four designers and nine weavers in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, is exploring varied weaves fusing shredded plastic with rubber from automobile tyres, plastic with banana fibres, corn leaves and coconut fibres to see what works best. Vikhash, who started the firm borrowing Rs10 lakh from his parents, is scouting for more funds to scale up operations.
-- Poornima Mohandas
Under the carpet
Where do carpets go to die? In some cases, they don’t. For InterfaceFlor, one of the world’s leaders in carpet tiles sales, old carpets just make for new. The US-based firm offers a recycling alternative to customers who don’t want their waste to end up in a landfill.
“Technology is so advanced now that with old carpets we can split the top and the bottom and recycle the top yarn into new coloured yarn and the bottom PVC backing into other uses,” said Raj Menon, country manager (India), InterfaceFlor.
Carpet tiles are essentially a petroleum derivative, which is not a sustainable raw material. Menon added that the biggest challenge a few years back was to take the pigment out of the yarn and give them new colours, which is possible now.
“We are exploring all alternatives to recycle the PVC component. We are currently in discussion with a Bangalore company, which can use plastics and PVC in road tarring,” said Menon. Most of InterfaceFlor carpets have 70% recycled content.
InterfaceFlor also has a scheme they call Cool Carpets, under which consumers can buy a carpet which is climate neutral. The company, which plans to be zero emission by 2020, uses offsets to balance its carbon emissions in the raw material processing, manufacturing process and transport, etc. Menon explained that offset programmes across the world are used to neutralize the emissions. “For instance, we have invested in a wind power project in Madhya Pradesh, a tidal pumps project in Orissa,” he added.
InterfaceFlor’s Bangalore facility has also received gold rating from LEED, an agency, which rates buildings on the basis of their sustainability. “From bare ceilings, to natural lighting, efficient air conditioning and recycled furniture, we have tried to minimize the impact of our operations on the environment to the minimum,” said Menon.
For InterfaceFlor, its entry into the Indian market couldn’t be more well-timed. “The construction sector is booming and more companies are increasingly aware of sustainability. When we first came here no one was ready to hear about sustainability but now every year, the green building conference sees more and more members,” said Menon.
-- Padmaparna Ghosh
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint