This Entrepreneur From Pune Is Making Products Out Of Waste Plastic Bags
How often do we come across people who are actually working at the grassroots levels to bring a change? In today’s world of urbanisation and opting for comfy jobs that provide luxurious pays, coming across game changers in the real sense of the word, is rare. Having said that, there is also a wave of consciousness that the population is coming across but the progress is slow. If we want to get there, we need to know about people who are bringing about that change with a passion that is undying.
Amita Deshpande, Co-Founder of Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, is making gorgeous and useful products from waste plastics. In this interview with her, we find out all about her and the cause that she so strongly believes in.
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Tell us about yourself.
I have always been an anti-plastic person since childhood, I did a seminar on waste management in school, always kept my family on toes and discouraged bringing plastic in the house. I did my engineering because I didn’t know if there was a career possible in the field of sustainability. I worked with an MNC for four years as a Business Analyst and I realised, this is not what I really want to do.
Even while working in an MNC, I was always volunteering with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) for environmental projects. I quit my job after 4 years to pursue my master’s from Purdue University in the USA and to study sustainability. After which, I worked in Chicago as a consultant in the same sector, to get an experience.
I came back to India and joined a company in Bombay which was into CSR and through that company I got an opportunity to work with corporates to understand the challenges our country is dealing with when it comes to waste management and the likes.
How did Aarohana happen?
The trigger was when my dear friend Nandan Bhat and I got stuck in one of the landslides near Kedarnath in 2013, which shook the whole of North India. That’s when we realised that there is a lot to do. We stayed there for a few months for a project related to livelihoods and the environment, because whatever happened in Kedarnath was the effect of destruction of the environment. We founded Aarohana EcoSocial Developments while we were in Uttarakhand, in 2013.
Amita Deshpande and Nandan Bhat
When we established Aarohana, for the first two years, we were doing purely consulting projects. During this phase, we travelled the length and breadth of the country to understand what is going on in the livelihoods and the environment sector. These two sectors were the focus areas on the basis of which we launched Aarohana, a socially conscious development organisation.
Ours is a social enterprise, not an NGO, because we didn’t want to survive on donations. We wanted an organisation without being dependent on the hassles of grants or donations from anyone. As a social enterprise, we’re able to make products, sell them, market them pan India as well as abroad.
One of the bags from Aarohana.
Tell us a bit about Aarohana’s mission.
Because we wanted to work in the social and environment sector simultaneously, our mission is eco-social development. We primarily wanted to work in the rural and tribal areas and hence we launched our project in a village. We felt they needed more of a livelihood than the urban cities do. There is also a huge migration happening from the villages to the cities, and the cities are not capable enough to accommodate more population, as the infrastructure needed to support this migration is probably already failing.
Our mission can be identified as: one, to reduce waste in the environment; two, to create social and livelihood development in the rural and tribal areas; three, consumer engagement. The products that we develop are such that we’re able to talk to people, conduct workshops about the environment and tell them about the problems we face.
Yoga Mat Covers by Aarohana
As an entrepreneur, did you face any challenges? How did you overcome these?
My whole family has been very supportive since the start. But the problem area for Aarohana is in the waste sector - people just don’t segregate their waste - which in turn makes it difficult for us to collect the plastic waste.
On the Rural Development Part
On improving the livelihoods in rural areas, we did face challenges initially in finding villages that wanted to work with us. People from the villages around Pune were quite well to do and refused to work with us. My parents are from Dadra and Nagar Haveli and it was natural for me to turn towards it for help. So the village we work with is a little bit away from Silvassa and the villagers were ready to work with us. We’re training the younger generation from the village too, as they are more susceptible to migrating to cities.
Amita with one of the workers in Dadra and Nagar Haveli
Challenges Faced With Consumers
People are happy with the fact that we’re doing something with the waste. Our products are a little more pricier than what you would find in the market, as we’re still trying to compete with the market players. Some people don’t agree with our prices because it’s made from plastic and hence they think it should be cheap. But most places where we exhibit our products, we explain the tiring process to the consumers and that is one of the reasons why people are buying our products. Only once you see the process you realise that our products are made of plastic.
Diary covers by Aarohana.
How is Aarohana empowering its workers?
It’s one big family scattered in two places with two separate workshops.
The fabric from waste plastic is made in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, using the handloom technique. So we have our weavers and handloom there. Our members are simple and very nice. Even though I’m able to visit them only once a month, they manage their work efficiently, without any glitches. They don’t need constant supervision, which is great.
The designing and stitching of the products takes place in Pune and we have our tailors here. The finishing of the product happens in Pune. Here, we’re trying to train women from underprivileged areas in tailoring. We want to hire more people for the finishing of our products. If you know someone in Pune who needs that help, do let us know.
The interesting part is, that none of our management team members was ‘hired’, they volunteered to work for us because they loved our cause. We’re also on the lookout for interns who believe in our cause and want to work with us.
What do you love the most about your job?
Making people aware of not using plastic and spreading awareness about the conservation of our environment.
Gym bag by Aarohana
Your advice to those who want to switch to a sustainable lifestyle?
Every moment is a choice and with the education that all of us have gone through, everybody knows what is harmful and not harmful to the environment. But the problem is the choice that we make.
For example, if you think of convenience - you’ll end up with a plastic bag. But if you choose convenience the environment, you’ll carry a folded reusable bag around with you while shopping. The choice and the application of your knowledge is of importance here. Based on the knowledge that you have, you’ll slip into a sustainable lifestyle without even knowing it.
Wrist-Its by Aarohana
Amita Deshpande is the Co-Founder and Director of Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, an organisation that makes products out of waste plastic bags. Amita’s long-standing dream is to develop a sustainable village and live in it herself, which she wishes to fulfil through Aarohana. You can check out all the details about Aarohana on their FB page and on their website.
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