Kanika Ahuja focuses on upcycling the city’s plastic waste and using it to develop fashion products while providing employment to ragpickers.
The goal shouldn’t be to just protect the environment but to improve the world such that the environment no longer needs protection. But till that happens, to make sure that things don’t get too bad for residents of Delhi, the newly appointed Director of Conserve India, Kanika Ahuja, is trying to do her best to upcycle the city’s waste as much as possible in an organisation that was started by her parents in 1998.
Lack of employment and environmental pollution through waste are two major issues the city battles. The NGO focuses on upcycling, energy efficiency and food security, while trying to provide employment to ragpickers. “When we started working in waste management, we started working with the slum community. We realised that people in the slums, mostly ragpickers, didn’t have anything. The only resource available to them was waste which was not generating enough of an income for them. Also, even all the waste they collected was plastic and nothing can be done about it because the normal processing methods don’t usually work on plastic.” said the 27-year-old.
Since most plastic waste instead of getting recycled ends up in landfills, Conserve India took it upon itself to help “develop this technique where the plastic from the landfill sites could be reinvented into a new material we call Handmade Recycled Plastic. We use it to develop fashion products which are sold internationally since we don’t have a strong market in India yet.” The revenue generated goes back to the NGO to sustain its activities, explained Kanika.
A recent product line uses old clothing which is shredded and then re-weaved into cloth using natural fibers. The aim is to generate as much employment as possible while efficiently managing waste even in the remotest of villages around Delhi since the artisans in those villages are ones who help weave it with a technology they know best, charkha.
So far, the organisation has upcycled about 10,000 tonnes of waste out of which 6,000 tonnes was plastic waste and trained more than 500 ragpickers through various skill development workshops. The fabric that the NGO develops was recently voted the most sustainable fabric at an Ashoka Conference. “We have just started a project in food security that promotes agriculture through hydrophonics which means to grow food without needing soil. During ourwork at the slums we saw that the food there was scarce and vegetable vendors who came to sell there more often than not exploited the slum dwellers. This technology equips them to grow their own food with much cost-efficiency,” she says.
“I think the consumers should start being more aware of where the products they buy come from and how sustainable they have been produced. Because only when the consumers become aware will the bigger brands take notice of it which will help improve conditions for both, the environment and the workers,” says the social entrepreneur.