SUBJECT : Turning waste into opportunity

Image Source: Times of India

By Aishwarya Upadhye 

November 17, 2017: Cloth bags made by women belonging to low-income families; natural colours produced by women farmers that are then packed by prisoners of Yerawada Jail and an inventory of upcycled items that are aimed at promoting sustainable living. This is what eCoexist does and the tiny firm is making the most of what the city has been throwing away.

The 11-year-old enterprise is run by Manisha Gutman, a 47-year-old architect and her 55-year-old business partner, Lolita Gupta. "We started off making natural colours. I love Holi and soon started noticing the damage chemical colours inflicted on the human body. I decided to team up with farmers in the region to sell natural colours," says Gutman, a Kalyaninagar resident.

But the enterprise later went beyond those packets of colour — to employ several women and self-help groups. "We see every product in a cycle. We first target the problem and then look for solutions. This is what the manufacturing process is designed to do. But the challenge is getting people to accept these new products," says Gutman.

eCoexist's cloth bags were one such solution. "Fortunately, due to the recent curbs on plastic bags, we were able to strongly advertise the benefits of our bags. These products are made of unbleached cotton, ensuring minimal damage to the environment," she says.

The organisation also supplies ecofriendly Ganesh idols. "About a decade ago, idols made from Plaster-of-Paris were popular due to low prices and vibrant colours. When we tried to convince artisans to start making clay idols, we were met with a problem of economics — high effort and low financial gain," reveals Gutman.

But eCoexist started buying clay idols off the artisans and started selling them. This technique helped the makers of these idols expand their market. To top it all, the products were painted using organic colours. But Gutman didn't stop there. "We continued speaking to people about the advantages of these eco-friendly idols. Thankfully, the market has changed. People now know more about the environment damage being caused by PoP idols. Today, people ignore limited budgets and opt for the smaller eco-friendly idol," she says.

The organisation even holds an 'eco festival' aimed at promoting recycled and upcycled products. Called the 'Beauty of Recycling', the festival is aimed at spreading awareness on the problem of waste, and its business potential.

Thanks to the initiative, eCoexist was recently able to rope in a group from Auroville, Tamil Nadu, that was teaching women to manufacture bags and baskets from old newspapers. "But we are diving deeper into the problem. We are planning to use discarded flex and plastic to make these baskets," she says.

Source: Times of India