From Waste To Weave

by | Oct 21, 2020

Across the world, single use plastic polythene bags that are widely used by common public have assumed a menacing proportion as a solid waste pollutant. A similar scenario persists in the district of Kutch where used plastic bags are commonly seen everywhere in both urban and rural areas, particularly in Bhuj, a Class A city having a population of 1.48 Lakh (Census 2011). The city daily generates approximately 60 Metric Ton waste. Of this, 30% is recyclables (plastic, paper, card board and glass). Besides being an eye sore and nuisance, some of the waste’s pollution impacts are increasingly gaining the attention of environmental managers and civic authorities.

In the last few years, several pilot projects have been tried in Bhuj to help mitigate this situation, of which, some of the practices are still successfully running. One of these is the Upcycled Plastic initiative undertaken by Khamir, a craft organization, which up-cycled locally collected polythene bags into high-quality products. In 2006, Katell Gélébart, a French design student interning at Khamir focused on developing products from waste produced by artisans. In Katell’s research, it was found that artisans are in fact, experts at reusing materials, and did not generate waste at all. In Kutch, crafts have always been sustained by locally available raw materials.

Today, however, many artisans are getting their materials from industrial processes and not from their own community. Thus, the focus has shifted to the larger environment of Kutch and finding ways to create value from community waste. Having witnessed plastic as a freely available environmental nuisance, Katell worked to integrate the traditional skills of artisans to develop items of use.

At its core, Upcycled Plastic Weaving creates a new value chain that provides economic opportunities for marginalized weavers and rag-pickers, up-skilling the women weavers of Kutch, creating a nexus of local citizen groups and industries in waste management coming together to address the common problem of plastic waste.

While most traditional crafts practiced in Kutch are community based, i.e have their origins from a particular community, it’s important to understand that this one is a skill-based craft that can be easily learnt by a common person. It has the potential to become a source of supplementary income to a wide array of skilled weavers, home makers, physically disable persons and senior citizens too.

Over the past few years, Khamir has successfully trained almost 100 people through this initiative, many of who have been weavers of Kutch. Often, other organizations based across India also approach Khamir to provide training for establishment of similar models across the country. These trainings are conducted by a few successful plastic weavers of Kutch who were earlier trained by Khamir.

The Palara Project

A noteworthy program of Khamir’s Upcycled Plastic initiative is a skilling project held with the inmates of Palara Jail in Bhuj, Kutch. Four years ago, the organization initiated an engagement with the Palara community as a pilot project which was financially supported by NABARD. One of the major obstacles in working with prisoners was the application processes that Khamir had to undergo in order to comply with the rules and regulations set by the prison authorities. Furthermore, the inmates belonged from different walks of life, and hence, it would be challenging to train them in the craft of weaving, right from scratch.

Palara Jail in Bhuj, Kutch District of Gujarat

Through Khamir’s efforts, all the basic procedures had been completed. The organization arranged for primary requirements and resources such as handlooms and sewing machines. Next, Khamir brought in expert craftsmen who trained 30-35 inmates periodically, for a duration of 15-30 days. It was difficult to align their interest in this craft but upon the completion of training, the participants gradually developed interest in this work as they practiced it by themselves. It wasn’t very long until they changed their outlook of learning a skill-set, to seeing it as a prospective livelihood opportunity.

One of the key components of this skill (highlighted below) is the process of turning plastic into a usable yarn. While originally, ready yarn was supplied by Khamir, soon its production shifted within the premises itself. Currently, all products made by inmates are marketed by Khamir, and distributed in the market with their own tag. 10% of the earnings go to the prisoners welfare fund. The rest is paid as wages depending on their contribution.

What started as a small initiative has now turned into a successful long-term engagement program that continues till date. Upon meeting with the prisoners, they claim that the pride they feel in the work they do with this craft, is like no other.

The society perceives us prisoners as a waste, but in prison, we produce various items from the waste generated by the society. We became criminals because of our mistakes; the society has now coloured their perspective for us. However, after the completion of our sentence, we will make this work our livelihood, as a regular citizen. We will become a good example for the people.

Palara Jail Inmate, Upcycle Plastic Project. Bhuj, Kutch.

The Process

  • Plastic Collection
    Certain sources in the area are identified from where waste plastic can be procured. These may include waste pickers, scrap dealers, residential spaces, local municipality, Panchayats, schools and universities, factories and industries. These collection drives prove to be an efficient means to conduct awareness campaigns that bring together multiple stakeholders such as citizens, students, industrialists – people who are tied together with the common thread of plastic.
Children donating Plastic that they collected from their homes
  • Sorting, Cleaning and Washing Plastic
    The collected plastic is transported to Khamir’s campus where the dry dirt on it, is cleaned by hand. After that, the plastic is washed thoroughly using soap and water. The washed plastic is then dried in an open space for 24 hours. It is then sorted depending on the colours and thickness of plastic.
  • Making the Plastic Yarn
    The cleaned plastic bags are then cut. The bottom and top parts of the bag are cut and separated. The remaining uniform plastic sheet is then divided into long strips that can be wrapped around the thumb and the pinky finger to create a bunch.

These bunch are segregated as per their colours. They are then wound on a spindle using a charkha to make a bobbin. This bobbin acts as the weft of the weave. Once the bobbins of different coloured plastics are ready, we are now set to weave.

  • Setting up the Handloom
    Prior to weaving, the handloom is set up. As plastic is a difficult material to weave, artisans use nylon yarn as a warping material to weave plastic efficiently in the weft. Often, one strap of cotton yarn is woven in the weft, prior to plastic, so that the fabric can be easily stitched.

The Products

Many products can be fashioned in the stitching unit, using the fabric thus woven. Khamir produces mats, handbags (can be seen in the featured image on top), cushion covers, pouches, water bottle and tiffin covers. These products are sold at Khamir’s outlet, through individual and bulk orders.

Upcycling plastic has proven to not only be a livelihood initiative, but has morphed into a culture of love, protection and well-being of the planet. For all employees of Khamir, their dedication to building a waste-free environment motivates them to collect plastic bags from their home-environment and contribute to the ongoing activities.

Stay in the loop…

Latest stories and insights from India Fellow delivered in your inbox.

1 Comment

  1. Swati Rajak

    Nice initiative for a sustainable fashion.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *