These Upcycling Youth Icons of India are Turning Trash to Treasure

We often throw out things when they are no longer of use to us. Well, that’s how it works. But, most of the time, things like wood, metal, plastic, and cloth – can be given a new lease of life by upcycling discarded waste.

Recycling or upcycling discarded waste can reduce the burden on landfills and significantly decrease the noxious effects of waste on our environment. The rapidly changing climate and increasing global temperature have made the world community realise the importance of extending the life of discarded things.

With a big population, India automatically accumulates a huge pile of discarded waste each year. However, the Indian tradition often prevents discarding the waste immediately, because after things are done serving their primary purpose, we try to extract some other use out of them.

Inspiring upcycling initiatives in India

There are many people taking up upcycling initiatives to prevent discarded things from ending up in the landfills and eliminating the harmful impacts of waste on the ecosystems.

Here are a few upcycling initiatives in India that are working outside the box to transform the trash into treasure by recycling the discarded waste.

Max Xchange by Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar

The seed of Max Xchange was sown when 13-year-old Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar decided not to give out his newspaper waste. This resolution opened up new avenues to manage waste effectively and provide a livelihood to hundreds of women.

It all began in 2015, when Vikramjeet, founder of Max Xchange who is fondly known as Max, was in fifth grade in Delhi Public School and took up a community service project. Max started to collect old newspapers from the neighbourhood, selling it to a local scrap dealer and buying stationery for the underprivileged.

Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar, Max Xchange - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar, founder of Max Xchange / Image: Max Xchange

Eventually, people began to refuse to give old newspapers. Max realised that people will not even give up trash for free. This incident changed his outlook, style of working and he introduced Max Xchange, which allows people to exchange their dry and recyclable waste for upcycled products like home furnishing – cushions, notepads, glassware, furniture, newspaper bin liners, planters, among others.

Max Xchange collects various recyclable items, including paper, cardboard, different kinds of plastic waste, metals, glass bottles, tyres. They collect waste from over 150 locations in Gurgaon, Faridabad, and some parts of Delhi.

Reimagined by Shailaja Rangarajan

While waste management is usually considered as the process of segregating and recycling, this Bangalore based citizen is promoting the upcycling of waste. Determined to mend the vicious cycle of consumerism and waste disposal, 41-year-old Shailaja Rangarajan is paving a new path towards conscious consumerism.

Through her Reimagined initiative, discarded waste and junk such as old clothes, plastics, tyre tubes, broken glass, wood pieces and even multilayered plastic packaging like juice boxes are turned into stylish products, which people can buy both online or through a retail shop.

Since its launch in 2016, the company has developed over 300 products of its own out of waste. It sells another 200 products created by other initiatives. Be it fashion accessories, home decor, stationery or furniture, Reimagined sells a wide range of products that are made of available resources and that also reduces the amount of garbage produced.

Sepoi by Siddharth Jaiswal and Suchi Jaiswal

According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, India generates a whopping 1.5 lakh metric tonnes of solid waste every day, of which only 54 percent is processed scientifically, while the rest is either burned or finds a place in landfills and scrap shops.

Objects with high perceived value such as an Army uniform too land up in junkyards at the end of their life. Mumbai-based startup Sepoi is striving to address this issue by upcycling old and worn-out Army uniforms into bags.

 Siddharth Jaiswal and Suchi Jaiswal, Sepoi - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Siddharth and Suchi Jaiswal, founders of Sepoi / Image: Your Story

Founded in 2018, by Siddharth and Suchi Jaiswal, the firm collects used Army uniforms and turns them into trendy designer laptop bags, backpacks, and handbags with the help of rural women and artisans.

Banana Leaf Technology by Tenith Adithyaa

In 2010, 11-year-old Indian boy, Tenith Adithyaa formulated the Banana Leaf Technology inspired by the dream to create a superior sustainable material to put an end to the environmental crisis due to plastic pollution.

Tenith Adithyaa, Banana Leaf technology - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Tenith Adithyaa M demonstrating his invention / Image: Banana Leaf Technology

Currently, Banana Leaf Technology offers a range of 30 products with their preservation methods, including plates, cups, boxes, writing paper and envelopes. After living out their shelf life, these products can be used to feed animals or as fertilizers, as no chemicals have been used in the making process.

Dwij by Soumya Annapurna Kalluri

In 2013, after graduating as a mechanical engineer from the University of Pune, Soumya Annapurna Kalluri headed to Germany to complete her master’s course with a focus on sustainability. She returned to India in 2016, and joined Godrej’s Innovation and Design Centre as a researcher, focusing on material analysis and cataloging of industrial waste.

Soumya Annapurna Kalluri, Dwij - Initiatives in India Upcycling Discarded Waste

Soumya Annapurna Kalluri , founder of Dwij / Image: Your Story

Soumya wanted to start a business and with Dwij her dream came true. Her venture rescues old jeans destined for landfills and upcycles them into utility bags. Within the three months of its inception, Dwij upcycled close to 2,000 pairs of jeans. 

Small bags are priced at around Rs 250 per piece while bigger ones cost Rs 500 per piece. The average time taken to make a bag is close to 7 days, including sourcing and upcycling to creating the final product.

Soumya says the product line currently includes reusable shopping and utility bags. However, the startup is prototyping 60-70 other products, including school mats, bottle bags and yoga mats.

Upcycling Discarded Bottles – Megha Mendon

Although everyone talks about curbing pollution, only a few actually do something to change the current scenario. 23-year-old final year architecture student from Mangaluru, Megha Mendon decided to collect and recycle these discarded waste items into beautiful art pieces.

Megha Mendon, upcycling discarded bottles - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Megha Mendon collects and recycles these discarded waste items into beautiful art pieces / Image: Deccan Herald

Recently to promote the idea of recycling and sustainability, Megha organised an exhibition at her house displaying artworks created from around 300 bottles. Apart from the exhibition, Megha has also undertaken a 5-day workshop to teach people the skill of upcycling waste into decorative pieces.

The colorful patterns, elegant paintings or pop-themes on the bottles are quite beautiful and it also reduces the burden on the landfills. Adding LED-lights to them makes it even more attractive and charms the rooms where they are installed.

Conserve India –  Kanika Ahuja

Born of a desire to reduce India’s mountain of waste, improve energy efficiency, and help some of Delhi’s poorest out of the city’s slums, Conserve India achieves all this by turning plastic bags into high fashion. Kanika’s parents started Conserve India in 1998. Although, the project was dedicated to creating an efficient energy council in slums around Delhi.

Kanika Ahuja, Conserve India -Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Kanika Ahuja from Conserve India upcycles plastic, tyre tubes, paper, clothes and more / Image: Civil Society Magazine

Paper and cloth are the simplest to upcycle and reuse. The project recycles plastic, tyre tubes, textile waste, cement sacks, and more. Though there are a few waste materials that the venture is trying to recycle. Littered empty snack packs are still a problem to upcycle.

Silver Nut Tree – Rituparna Das and Angeline Babu

A random question from their daughters on the recycling of a plastic bottle gave rise to Silver Nut Tree. Concerned by this lifecycle of most products that used in daily lives, Rituparna Das and Angeline Babu came together to upcycle waste, mostly from urban homes.

Rituparna Das and Angeline Babu, Silver Nut tree - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Rituparna Das and Angeline Babu upcycle the waste material under the brand name Silver Nut Tree / Image: Your Story

Although the conceptualisation began in November 2011, the brand, Silver Nut Tree was launched in April, 2012. The name Silver Nut Tree was a play on words from a nursery rhyme ‘Little Nut Tree’ — a childhood favourite of the founders.

The two friends saw a huge potential in upcycling everyday waste objects such as PET bottles, glass bottles, soda bottle crowns,  punctured tyres, CDs and other electrical waste.

Many artists are also leading upcycling initiatives by utilising the discarded textiles or metal scrap in their artworks.

Manish Nai – Artist working with Recyclable Material

Giving solo shows around the world, artist Manish Nai gives waste a new, sophisticated form for everyone to admire and enjoy. Around the year 2000, Nai used to accompany his father to work, who had a business of packing materials in Mangaldas Market in Mumbai. After seeing all the extra cardboard and packing materials lying around, he started thinking of ways of reusing it.

Artist Manish Nai using discarded waste in art - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Manish Nai uses discarded newspapers, paper, boxes, and clothes in his paintings and sculptures / Image: Architectural Digest

Eventually, the artist introduced the discarded materials into his sculptures. By 2010, he had made a habit of using waste packing materials in his paintings and sculptures. Soon, the waste textile captured his attention.

He now reuses newspapers, paper, boxes, used clothes from relatives and friends, even old installations. He uses threads from jute waste to make patterns in his paintings or to create thread sculptures,

Sakshi Gupta Recycles Scrap into Art

Sakshi Gupta is an Indian contemporary artist who specializes in building emancipatory sculptures out of industrial waste, metal scrap and other leftovers of industrial growth in a form of art. Her installations reflect the journey between the heavy industrialising ethics of the past to a movement of the digital age.

Sakshi Gupta recycles scrap into art - Initiatives in India are Upcycling Discarded Waste

Sakshi works with industrial waste, metal scrap and other leftovers to turn them into a form of art / Image: Vogue

Sakshi’s work involves a major recycling element. She works with industrial waste, in the process, transforming these components of her artwork in the process into thought-provoking sculptures.

Her artworks simulate a contemplative gaze into the post-industrial age. By reclaiming industrial waste into a contemplative work of art, Sakshi’s personal experience is brought upon to bestow a fresh meaning to various industrial excesses and generate curiosity with her unique creations. 

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