Paper bags takes over from plastic in Bengaluru

A visit to the slums in RT Nagar with Indulekha Vijayasarathy, an active member of ‘Ashvasan’ a volunteer organisation was an eye opener. The residents of these slums are taught to make paper bags.

"I deliver newspapers and glue. Also help them sell their finished paper bags to the drug stores who pay them. They need help with the marketing and paper supply," says Indulekha, pulling out bundles of newspaper from her car. Ashvasan reaches out to a thousand senior citizens and people in five slums around Bangalore. They provide newspapers to the women in the slums who in turn make paper bags from them.

Ladies in slums making paper bags. Pic: Suja Sukumaran

"If I make around 2000 bags I get 200 Rs as additional income which helps with the school fees. I can easily make 5000 bags in a month." says Krishnaveni a homemaker with 4 children living in the slums of RT Nagar. Elizabeth, who works as a maid during the day, works on the bags when she finds time. "We need more paper and more buyers to make profits," she said.

Paper bags were once a common feature used by roadside vendors and stores in Bangalore until plastic bags took over with their convenience and cost effectiveness. These ubiquitous plastic bags are one of the biggest source of environmental pollution. Rightfully in Bengaluru a ban on plastic bags was implemented on 15th March, 2011.

Several NGOs have tapped this trend by making paper bags and selling them to chemists, pharmacists and IT companies. The income is distributed among the low income workers who now have an alternate means of subsistence. The investment needed for making these bags isn’t much, newspaper and flour paste are all one needs to get to work and earn extra money.

Kannika Iyengar a Psychologist working with the ‘Academy for Severe Handicapped and Autism‘ (ASHA) says "children are given vocational training in making paper bags from newspaper and regular paper. Every 100 bags made fetches them 7.5 Rs and fancier bags costs more."

Usha Srinivas, co-coordinator for the ‘Chaitanya- Shelter Workshop for Mentally Challenged‘, Malleshwaram says the plastic ban has increased the demand for cloth bags and they are not able to keep up with the demand. "Apartment residents are buying the bags for their garbage disposal too. The price range is 7.5 – 8 Rs for 100 small bags while bigger bags fetch them more. The cloth bags we make are selling fast," said Usha Srinivas.

Kala Charlu of MITU foundation (Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment) that focuses on recycling and raising awareness about environment says "encouraging big retailers to switch to paper bags is the problem. Holding weight is another since it can hold only 2 Kg. The paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags. The workers sell at Rs 4 for 100 or Rs 15 for 100 depending on the size. Right now fruit vendors, chemists, snack shops and store owners are takers for it."

You can contact the following for paper bags:

Indulekha Vijayasarathy (Ashvasan) Ph: 9900098419

Usha Srinivas ( Chaitanya) Ph: 08041128494

Kala Charlu (MITU) Ph: 9740031720

Kannika Iyengar (ASHA) Ph: 9980016052

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