This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship
There are some things in every house, which were used in the past, but not so useful anymore, but stay on the shelf collecting dust, because people think it might be useful in future. What if those products are rented for a fixed period? What if you could donate all that material to a store that makes products out of waste?
Changing consumer habits have led to generation of more waste. Today recycling has evolved from being a trend to a necessity. This is also a business opportunity. There are many business platforms which have embraced recycling in different localities of Bengaluru. Some of them have recently introduced the new model of paying you to hand over your dry waste for recycling. Different initiatives have introduced newer methods to encourage communities to recycle.
In Whitefield, citizens have come together to drive change. Platforms like Cayal or Rent-A-cutlery propose renting as an alternative to buying. Re-Store and Joy At Work not only convert waste into quality products that can be recirculated into the market but also provide a better life to the people employed. Organisations like Green Uthsav prove that it is possible to have zero-waste events.
Renting is the new recycling
Renting and recycling have found a good platform, Cayal.in run by Anandhi Sridharan and Anupam Mediratta. Anandhi’s professional experience lies in the field of technology and Anupam’s background lies in computer-programming and big data. The platform began functioning in 2018 but the story goes back to November 2017.
Anandhi noticed that many people gave away what they accumulated when it didn’t hold functional value for them, but they didn’t bother whether the people they donate them to really needed it. Consumerism leads us to buy, and in the long term, people accumulate more than what they need. She began reading about circular economy and observed initiatives that were being implemented around the world. “I even spoke to people who were running something called the ‘Clothing Exchange’ where they actually collect old clothes and redistribute them to people who need it or recirculate it. They make sure that the entire cycle is a closed loop.”
Cayal began as a WhatsApp group managed and created by Anandhi to test the workability of the model before it became a full-fledged website. Anupam too joined Anandhi due to his interest in the peer-to-peer economy. Cayal’s model sustains itself as more people use it. Anandhi attributes trust as a deciding factor in the success of Cayal as a platform.
The first users were the ones Anandhi convinced to be participants. “I would ask, “Do you have this?” The first step was about, “Yeah, I have it now what?” then I asked, “Can you lend it?” repeatedly. There were more ‘No’s than ‘Yes’s. They would ask, “Why do you need it?”, “Just go buy it it’s so inexpensive!” Then I would explain the whole model to them.”
Cayal ensures the quality of the products rented through a verification process, by ensuring that a verified person registers on the platform as a renter or rentee after they provide their details such as addresses and phone numbers. Cayal also calls to confirm the interests of those registering.
The products uploaded and made available to those who wish to rent are also screened to ensure no defective products are rented. Owners are asked to disclose the quality of products and, whether it’s new, hardly used or well-used. The age of the product, the brand and photos are a must to assess the condition of the product. Anandhi informs that they will make videos available too. She also points out that the reason why owners are willing to rent out a product is that they want it back and that is itself a quality check in a way. She assures that when the payment is taken from the borrower, it’s held in trust and only passed on to the owner once the product is received and assessed. Those who rent can review and rate products too.
The pricing of products is decided sometimes by the owner but is pegged less than the market rate of the product to make it competitive. Anandhi also says that Cayal bears the loss if someone rents out a product and it comes back damaged. She says that the borrower is encouraged to return the product as soon as they’re done using it so products are usually charged on a term-basis.
“We tell the owners, think of everything as an idle asset. You’re going to rent it because you’re not using it. It’s something that’s sitting on your shelf at home or in your garage and you’re going to make money using it. So, it’s a 100% profit unless you have specific wear and tear. Our overall member earnings in the last ten months have been close to Rs. 45,000 put together and the savings for those who rent is more than Rs. 2,00,000,” says Anandhi.
Anandhi asserts that the platform discourages owners to rent valuable and irreplaceable items like gold and silver jewellery, items prohibited by Indian law and items like undergarments. She recalls laughing about how somebody asked to rent a pet on Cayal once.
Such a model is expected to have challenges, considering how new it is. Anandhi says the mindset is the biggest challenge and the process has been one of continuous learning. She says renting is still not seen as a viable option in comparison to buying. She also acknowledges that companies that began with the same intention eventually went back to vertical models. She says it defeats the whole purpose of reusing and recirculating.
“People do share items in an unorganised manner, people will ask if they can take it, there are no numbers to quantify it. There is a rising awareness among the people that the current way is not sustainable. We cannot stay in on the trajectory we are and we need to bring in some modifications,” Anupam says.
Making something out of nothing
Another solution to the waste problem in Whitefield is upcycling and making products out of what we are conditioned to perceive as waste. There are projects that have been trying to use the low-value recyclables that would otherwise make it to landfills to make beautiful and practical products out of them. One such initiative is Joy At Work, started and run by Devika Krishnan, a resident of Whitefield since 2014.
Joy At Work doesn’t just make up-cycled products out of waste but also provides livelihood to women in Nallurhalli belonging to migrant worker communities. The idea is to make them independent and impart skills that will provide them with a strong sense of community and belonging as well.
The workspace is a welcoming space where the women come together to work as a part of a family and community. The women run the show, by doing everything from designing to book-keeping.
“On the first day we had some forty women. They saw they were getting nothing for free. Unless they produced good quality stuff they weren’t going to earn anything. I told them when you go for tailoring you pay, I am not going to charge you. I’m going to train you for free and when you do quality work you’ll start earning. On the second day, I was left with two, three people,” says Devika Krishnan.
From another project in Kammanahalli, Devika Krishnan had identified that the tetra pack basket was a product that had generated a huge demand and instead of buying the tetra packs from waste agencies they began collecting them directly from the residents in Whitefield.
Devika Krishnan talks about why she chose waste to be the raw material for Joy At Work’s creations: “I work with waste because I do other projects in pure crafts where we use virgin material and it always makes me want to cry about how much is wasted. In India we’re in the throes of consumption, we cannot stop that. This idea of ‘cut down on your buying’ and all that is not going to work. What we can do is make people buy the right kind of stuff.”
Joy At Work’s products compete in the same market as other products, they aren’t trying to create a new functionality. Devika Krishnan puts it simply, “Bags sell. Everybody wants shopping bags to buy stuff. So, we make bags. We try and make things that people have now substituted with plastic.”
As the Pooja season approaches fast Joy At Work is busy making products like door thoranams made out of scrap fabric that can be washed and provides an alternative to their plastic counterparts.
She talks about the material they use. “We try and make things out of plastic, and we use only solid waste that goes into landfills. We don’t use waste that has recycling value. We won’t use newspaper because they can sell newspaper and cardboard cartons and get money out of it. We don’t make things out of pearl pet bottles or Bisleri bottles, those fetch money. They might as well exchange it for money.”
The products are decided based on how the material they use behaves. Devika Krishnan breaks down the process: “The tetra pack baskets are extremely sturdy because, we don’t open the pack out, we cut it in loops so it comes with its industrial strength. It has carried juice, etc., for so many months and has taken such a huge load… when we weave baskets out of it, it retains that strength.”
“It’s quite silly, that people say it’ll get spoilt if it’s wet and I say it has been carrying liquid all its life if a liquid isn’t wet then what is? It’s a mindset.” Krishnan says she already knew the market thanks to her previous projects. She was sure what Joy At Work made would sell. She also attributes the traction to the promotion by Whitefield Rising.
The model sustains itself. She invested two lakh rupees in the initiative and was able to recover her capital after a year. She says that expansion beyond a certain number of women would upset the functioning of the project. “I want to see how much of waste I can collect from this geography, Whitefield and sell back to Whitefield. Which means I keep my carbon footprint super low.”
She ensures that the wages are fair to the women and that the prices are also fair. The costing is transparent, she tells us. But there are challenges, such as attrition as the women move on to more lucrative prospects after a while, Devika doesn’t see this as a bad thing.
Another challenge the project faces is marketing as stores price the products higher than they should be priced. “If you take the basket, it’s Rs. 350 which is affordable, but if you give it to a store and they sell it for Rs. 700 or Rs. 1000, it becomes unsustainable.. There are fair trade businesses that want to stock our stuff and tell us to fix the MRP, you tell us the percentage on it. That also becomes challenging,” says Devika.
Price also depends on other factors. “Today I can give you a denim range because someone’s given me forty jeans once we’re done with that I don’t know when I’ll get the next forty jeans. So then that’s done. People come and say they want a black basket and Appy basket – I tell them to drink a hundred boxes of Appy and give them to me!”
Joy At Work has so far had many repeat customers, and people of their own accord who’ve donated items and asked for orders for certain products. She says about how people can help out: “Even if each of us is conscious that’s enough.”
Joy of giving through Re-Store
Re-Store began functioning in April 2017 when Devyani Trivedi conducted a donation drive for slum dwellers and received truckloads of items for which slum dwellers queued up to receive and she found there was so much they could be giving them. Through Whitefield Rising and help from initiatives like Joy At Work, Devyani started Re-Store.
The idea behind Re-Store is simple: The store sells items received as donations to slum dwellers and residents of Whitefield for a nominal fee. Devyani set up shop in the heart of Vijayanagar in Whitefield and since then has found many buyers and donors through the process. The store is popular now in Whitefield, and famous people who visit the shop blog about it.
What’s the next step? “The ideal thing would be if everyone comes to Re-Store first and if they don’t find what they want then they should go somewhere else, at least for clothes I want people to do that. Thankfully there is no dearth of donations. In fact, in my house, I have one room to collect donations because there’s so much coming in. Villagers are also happily picking up and that’s not an issue either but I want it to go one step further where people come here first, that’s why I have a Facebook page where I put up attractive items that are on the higher side,” says Devyani.
She attributes the success of the store to the response it got. “In 1.5 years, there’s never been a day where I haven’t made a sale. People are waiting outside the store when I come in the morning.” She also suggests that donors should slowly become buyers.
Interactions with other initiatives in Whitefield help the store. “We closely work with Joy At Work and Rimagined. I sort through donations and whatever requires a little bit of mending I am able to do that internally by giving it to a tailor or cobbler. If it’s absolutely irreparable then I give it to Joy At Work or Rimagined, they upcycle it. It works vice versa as well, at times they get donations that are in a very good condition and they send it to me.”
She says the important thing is the engagement with the villagers in the area, “Though it’s ten minutes away from where I stay, it’s a whole different world, the economic condition, the education, everything is very different. I am able to engage with them to understand what they are good at and also try to provide them livelihood in some manner.”
Devyani insists that more such stores are necessary for every locality and every city. “If you see the demography of Bengaluru it’s always a plush apartment complex and behind it, there is a slum. We can actually benefit from each other.” There are similar projects in other parts of the city like National Games Village, Koramangala and Marathahalli she helps out with as well.
She says that citizens can contribute to the effort by opening outlets in their neighbourhoods: “It’s not difficult, you just need to find a person to run it and small premises, the rent pays itself so that’s not a problem. Somebody should be engaged in it. It’s a very successful and easily replicable model. People need to replicate it.”
Saving waste from landfill, with rent-a-cutlery
Lakshmi Sankaran and Rishita Sharma also saw renting as a sustainable option, but they found its implementation relevant to cutlery and began Rent-A-Cutlery in Whitefield in 2016 to replace plastic and disposable cutlery used in parties to limit the waste generated.
Rishita Sharma, a former IT professional-turned-waste management activist talks about where the idea came from. The duo were working as waste management volunteers conducting awareness drives and sessions in colleges, schools and corporates on composting and sustainability. “Whenever we went to societies and if we were talking about making events zero-waste then people asked for alternatives. If there is a problem then you must have a solution, so for plates, we used banana leaves but for plastics, there are no other alternatives apart from the paper cup, we have bagasse cups but they are too costly. Then we asked our communities if we can start a cutlery bank. But they didn’t agree.”
Yet, they began with a hundred and fifty sets of plates, glasses, bowls and spoons that they bought. They were sceptical of the initiative picking up traction but today they have regular customers all over Whitefield. Hygiene was something they had to ensure because customers were initially not willing to clean the cutlery themselves but this slowly changed.
“Sometimes they have an issue with hygiene, but when they see our cutlery they feel good, it’s not tent-guy cutlery, we are sterilising the cutlery with bio-enzymes. We make the bio-enzymes at home itself, it’s a natural cleaner. Since we use it, our cutlery looks new even after two years and is clean, we had a habba, in the Whitefield rising Habba when a man saw our cutlery he said it’s looking new! Then I told him that yeah we use bio-enzymes and they work very well,” says Rishita Sharma.
She also talks about people’s biases against using steel cutlery. “Still people have this thing in mind that they don’t want steel cutlery in our parties, we can’t change everyone but yeah many people have changed. Slowly things are coming up when one person in a community tries it, many people are inspired to try. It’s just a mindset and we need to change it.”
There are now four cutlery banks run under Rent-A-Cutlery in Bengaluru apart from the ones in Whitefield and Sarjapur there is one in J.P. Nagar and a fourth in Jayanagar. They charge Rs. 15 per set. Rishita says, “It’s quite reasonable, if you look at the areca nut cutlery it’s costlier. An arecanut plate costs Rs. 6 to Rs. 9. Cost-wise it’s good because we give discounts in the case of bulk orders or if it’s a community event.”
Rent-A-Cutlery plans to expand to more areas, by opening many more cutlery banks. They now function within a radius of 10 km and are limited because transportation is a concern. Rishita also says that expansion outside of Bangalore is also a possibility. Awareness she says is not lacking in Bangalore and that it’s simple to run such initiatives when they get more than two or three orders from one society they encourage the society to open a cutlery bank of their own. Rent-A-Cutlery has now done over hundred and fifty events since its inception and has replaced more than 30,000 disposables.
Apart from Rent-A-Cutlery Rishita also runs Green Utsav, that helps make events zero-waste. The initiative provides eco-friendly options while conducting functions, parties for individuals and schools too. The idea is to replace plastic and waste at events like balloons, decoration and other disposables. The alternative is using up-cycled, cloth-based or paper-based options and everything is cleaned up and taken back after the event.
Green Utsav also gets calls from Hyderabad and Chennai, and they provide free consultancy too. Rishita talks about people’s concerns regarding zero-waste events: “People think that balloons are necessary for a party, they say kids won’t like it without balloons. I tell them to try it once because kids don’t need anything, they want entertainment right? Whenever moms are convincing them kids are happily embracing it. The eco-friendly decoration looks very beautiful, the pom-pom flowers, etc.” As part of the entertainment, they replace balloon-bursting and other events with pottery and clay-modelling.
Recently they worked on making clay Ganeshas for Ganesh Chaturthi for the past two months conducting over 20 workshops in societies and schools making six hundred Ganeshas for the event. Green Utsav has done more than fifty events so far.
This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship.