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Treks, Trekkers and Trash!

I have been trekking in various mountain ranges for over 18 years now.  I started trekking in the Sahyadri mountains and forts of Maharashtra, but the boundless nature of the sport, took me to the Americas to hike in the Rockies, Smokies, the Grand Canyon, the Zion Canyon, Paulo Duro Canyon and finally the mightiest of all, the Himalayas of India!
  • Trekking makes you realize how tiny you are in front of the vast canvas of existence. It literally shows you your place! So, I go to them every year, just to remind myself of this ultimate truth!
  • When trekking was not so popular, very few of us went up the mountains and most of us being nature lovers, made sure that we didn’t leave back our ‘mark’.. However, with the advent of internet, and the breath-catching, picturesque locations being posted on social media platforms, a huge crowd has started making their journey into the mountains.  Definitely, some are humble lovers of the nature and are very aware of their footprint. Such trekkers are most welcome! However, a majority of the so-called ‘trekkers’ are going to the mountains with very little awareness of their impact on the ecology as well as the society neighboring these treks.  Unfortunately, the disease called ‘consumerism’ is as active in them in these far flung areas, as much as it is in the cities. They bring along, the same junk food, biscuits, wafers, noodles, juices, chocolates, water, disposable cutlery and what not. Mimicking them, enterprising villagers set up stalls to sell this junk instead of selling their home grown traditional food, which is far more tastier, healthier and environmentally friendly. But our urban dwellers are blinded by their unhealthy lifestyles, and leave the trash they generate, behind in the nature, expecting that their city municipalities are going to come behind them to the mountains to clean up their trash. Well, they pay taxes you see!!
  • But alas, that never happens.. Neither the municipalities, nor the gram panchayats clean this trash. Some mindful villagers do gather this trash, but have no other way to dispose it, other than setting it on fire. What they don’t understand is, that they are breathing poison with the fumes that burning trash emits; polluting their own lungs and the fresh air for which trekkers visit these places. Such has become the condition!
Aarohana's UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN Beach bag made of Waste Plastic bags and Wrappers
  • Don’t you feel something must be done about this??  My partner and I felt the same for several years, and that was one of the reasons why we founded Aarohana EcoSocial Developments in 2013 and now, are succesfully upcycling a lot of plastic!
  • Many of you already know the story of our UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN products made from waste plastic, for others, do check us out on www.aarohana.org ...
  • So, as I mentioned earlier, my love for trekking takes me to the mountains each year, and to my solace, this years’  trek was not just an excursion!! It was bundled with something more!!
  • I had heard a lot about Indiahikes, so I started reading more about them since last year, and came across their Green Trails project. As I read about them on https://indiahikes.com/green-trails/, I was so amazed that Indiahikes was not just another money-making endeavour to introduce urbaners to the mountains, but they were taking one step further to conserve them. I got in touch with them, introduced Aarohana’s work and congratulated them on their efforts. I brainstormed with Laxmi (who is the Green Trails Lead) about potential ways I could contribute with my experience working with this sector. We had various conversations and even got the opportunity to meet her and their founder, Arjun during my visit to Bengaluru last year. They both motivated me to go visit their most popular trek Roopkund, and witness the important work Green Trails has undertaken to clean up tonnes of trash from the mountains.   With several deliberations of whether I want to spend my vacation on a crowded trek, I finally pushed myself into it. A dear friend Sucheta and I registered and also decided on spending a few days after the trek helping Green Trails in whatever way possible.
Waste plastic strewn behind a roadside dhaba
  • The dawn on 25th July, we hopped into a bus to Lohajung from Kausani, we had halted for the night.
  • As I sat on the bus, appreciating the nature, I realized that as any town or city came by, there was a heap of trash at the entry and exit of each village and the streams and rivers seemed constricted by trash thrown under the bridge.
       
  • As Lohajung approached, my anxiety of seeing a similar scene was daunting me. But to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad!!  Also, the entire trek to and back from Roopkund, was quite clean… opposite of what I had imagined and was told by friends. How was this even possible? What were Indiahikes and Green trails doing to make this happen? How were they taking this difficult task of working with trekkers and villagers in making this happen? I had to think and analyse it!  This is a small effort in listing down my points, without making it too long:
  1. The modest ‘EcoBag’ – This is a small waist-pouch given to each trekker. It’s each trekker’s responsibility to bring back their own trash down with them. I found this poster at Indiahikes Loharjung camp:
  2. Wall poster at IH Campsite - Lohajung.. Isnt it true?
  3. In addition, each trekker can also help pick up trash left behind by other irresponsible trekkers. This modest EcoBag has done wonders!
  4. Collection from Dhabawalas – These are village-based entrepreneurs, who have setup shacks to sell tea, maggi, omelette and junk food. Earlier, these Dhabawala used to throw away their trash in the mountains and sometimes burn it up. Now, the Dhabawalas are made aware of the problems this causes, and hence all of them store their trash in segregated sacks, and hand it over to the Indiahikes team. This is then brought down by mules at the expense of Indiahikes.
  5. Segregation by Green trails Volunteers and Fellows – The sacks of waste collected by Dhabawalas and segregated bins at the base camp are manually segregated by the Green trails team. The recyclables are sent to a nearby city and rest is sent to a city landfill. Hats off to the dedication of the Green Trails volunteers and staff.
    Bench made using bottle bricks at a bus stop in Muling.
  6. The ‘Bottle brick’ project: Some ‘Trekkers’ are addicted to aerated drinks and mineral water. They consider fresh spring water, fresh lime juice or rhododendron flower juice as LS (Low Status)! Hence, lots of bottle trash is generated. In addition, there are lots of non-recyclable wrappers of biscuits, chocolates, candies and so on. The idea of Green Trails was to start making Bottle bricks, by stuffing over 100 wrappers in each bottle. The bottle is so stuffed now, that is as hard as a brick. This is used to make benches, tables and lots more. Students from village schools are also giving a hand in making such bottle bricks and are excited about making tables and chairs at home. How cool!
  7. Pillows from waste: Women in the villages aremaking pillows from waste clothes and plastic wrappers. These are then sold to trekkers as trekking-pillows. Plans are to sell these online! I’m just excited imagining how much waste could go into each of these pillows!
  8. Little Rukmini gathers waste around her house to stuff it in her bottle brick!
    Waste-free houses: They have identified 5 houses in neighbouring villages, and the family members are being trained to live a waste-free life… Could we do this in our cities as well?
  9. Education: Green trails volunteers and fellows go around schools and teach them environmental science. Again, Hats off to their dedication!
There is a lot more work which is being carried out by Indiahikes and their Green Trails project. Words wont be enough! I was so happy that my vacation enabled me to undertake such a useful task, extremely close to my heart. I have taken back some learnings from this, and now plan to implement them in our tribal village, where Aarohana’s upcycling project is being run. Aarohana’s entire focus is on non-recyclable waste and such partners as Indiahikes are a treasured relationship. I’m glad we connected and I hope that we, as Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, can associate with Indiahikes in the near future. A message for all trekkers from the bottom of my heart: Let’s pledge that we keep our mountain ecology intact and keep our humble villagers away from the consumeristic societies we all come from! Let’s leave a better planet for our future generations to come, witness and cherish!  I’m sure no one likes to see trash when they are on a trek! Let’s not leave any for them!
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Wrapped!

Was our planet gift wrapped for us by its Creator?

Imagine the entire Earth being wrapped in Plastic? Doesn’t this spec of our imagination, give you goosebumps or suffocate you, perhaps? That is how it is going to be, if we do not take the threat of plastic and the pollution it causes seriously!

Now coming back to the ‘wrapping’ part? When was the last time you wrapped a gift for someone in a glittery wrapper or received one yourself? What purpose does a glittery, shiny wrapping paper serve? (oops.. did I just say paper.. It is wrapping plastic, right?) So what purpose does this glittery plastic serve, apart from making your gift look pretty? What do you do with it when its purpose is served? (Too many questions, too little time) Throw it away, perhaps or if opened properly the first time, reuse it once more for some other gift! Eventually the gift wrapping plastic, runs its course and ends up in the landfills, as its multi-layered property makes it unfit for regular recycling. And the harm it causes becomes just another statistic.

However, there are ways that the shiny and glittery piece of plastic can be UPCYCLED, in ways you have never thought of!

Think about the upcycling part this way, who does not like a good and functional handbag? The answer is everybody! So how about using a functional bag which is made by upcycling the shiny gift wrapping plastic? Yes! Fully Functional Bags can be made by upcycling the left over plastic. While the thought of using a bag made of upcycled plastic may sound fancy, also think about the other benefits you are achieving for yourself and for the next generations:

  1. Removing these from the environment where they would stay for 100s and 1000s of years
  2. Saving millions of life forms from getting stuck in this plastic or swallowing it
  3. Removing some of the litter it causes, which is a sore to our eyes
  4. Setting a fashion trend by promoting eco-conscious fashion choice
  5. Supporting sustainable fashion
  6. Supporting the livelihoods of our tribal women and youth!

Yes, thats what Aarohana EcoSocial Developments and our very creative tribal and underprivileged youth and women do!

First the gift wrappers are collected, sorted and cleaned. Then they are cut manually, just using a pair of scissors. Now is the fun part, where a traditional CHARKHA and HANDLOOM are used to convert these gift wrappers into a beautiful shiny fabric, ready to be used for making your favourite UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN “Glitter” product from Aarohana EcoSocial Developments. Voila!

These awesome bags, diaries, home decor and office utility products are up for grabs! Click on the photos to grab some of our choicest and awesomest Combinations NOW!

The Show it off Combo (A perfect combo for those who like to slay, the sustainable fashion way)

The Work it Combo (This one is for the Go-Getters)

Love thy Greens Combo (A perfect one for those, who love, live and breathe the colour Green)

These wonderful Combos are now available on the website.Click on the link below and Grab your Upcycled and Handwoven combo

Aarohana Combo

PS: You can also give us the material for the bags (Address given in the link below)

Aarohana Eco-social Developments

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Plastic Ban- A much debated yet much needed Ban – by Zitin Munshi

I live in Mumbai, the Financial Capital of India. The city that never sleeps. My city is a city of stark contrasts (we will get back to that in a minute). The everyday hustle and bustle is an integral part of any Mumbaikar’s life. Add to that the ever-rising pollution in the City, too. Now back to the contrast, my city has everything from High Rises to Asia’s Largest Slums and State of the Art Highways to Garbage Dumps.

Recently, during one of my Shopping Excursions, I noticed an unfamiliar sight, the shop keepers who always handed out a 2-rupee plastic bag, where now, promptly handing out a 2-rupee Paper Bag. “A City that has contributed too much, to the plastic waste has suddenly turned eco-friendly, how? And why?” I asked myself.

It was then that I realized that the unrelenting shopkeepers where now adhering to the much-wanted Plastic Ban that the Maharashtra Government had enforced a day earlier.

On 23rd March, 2018, a much awaited and wanted notification for the Plastic Ban was initiated. The Government banned manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags, disposable plastic spoons, forks, cups, glasses, containers, PET bottles less than 500 ml, and thermocol for decoration.Now with a few modifications and implementations, the ban has been put in place from 23rd June, 2018.

The ban was brought under the Maharashtra Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act enacted in 2006. However, the Act, was modified to allow PET bottles of all capacity “made of high quality food grade virgin Bisphenol-A free material” with a pre-defined buyback policy printed on it.

Maharashtra generates around 1200 metric tonnes of plastic waste every day. Imagine the waste generated every day by India, by Asia and by the 7 billion+ people on our planet.

With Maharashtra coming through with the Ban I hope other states follow the suite too.

A much-needed change and small step towards saving our planet.

Why Ban Plastic?

Here is an Infographic from the Times of India to understand why the Ban on plastic is necessary

Here are a few links to help you understand what the ban on Plastic means.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/maharashtra-plastic-ban-govt-seems-determined-to-implement-18-march-order-heres-all-you-need-to-know-4428509.html

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/maharashtra-after-state-wide-plastic-ban-whats-allowed-whats-not-the-way-forward-5119185/

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/lifestyle/health-and-wellbeing/170318/maharashtra-bans-plastic-5-reasons-why-plastics-are-bad-for-everyone.html

 

 

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21st Century’s Dependence on Plastic – A Growing Menace

As a daily commuter in Pune, I regularly use bridges over the water bodies in Pune, mostly the rivers. And what do I see on the banks of these rivers during the summer months? Plastic bags, plastic wrappers and other non-biodegradable solid waste hanging on to the fences. Similarly, overflowing garbage bins are a regular sight not only in Pune but also in major metropolitan cities with stray animals like dogs and cows feeding on the waste plastic.

Image Source - http://www.dnaindia.com/pune/slideshow-journey-of-the-mutha-river-1706191

Lets take a closer look at an industrialized city like Pune. Total solid waste generated daily, amounts to 1500 to 1600 tonnes per day (TPD), out of which, 215 to 235 TPD, that is 15 to 17 percent, is plastic waste. However only 20 to 25 percent of this waste is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills and local water bodies and through them into the earth’s oceans. India makes a huge contribution to plastic waste entering the oceans as it is ranks 12th in the Top 20 countries infamous for dumping plastic waste into the seas from their respective coastlines. This plastic waste, legally or illegally dumped by countries into our oceans, then photodegrades into smaller particles, called microplastic particles, that fish and other marine life ingest thinking it is food. There are approximately 51 trillion of these microplastic particles in the ocean, 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy. These microplastic particles gravely compromise the life and survival of marine life and since these particles degrade extremely slowly, they move up the food chain and end up in the food we eat. The UN recently released a report which said that if our current trends of plastic usage continue, by 2050, the earth’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish, by weight. How disastrous is that? We will not only lose precious marine biodiversity but also economies depending on fisheries and tourism will suffer severe economic losses too. And not only marine animals, but domestic animals like cattle are also suffering. Cows, buffalos and other stray animals try to eat the food waste lining plastic bags littered on the road and ingest those bags. Eventually, this plastic builds up in their stomachs and causes a decrease in the milk quality and sometimes even death.

Global plastic usage has increased by 620% since the 1975. Single-use plastic bags and small plastic packaging is having adverse effects for the health of our ecosystems, including human health. Every year, around the world we use 17 million barrels of oil to produce plastic water bottles. In that much oil, we could fuel 1 million cars every year. Virtually, all the plastic that was ever produced still exists on our planet in some way, shape or form.  Considering these factors, is it still feasible for us to continue using and discarding plastic in the way we have been doing so for the past several years? We need to understand the serious implications of plastic dependence and devise new and sustainable solutions to keep our planet clean and our future generations healthy.

Author – Sai Powar

Edited by – Zitin Munshi

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EcoFriendly…. Sustainable… What is all this?

EcoFriendly – literally means something which is friendly to the environment, i.e which doesn’t harm the environment in its present form of existence. Many products or processes are promoted as being eco-friendly in todays market. Some are genuine, others … just a gimmick. For example, I recently saw a packet of thermocol plates labelled as EcoFriendly!!! How could they even label it so, when thermocol can “never” biodegrade, nor is it easily recyclable!

These days, ‘Eco-friendly’ is a generalized term used for anything that is organic, made from natural or plant-based elements, is biodegradable, compostable, recycled and so on… For example, a cotton or jute bag is considered eco-friendly over a plastic or polyester bag, because they are made from plant-based elements , are reusable and are biodegradable. A paper plate, palash or areca-nut leaf plate is considered eco-friendly, because it is biodegradable or compostable. A solar powered lamp is considered eco-friendly as it uses the natural resource of sunlight over a disposable battery or fossil fuel based electric supply. A reusable menstrual cup or cloth sanitary pad is considered eco-friendly as it is reusable, as against regular sanitary pads which are non-biodegradable and potentially a biohazard. Rainwater harvesting system is considered eco-friendly, since it captures rainwater instead of extracting water from the ground or rivers using electricity or fossil fuels.

Are Aarohana's upcycled-handwoven products really ecofriendly or sustainable?

Similarly, Aarohana’s upcycled-handwoven bags are also eco-friendly, because they are upcycled from waste plastic!

Upcycling is recycling a product from its existing form to a higher value form. Downcycling is recycling a product from its existing form to a lower value form.

We make beautiful, trendy and sturdy handbags, home décor and office products from waste plastic bags; hence the term UPCYCLING.

We are asked this question by many people that, if our bags are made from plastic, how are they eco-friendly. Their question is absolutely valid… They have heard all their lives that plastic is not eco-friendly, so how do we claim our product is eco-friendly. We have a very straight forward, yet logical answer to this question!

When you look around in your neighbourhood, your streets, railway tracks, mountain sides, picnic spots, junkyards and moreover, in your own dustbins … What waste do you see the most? Waste plastic isn’t it? When it lies as it is, it is a harm to the environment. What is environment? Plants, animals, fish, bird and finally humans. Plants are unable to germinate if their seeds fall on plastic; animals, fish and birds consume or get stuck in plastic, thus die an unfortunate death; finally humans are facing a huge problem, which is like a TICKING TIMEBOMB! The earth’s surface is getting covered with plastic waste; our land and water bodies.

First of all, plastic is non-biodegradable i.e it neither dissolves in water, nor becomes soil. It stays in the environment for hundreds and thousands of years.
- Secondly, plastic easily catches fire, fumes of which are carcinogenic for humans and other animals.
- Thirdly, it gets stuck in gutters and streams and enhances incidences of flooding.
- Fourthly, it is consumed by fish or birds, inturn consumed by humans. So the effects of its harm will go on and on.

Now if we, Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, are picking up this waste plastic or stopping it from going into the waste stream in the first place, and making it into a product which is long lasting, aren’t we making an effort to conserve the environment?

Then isn’t our product eco-friendly?

We think it is and we have made all efforts to make it eco-friendly… Overall the process we employ to make it, is also eco-friendly… How? Lets see:

- Aarohana upcycles 7-50 waste plastic grocery bags (carry-bags or polybags) in each of its upcycled-handwoven product. Check out our product range on www.facebook.com/aarohanaecosocialdevelopments
- Aarohana uses recycled polyester made from waste PET bottles in weaving the waste plastic bags together. PET is a plastic used to make bottles, which are used to package drinking water, soft drinks, beverages etc.
- Aarohana uses all other raw material in its products, which is either made from cotton and other recycled material. For example, our belts and inner lining is cotton, some of our inner lining is recycled polyester (again made from PET bottles), our product labels are made from waste flex banners and our tags are made from biodegradable paper.
- Aarohana’s process of making the fabric is completely eco-friendly and handmade. We do not use any chemical or heat treatment or electricity to make the fabric. The waste plastic is manually cut by our employees, with just a pair of scissors. Then the plastic strips are manually rolled on a traditional charkha and woven into a fabric using a handloom. Both these equipment are completely powered by human power, thus generating employment for our tribal youth and women. Hence, neither electricity nor any heat is used to melt or change the form of this plastic.

We are happy that our products are eco-friendly in many ways, and not just one!

This is where I would like to bring the word ‘Sustainable’. Sustainable means, which lasts for a long time.. in our case, the bags are durable and hence they last for long time. But, here the word sustainable means, it goes hand-in-hand to conserve the environment, is a boon to the society and is also making economic sense! Our products are sustainable, because they are using materials and processes which satisfy the three conditions above. For example, if we used heat or electricity in our process of recycling, it would harm the humans and other life, through fumes from heated plastic. Our present process doesn’t do so. If we would have used a raw material made of virgin polyester for our belts or inner lining, we would have made a joke of ourselves that while we claim we are upcycling and eco-friendly, we are using virgin polymer in the product. If we would have used a material in the product which was very hard to find or expensive to afford, we would have had to discontinue the product.. Hence all these incidences would have failed our brand miserably in the long run. But now, that we are taking care as mentioned above, we are being able to answer all your questions with confidence and truth!

Way forward


Apart from this, we are constantly exploring ways to use more sustainable raw material and sustainable manufacturing processes. For instance, we plan to use harvested rain water for washing plastic, use natural detergents and sanitizers to wash and sanitize our plastic, which are as effective in cleaning and disinfecting these waste plastic bags. We are also closing the loop by accepting our products at the end of their lifecycle from customers and ensuring its safe disposal or further recycling. Thus, making our product more eco-friendly, more sustainable! We are continuously seeking suggestions or comments from our well-wishers! You can write back to us without hesitation. It helps us think better and improve our work.

- amita.aarohana@gmail.com