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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
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What’s in the name – “Aarohana EcoSocial Developments”

aarohana collageWhat’s in the Name – Aarohana EcoSocial Developments

Many of our customers and well wishers seldom ask us the meaning of “Aarohana” and why was the word “EcoSocial” selected by us! This blog is an attempt to answer these questions:

The first word “Aarohana” is what we are commonly known as, which is inspired by the Sanskrit word aarohan. …’Aarohan’, in the language of music is the scale upward..also, Giri-aarohan is climbing a mountain, Dhvajarohan is hoisting a flag, and so on…we chose our name ‘Aarohana’, which means a ‘tool’ to rise upward. Thus, aarohan is the verb and Aarohana is the noun. Thats what we are, Aarohana – a tool to support an upward, yet sustainable development.
Our name also consists of a very important word, EcoSocial… All of us have heard Eco and Social seperately.
Eco is usually termed as something to do with the environment, such as ecology, eco-friendly and so on. Environment is generally the nature around us; plants, animals, the five elements of nature i.e air, land, water, sky and fire. Development of the environment truly means conserving it in its most natural form. This could be planting trees, (more importantly native trees) conserving the sources of water, keeping them clean, keeping our surroundings clean, recycling/upcycling, supporting a healthy life of our co-occupants on this planet i.e animals, birds, insects, microbes, plants…Finally, sustaining all this on the earth will ensure our sustained existence on this planet. Its like you are sharing a house with one or more housemates… If all of you live symbiotically, your own existence in the house is sustained, else you or your housemate has to look for another house.. Houses could be many, but we have just one planet!!! Where will you go?..Several initiatives are being implemented by governmental and non-governmental organizations in this area, many successfully implemented as well..
Eco is also used as a acronym for economics. We all know what economic development means in today’s developing and developed worlds (these two words are also a result of the definition of economic development and their discrepencies). Economic development is clearly based on monetary growth of a household, country, world….
The word Social is usually linked to something to do with the human society we live in. There are several facets to this social development ; it is cultural development, community development, spiritual development, peace and equality in the society…so on and so forth.. but today, unfortunately, social development is used only for the economic development of a society, such as infrastructural development, adapting higher living standards, adapting a more urban-lifestyle, higher income in terms of money…which in our point of view is an incomplete definition of social development.
Thus, we decided to adopt a more complete prefix for development, which is ‘EcoSocial’ development. It sums up our goal of Ecological+Economic+Social Development. Only then is the definition of development complete and sustainable.
Aarohana is a tool for this EcoSocial development, which all of us, i.e mankind and other elements of the nature are concsiously or unconsciously yearning for… A world where we can sustain the environment, society and economy together. Only then can mankind sustain on this planet!

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Tackling the problem of “Waste Generation”

I am from Pune, ex-pensioners hub to now booming IT city.

Some months ago there was a big issue of waste management in the city, where the villagers near Uruli Devachi protested against the huge garbage depot in their backyard, where most of Pune’s garbage is dumped (a glimpse shown in the cover picture of this blog). A little child even died in the village owning to untreated garbage in the depot. The villagers revolted and damaged some government dump trucks, post which cities garbage had remained uncleared for weeks together. Now, the city dwellers were having to smell the stench and bear the pollution caused by their own garbage. Post which, everyone started to find a solution to this problem!
This situation is current to every city and town in India!

How many of us can relate ourselves to the situation of the villagers at Uruli Devachi?

I certainly can! I wouldn’t like someone to come and throw their garbage in my backyard, would you?
These people and their ancestors had been living in their village for decades and centuries in a clean environment. With us throwing garbage from our homes in their backyard, they are now annoyed by the health concerns, air pollution, water pollution and constant stench from the rotting garbage.

How can we start contributing to resolve the issue of waste generation? By us, ourselves reducing the garbage

A few quick reasons, I could come up with for this unchecked creation of waste:
Buying and using more than what we need: For instance, we cook more food than what is needed, which has to be thrown away, we buy items which we use for a short period of time and then throw away, so on and so forth!
Using disposable items: For the sake of convenience, we have started using disposable plastic and thermocol/styrofoam plates and glasses. We have started using plastic bags, even after being banned from use several times. What if we start going back to how we dealt with this before these items came into existence?
Using more packaging than needed: Not blaming entirely on manufacturers on how much packaging material they use to pack products, we ourselves use more packaging than required

The list of how waste is generated can go on and on!!!!
Can we reduce our own waste?

The answer is ‘Yes!
By starting with our homes, offices, restaurants, streets, picnic areas etc, we can make a huge difference and contribute to solve the problem of waste generation.

Here are some ways I can think of to reduce the garbage generated from my house:
1) Carrying my own reusable bag to go shopping. Thus reducing the plastic bags we bring home.
2) Cooking food, only how much is needed. Take a roll call of who is present and who is not for lunches and dinners and ensuring appropriate amount is cooked.
3) For take home items from restaurants, carry your own boxes and bags, where the restaurant can pack food for you. How many of us remember doing this just about 7-8 years back?
4) Buying durable items, which last longer and you don’t have to throw them away. Even if they might be a bit expensive, they will last longer and save your money in the long run.
5) Avoiding use of disposables. Be it a party or get together at home, stop using plastic or thermocol/styrofoam plates and glasses. These non-biodegradable and non-recyclable items form one of the the largest categories of waste. We can instead rent steel plates or reusable plates. Agreed that cleanup is cumbersome, but its worth paying a few extra rupees to our maid to wash these.
6) Composting at home. There are easy to follow composting solutions, which you can follow at home and create your own organic manure for your apartment garden.
There could be many more solutions to reducing waste, so first I suggest, lets start tracking our waste… What do we throw the most, and then take steps in reducing it.

Lets make our city clean, reduce the stress on our municipal resources so that our tax payers money is utilized for something more productive than cleaning our left-overs, and over and above everything, lets make our neighboring communities life less miserable by reducing our waste flowing out to their backyards.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts about the post!

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Aarohana’s Inception – Uttarakhand 2013

On 15th June 2013, while most people were watching the live streaming of disaster victims getting rescued from the Kedarnath shrine and other affected regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, a group of friends (of course, including me) were stuck in Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh) for 5 days.
Kinnaur was the worst affected districts in HP, with the only roads connecting Kinnaur to the rest of the country closed due to landslides. The river Sutlej was swelling and had damaged electric and water lines, cutting off power and water supplies. It was cold and was still raining. It rained for straight 3 days and nights, no relief! Finally on the morning of 18th June, we saw some sunshine, but along with it, we could see the destruction these rains and landslides had caused. Houses were broken, roads were beyond repair, farmlands and orchards were destroyed!
Later, the next day, we even got electricity and television back and started seeing the widespread destruction in other part of Himalayas. Media and state governments all over the country were pressurizing the local governments to rescue all tourists. Unfortunately, many had died and a few had gone missing, but I believed that all the surviving tourists, including myself would be rescued very soon. We would get back to our intact homes in different parts of the country, but what about the locals? They had lost almost everything they had: their farmlands, their houses, cattle and loved ones!
Finally after 5 days, we got rescued by one of the helicopters to Shimla. Towards the end of this unforgettable journey I decided that very soon, I would come back and work for those affected by this disaster. So deep was the impact on my heart that 2 months later, I was back in the Himalayas! And this time not as a tourist, but as a volunteer to work for those affected!
Rest of the story is the creation of Aarohana EcoSocial Developments explained in further detail at www.aarohana.org. A hell of an experience, starting with nature’s destruction to people’s rehabilitation!