Upcycling – a new livelihood for SHG women

Kambal JHS

By Lomas Dhungel, Founder cum Developer-Hariyo Makha, Makha village, East Sikkim

Working continuously since 2015 on the idea of upcycling of plastic waste from wrappers of eatables such as Lays, Kurkure, etc., we came up with the idea of using the same to cover school text and notebooks.  When we shared our idea with the Ajambari Self Help Group (SHG) of Singbel, East Sikkim, the idea took off, providing seasonal employment as well as contributing to women’s empowerment.

Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value.

With the active support of the nearby school Adarsh Vidhya Mandir (AVM), also located at Singbel, we approached women SHG members, seeking their support to cover all books as well as notebooks with upcycled plastic.  The move was envisioned to empower women, providing them with seasonal employment, and at the same time promoting a healthy and hygienic mechanism for disposing of plastic waste.

For this purpose, a plastic collection centre was established at Singbel in November 2019. The challenge was not just to convert waste into a resource, but also to experiment in establishing a successful working model on seasonal employment.

Within four months, more than 300 volunteers including locals, students, and teachers from 12 government and 2 private schools from East and South districts of Sikkim collected and donated around 30,000 plastic pieces to the SHG. The schools included Makha Senior Secondary School, Singtam Senior Secondary School, Sonamati Memorial Senior Secondary School, Bermiok Tokal Senior Secondary School, Lower Samdong Secondary School, Tumin Secondary School, Raley Secondary School, Kambal Junior High School, Singbel Junior High School, Bhirkuna Junior High School, Dipudara Primary School, Kokaley Primary School, Adarsh Vidhya Mandir and Bethesda Academy.

The task of covering more than 2,100 textbooks and notebooks was completed by early March while earning a revenue of Rs. 21,000.  Remarkably, a part of the revenue will support the education of at least two SHG women upto graduation level.  Thus, our second phase of our upcycling activity us in 2020, has contributed to women empowerment, skill development, cleanliness as well as education.

During the first phase of Sikkim against Pollution or Hariyo Makha implemented between 2015 to 2019, nearly 55,000 plastic pieces were upcycled for more than 4000 book covers. The revenue was utilised to help one deserving student in getting admission to a BA course under IGNOU in 2017.

If we roughly assume that one piece of plastic weighs 5 grams, then 85,000 pieces would weigh 425 kgs.  Research indicates that burning of 1 kg of plastic would generate nearly 6 kgs of carbon dioxide in addition to other poisonous gases. Thus, through our process of upcycling, we have been successful in preventing 2,550 kgs of carbon-dioxide and other harmful gases from entering our atmosphere (if burnt) or an uncountable area required for its disposal.

For our 3rd Phase, we are working with the ENVIS Department, Rural Development Department (RDD) and the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) intending to help at least 10 more SHGs and NGOs in Sikkim that would eventually work in upcycling 5,00,000 additional plastic pieces.


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