Conserve India: Using Fashion Against Poverty


Urban India is glaring at a huge waste management problem with no clear policy examining waste as a part of the production-consumption-recovery cycle.  In India, over a million people find employment in rag picking and recycling of waste; and this is an unorganized sector.

Most of the rag-pickers are poor, illiterate and belong to rural immigrant families. Many commence their profession at the young age of five to eight years. Most of them have never attended any school. While collecting rags they are subjected to chemical poisons and infections. Due to malnutrition, they suffer from stunted growth and anemia. These rag pickers have been weaned out of our social fabric and as begging is being abolished more and more beggars are becoming a part of this scavenging community.

Conserve  India, an organisation in Delhi founded by Anita and Shalabh Ahuja  was born of a desire to reduce India’s mountain of waste. Their team, after a lot of research, struck upon the idea of Upcycling by washing, drying and pressing plastic bags into sheets.

Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP) is  made from  polythene bags picked from Delhi’s streets, rubber from old truck tyres’ inner tubes, old denims and saris. The processes used to make ‘Conserve’ bags and accessories have been specifically developed to be as energy efficient as possible and to keep out polluting dyes and chemicals.  This not only helps the environment, it also cuts costs, giving the organisation more money to invest in other social projects.

Santosh Kumar started collecting plastic bags for Conserve India as he could earn three times as much by selling plastic bags to be made into HRP instead of selling the garbage elsewhere.

Ragpickers enjoy working for Conserve as it directly implies that they, perhaps for the first time in their lives, will have enough to feed their families and rent homes that they can be proud of. On an average, a conserve ragpicker earns around $70 a month compared to a ragpicker who earns somewhere around $25.

The ragpicking community is unorganised; it is hard for them to protect their rights. By giving them ‘Conserve Employee Cards’, Conserve India helps them have a voice in the society. Conserve India has also started a campaign called Recognition for Ragpickers. As part of this, the organisation is trying to persuade the Delhi government to create an official register so as to recognize Delhi’s 150,000 ragpickers and give them their right to a fair wage.

Conserve also offers training to its workers so they can do better jobs in their organisation. Conserve supports schools in slums where many of its employees live. With an initial funding from Asian Development Bank, Conserve is now starting two new projects for tracking the general welfare of its workers and providing health clinics for those who have no access to healthcare.

In collaboration with top designers, Conserve India makes high-end fashion items like handbags, wallets, shoes and belts from the handmade recycled plastic.

Conserve India has collaborated with Fair Trade for marketing its products, which are available in stores across US, Japan, Europe . Their products can also be bought online through the Conserveshop.

By buying Conserve’s products one not only gets to be a trend setter in fashion, but also gets to help some of India’s poorest people and its environment.

For more information visit their website http://conserveindia.org. Infact if you want do something about the waste clogging the streets of your city, you can set up your own Conserve and be the change that you want to see in the society. Mail Conserve India at info@conserveindia.org or call on +91 11 43095301.

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