Monstrous flames spread their tentacles across the land, clouds of black smoke rise up engulfing the sky in a toxic spell.
It may read like an extract from a horror story, but the image is an eerie reality in the tyre burning kilns of India that continue to poison thousands of lives every day.
Wanting to put things in a more statistical perspective, the India-based tyre manufacturing giant, Apollo Tyres Ltd, commissioned a special study on the practice a few years ago. The study found that every year, India has around 100 million tyres in need of recycling. This means that 2,75,000 tyres should have been recycled by now.
Yet the harmful methods of disposal continue to be practiced in many parts of the country. But, a man, on a mission to save the environment from the hazardous fumes of hills of burning tyres, has found a sustainable solution for the menace!
Meet Kapil Sharma, whose social venture, Eco Wings, recycles scrap tyres into fashionable backpacks and other utility storage accessories to save the environment from noxious gases.
“India continues to dispose almost 95 per cent of the end-of-life tyres in unsustainable ways which causes environmental and health hazards. The black fumes a burning tyre emits is full of heavy metals and other pollutants. So, by letting it out in the air, it can cause serious health problems as well as environmental degradation,” said Kapil to The Better India.
A professional designer, Kapil had been stuck in traffic when the idea to work with tyres came to him.
“At the time, I was working as an Assistant Professor at the Design Institute of India in Indore. It was during these regular drives to the Institute that I would notice heaps of old tyres and tyre tubes lying outside the roadside puncture shops or sometimes see raddiwallahs (trash collectors) carrying them away,” he added.
That got Kapil thinking about their disposal. A little research exposed him to the dark reality of scrap tyres in the country, upon which he began to find ways to work with tyres and use them sustainably, even after their life cycle was over.
Thus, he began to collect tubes from puncture shops to try out different designs using the material. Kapil was striving to create utility accessories out of these tubes, thus replacing leather, but understanding the thick material, and handling it was a challenge.
Ultimately, in 2010, he was able to create three products out of tyres – a wallet, a stationery pouch and a handbag.
“I made 25 pieces of each design and took them to an exhibition in Pune for sale. My intention was to understand the response to my products, but to my surprise, they were sold out in just two days!” he exclaims.
Each product was made of recycled rubber, also known as vegan leather. The products are cruelty free, durable, shock and scratch proof, setting them apart from fabric or leather material usually used to make bags.
Elated by the response, Kapil was still not sure to turn his passion into a profession.
“Creating these products out of tyre was more of a passion for me. But, in 2013, when an international magazine wrote about my brand, Eco Wings, and my inbox began to flood with inquiries from all over the world, I realised the true potential of my work. So, eventually I quit my teaching job to set up my workshop in Indore,” added the 38-year-old innovator.
With a total of 12 members, Eco Wings has managed to reuse and upcycle 50 tonnes of scrap tyres to create more than 1 lakh products, and has already sold 80,000 of them!
Over the years, Eco Wings has focused largely on export with 90 per cent of its orders coming from abroad. But his ultimate goal is to increase sales in India, through both online and offline channels.
Check out Dwij’s range of upcycled bags made from jeans on The Better India Shop.
“Our objective was to create guilt-free every-day products which have a positive impact in saving both the environment and its animal life. As we focus on saving wildlife, each of our products here are named after a particular species of animal, reminding its users that by using this bag, they are saving that particular species in the long run!” Kapil added.
With a dream to make these guilt-free bags more commonplace in India, the innovator wishes to start a new movement of cruelty-free fashion and lifestyle!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)