From the sunny beaches of Goa to the mighty Himalayas, tourist destinations across the country have one thing in common — the generation of plastic waste. Kaziranga — a world heritage site in Assam, home to the rare one-horned Rhinoceros — is no different. The national park sees an immeasurable amount of discarded plastic waste including bottles, bags, and food wrappers.
Using an innovative approach to tackle this, Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi (47), a native of the area, collects this waste and weaves it in traditional handlooms to make handbags, doormats, table mats, and other furnishing products. She has also trained thousands of women in upcycling the waste, which has helped them earn a livelihood.
“I started the venture, Village Weaves, in 2004, because the plastic waste around the lanes of my home was becoming a disturbing sight. While thinking of creative ways to use the waste, I decided to try weaving it like I would do bamboo. I followed simple techniques, and integrated plastic with cotton threads to weave different products on a primitive handloom,” Rupjyoti says, adding that she did not take any special training to learn this technique.
So how did she do it?
Colourful and durable
Rupjyoti, along with a few other women, started by collecting plastic covers thrown around the lanes surrounding their neighbourhood. Once they collected enough, the waste was washed and dried thoroughly. The bags were then cut into strips using a pair of scissors, and tied by hand from end-to-end to make one long thread.
On a traditional handloom, the cotton thread is woven in the vertical direction, and horizontal weaves are made using the plastic thread. “We use all kinds of plastic covers and wrappers to weave. This gives the product a colourful finish, and makes it durable,” says Rupjyoti.
Once the method proved to be successful, she taught it to a few other women. Together, they would sell the products to tourists, some of whom would be intrigued and ask to visit the handloom to see how the products were woven.
In 2012, Rupjyoti set up a sales outlet named Kaziranga Haat, where the products were showcased so tourists could browse through them before purchasing.
2,000 women empowered
Handloom weaving is a common skill among Assamese women. Most of them are trained at a young age, and many households have a loom. But Rupjyoti’s weaving technique deals specifically with the plastic menace around the national park, and empowers rural women to earn a decent livelihood through it.
To date, Rupjyoti has taken this method of weaving plastic across 35 villages in Assam, and has trained over 2,000 women. While all of them have a primitive loom set up in their premises, some send the finished products over to Rupjyoti to be sold through Kaziranga Haat.
“Most women have set up their own businesses. But some of them do not have the skills to speak with tourists and make a sale. In those cases, I help them through Kaziranga Haat. During the tourist season, women in my network earn up to Rs 25,000 per month,” says Rupjyoti.
Among the many women who have benefitted from Rupjyoti’s endeavours is 37-year-old Dipjyoti Deka, another resident of Kaziranga. Before she joined Village Weaves, she was weaving clothes using cotton threads, and earning Rs 4,000 a month. She began learning the technique of plastic weaving in 2015.
“Now, I weave with both plastic as well as cotton threads, and earn up to Rs 15,000 a month. Tourists find products made using this method more attractive and unique,” she tells The Better India.
The Corbett Foundation, a Non-Profit Organisation based in Mumbai, conducted a workshop from 2013-2017 in Kaziranga to empower women and train them in different fields so they could earn a livelihood. “Rupjyoti was one of the contributors. She taught 190 women how to weave various products using plastic waste found around the heritage site. She has not only found a method to provide a livelihood to thousands of women in rural areas, but has also an innovative solution to upcycle waste,” says Dr Naveen Pandey, deputy director and veterinary advisor at The Corbett Foundation.
The Village Weaves’ products can be ordered directly from Rupjyoti on her Facebook page, or you can email her at email@example.com to know more. The products are also available at the Kaziranga Haat store.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)