Until three years ago, Leelamma Mathew, a resident of Adoor, Kerala, was dumping or burning used milk packets like any other household. But on one such occasion, she was approached by a young girl who lived in the neighbourhood, who told her how bad burning plastic is for the environment.
Needless to say, burning doesn’t rid the planet of plastic — it just transforms it into toxic gases that go on to affect health, the environment, and much more. For Leelamma, the intervention proved to be fruitful, and as she began reading more about the nation’s plastic burden in the newspapers, she decided she would find another way to put empty milk packets to use.
The 67-year-old goes around her neighbourhood to collect milk packets, and repurposes them into furniture, decorative items, and much more.
Using the age-old tradition, followed by many Indian households, of turning discard and waste items into useful objects, she’s also ensuring that not even a single packet is disposed of in her area.
She also receives packets from friends living further away, who send her a month’s worth of collection.
Leelamma says she was always engaged in handcrafting small items, stitching, and embroidery. So harnessing her creativity, she decided to make small purses from these items. This expanded to clothes, mats, and carpets in her home.
“I started with the thought of not burning plastic materials. I first made a small purse, then moved on to a big bag, and now have made an entire wardrobe made of milk packets. I first trim the unwanted areas from the packet. Then, I wash and dry them so that the smell goes away,” says Leelamma.
She made the wardrobe using 4,150 milk packets, and a laundry bag using 1,000.
But she doesn’t sell these — as she tells The Better India, she needs help for that, and is looking for people to teach and employ.
“I have the mind to make as many items as possible. However, that is not possible physically. I want to employ a few people, teach them how to make these items, and then sell them,” she says.
She also notes, “One shouldn’t burn plastic covers, the smoke is bad for our health. Clean them and turn them into usable items. Several varieties of products can be made out of it.”
Impressed by her work, the Kerala Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (Milma) also invited Leelamma to their office, and the minister for dairy development and milk co-operatives J Chinchu Rani honoured her with a hamper. Leelamma says that Rani has promised to help her in any manner possible, should she wish to set up a business.
How does Leelamma turn such a simple item into beautiful works of art? Watch this video to know more:
Edited by Divya Sethu