top of page
  • Writer's pictureAzera Rahman

Kutch women turn plastic waste to bags and yoga mats

For The Hindu (Sunday Magazine)

Published on 28 July 2023

The women in Kutch traditionally do not operate looms; but all that has changed and now they ingeniously weave plastic waste into products that can be bought online

Rajiben Vankar weaving waste plastic. Pic: Vijay Soneji

Stacked in a neat pile in Rajiben Vankar’s house in Kutch’s Ahmednagar village is a bounty of plastic bags. On a clothes line are rows of washed bags drying under the sun. Rajiben is sitting on a traditional loom, weaving strips of plastic into colourful sheets; these will be made into bags, yoga mats and spectacle covers, among other products. She is one of the many women in Kutch’s villages who are using their traditional knowledge of weaving to address an environmental issue of massive proportions — plastic pollution. She was awarded the Swachh Sujal Shakti Samman 2023 by the President of India.

India generates huge amounts of plastic waste each year: the figure was 3.4 million tonnes in 2019-20 .

“I have been weaving plastic for more than 10 years now and through these years, as more and more women have joined this initiative, I can see our villages becoming clean of plastic waste,” says Rajiben. “Women are becoming more conscious about plastic pollution affecting our health and whatever plastic waste we find, we use it to weave things.”

Spectacle cases made of waste plastic. Pic: Vijay Soneji

Local solution

Rajiben is one of the first women to have been trained in plastic weaving by Khamir, an NGO that works with craftspeople. The idea was generated when a French designer visiting the NGO was asked to design products made of local waste material back in 2009. “Plastic weaving was conceived as a possible solution to address a modern-day problem such as plastic waste, using traditional skills. It also generates income for women and urban waste collectors,” says Ghatit Laheru of Khamir. The weaving is done on both pit looms and frame looms with a few modifications. Strong plastic thread or cotton is used for the warp and assorted plastic waste is used for the weft.

There are five main stages in this process: plastic collection, washing and drying, cutting into strips, weaving, and finally, stitching into different products. Ranjanben, who works on plastic weaving at Khamir, says plastic waste is collected from households in residential colonies as well as industrial areas. Schools are a collection point too. This is done with the help of waste pickers. The Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) is one such collection source where women waste pickers are involved in plastic collection.

“We finally cut the bags into strips — not more than half an inch in width — which are then woven into sheets of different sizes depending on what is to be made,” says Ranjanben. It takes around 20 plastic bags to make a shopping bag. Khamir recycles on an average 60 kilos of plastic a month.

Road to independence

Interestingly, women in Kutch traditionally do not operate the loom. It’s usually men who sit at the loom, while women are a part of the pre- and post-loom process. It was only after Khamir’s intervention that women learnt to operate the loom.

Rajiben on the other hand, was already a trailblazer in her village. At age 13, when her father, a weaver, became seriously ill, she decided to learn weaving and take over his vocation in order to feed her family of seven children. “My father was not happy; said it would be paap (sin) to let a girl sit at the loom but I did so anyway,” she says. Later, when she got married, she was again off the loom for 12 years. Then another tragedy struck. Her husband died, leaving her alone to fend for herself and her three children. “Once again I turned to the loom to rescue me. Khamir was looking for women to start its plastic weaving project and when they came to know that I knew how to weave, they were very happy.” After she learnt the process, Rajiben started training others.

Plastic being cut into strips. Pic: Vijay Soneji

Bhavna Vankar, a plastic weaver, says it is a blessing to be able to earn while working from home. “Our families don’t stop us from weaving because we are able to earn while being at home,” she says.

Can be replicated

According to Ranjanben, women involved in plastic weaving earn anything between ₹3000 and ₹6000 a month. Rajiben started her own venture of plastic weaving in 2018 and now works with at least 60 women in different villages, converting waste plastic to finished products such as bags, plastic trays, tea coasters and yoga mats. “I got my first loom from Khamir. Thereafter, I joined my village Sakhi Mandal and took a loan to buy another loom. Then an organisation called Kaarigar Clinic began helping me with my work, to design and market our products; they also gave me a loom,” she says.

Most of these recycled plastic products find takers in urban markets — through online orders — in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. They are also sold at exhibitions and fairs and are on display in Khamir’s crafts store, which attracts a number of tourists, both domestic and international.

“This entire recycling is done by hand; there is no machine used. So it can be easily replicated everywhere,” says Laheru. Rajiben, for instance, was invited by an NGO to train 400 Adivasi women in Mumbai on plastic weaving recently. “My biggest takeaway from this project is that it helps us clean our environment. In villages, people are now not using or burning plastic as much as before,” says Rajiben.

3 views0 comments


bottom of page