Your favourite ice cream store in Bengaluru has been in the news recently, but it’s not for their ice cream, rather for their bowls. In June 2019, a famous ice cream parlour in Bengaluru launched the “Bring Your Own Bowl” initiative to avoid single-use cups and containers. Customers are requested to carry their own bowls for their orders as a part of this campaign.
Be it for a small scoop of ice cream or buffet at a large gathering, single-use cutlery and plates seem to be everywhere. These are convenient to use and negate the hassles of cleaning up later, so it’s not surprising that their consumption has become a thoughtless act. We may have come up with ways and means to address food waste from our events, but what about the other waste we generate? If only there was a way around it. Well, how about looking into our own kitchens for inspiration and using reusable dinnerware?
Carrying Personal Cutlery Everywhere
Across the country, citizen-driven initiatives have come up with cutlery and plate banks to give people the option to rent reusable plates and cups for their events. Solid waste management expert Vani Murthy shared that the movement is the result of many individuals refusing to use single-use cutlery, carrying their personal glasses and spoons wherever they go.
“We have been talking about these things for quite some time and also implemented them in small ways. For example, when we had meetings to discuss waste management, we would carry our tumblers and spoons to the local eateries. People also consciously began talking about this, which brought about the BYOC or the ‘Bring Your Own Cup’ movement,” says Murthy.
No one has ever become poor by giving
As awareness spread and rental initiatives came into the picture, people in large apartment complexes invested in common dinner sets which could be used by the residents for a gathering. “This really goes to show that small steps matter, even if it’s just you in the entire wedding hall using your own cutlery,” Murthy added.
While the idea seems simple and definitely worth trying, people working behind these initiatives can vouch that bringing a change like this is nowhere near easy.
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Rishita Sharma who started Rent-A-cutlery in Whitefield along with Lakshmi Sankaran said that when they began working on this concept in 2016, people were not too receptive about it. “We were waste management volunteers in Whitefield, and we used to go to schools and colleges to raise awareness about this topic. We saw that disposables were everywhere, and we realised that people needed an alternative to stop using disposables,” she said.
When the duo suggested the idea to their community members, they found people were willing to invest in common cutlery and plate sets, but the maintenance aspect was a concern for them. Sharma and Sankaran went ahead and purchased about 100 plates, cups and spoons between them, hoping to share them with their close friends. This was how Rent-A-Cutlery officially started.
Not only have the number of plates increased at Rent-A-Cutlery today, but people have also joined the initiative by setting up branches all over Bengaluru. They also have a volunteer from Chennai who has set up a plate bank there. Rent-A-Cutlery goes one step ahead and uses only bio enzymes, prepared at home, to clean the plates and cups.
An Average Wedding Generates Two Truckloads Of Trash
“We have to go back to celebrating in an eco-friendly way. Rentals were the norm even in the recent past. People would rent everything from tubelights, chairs, plates, cups and even the jugs used to serve water. Everything was cleaned and given back. There was no trash. Then the use and throw culture came in, and suddenly there is so much trash,” he says.
In case you are wondering how much trash is generated from single-use cutlery, then consider this – an average wedding with about 1000 guests generate close to two truckloads of garbage, going straight to the landfill.
Namma Cutlery Bank has about 200 small plates, cups, spoons and glasses for small to medium-sized events. Natarajan points out that bagasse plates are more expensive than the stainless steel alternatives, and in the case of cutlery made with areca nut leaves, they need to be soaked after use to compost them. “Unless you take the necessary steps, purchasing and using these materials makes no sense,” he added.
Rented Cutlery Movement Is Growing
Just as with Rent-A-Cutlery, Namma Cutlery Bank was born from an organisation working on solid waste management. While they do get requests, people who are already inclined to these concepts are the ones embracing them. Natarajan shares that awareness is vital to include more people in such activities.
“We completely rely on social media to spread the message,” he said. “We also promote the concept within the communities we work with. We have a WhatsApp group where we share these ideas on a regular basis,” he added.
Rishita Sharma also agrees that people need to know about these options and the impact of their choices to consider going a different route. So far, Rent-A-Cutlery has reduced waste in over 200 events.
Sharma also started the #byocselfie challenge along with her friends Seema Sharma and Padma Naveen. “When it comes to larger gatherings, people are still worried about the hygiene factor and about how others will perceive the fact they are serving food on rented stainless steel plates. But the only way to work around these concerns is to constantly share positive stories of how using rented cutlery reduces a significant amount of waste.”
So what are you waiting for? The next time you are hosting a gathering at your place, pool in some plates from your neighbours or simply renting them. And when you rent a plate, make sure you share your story and inspire others to follow suit. Here are a few options to consider renting plates, depending on where you are.
As we near the International Women’s Day 2019, we gear up to celebrate women in all walks of life. At such a juncture, Efforts For Good aims to highlight some incredible women achievers, who are uplifting marginalised communities and the lesser privileged gender, away from all the limelight.
In our second article of the series, we bring you the story of Rimagined – a unique socio-environmental venture by Bengaluru resident Shailaja Rangarajan. One of the frontrunners in the recycling sector in India, Rimagined markets a wide range of upcycled products, all crafted and curated by marginalised women from the low-income strata.
How can we leave a non-livable planet for our children?
A former business consultant, Shailaja’s inspiration for upcycling started from the most basic step – waste management. However, she believes it was her motherly instincts that made her realise the importance of the concept in practicality.
Talking to Efforts For Good, she shares, “My first exposure to waste management was when we set up our own waste handling process in our apartment complex in Bangalore. I noticed how this simple step has an immensely positive impact on the environment.”
Motivated, Shailaja started volunteering with non-profits in the waste management sector, which involved directly dealing with mounds of garbage disposed of in the nooks and crannies of the city. “While collaborating with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), I ended up walking through heaps of garbage. I have always been conscious of my personal choices. But, the thought of handing over a non-livable planet to the next generation, to my daughter, shook me as a mother. I started to think more seriously about what can be done to fix this problem we only have created,” Shailaja narrates.
The start of Rimagined
She started to feel that all these waste management measures fall short to address the main issue of a lifestyle of uninhibited consumption. “Just the way dropping a bottle in the Recycle bin is no justification for the use-and-throw way of living, segregating waste and dumping things. While walking through garbage, I could see so many things that can be salvaged and repurposed. This sprouted the idea of upcycling in my mind,” shares Shailaja.
In 2016, Shailaja conceptualised Rimagined which was initially a movement solely dedicated to sensitising people about better and possible re-utilisation of resources. A few months into the project, she felt that unless she integrates her venture into the mainstream market domain, it is nearly impossible to bring any change. “That’s how Rimagined has evolved into a brand of its own with our own handcrafted range of upcycled products,” she informs.
Zero compromise on quality is our mantra
Rimagined sells anything and everything. From trendy bags made of recycled denim to interior decor items of scrap metal, the online e-commerce site is the go-to destination for every conscious buyer. They source their raw materials from landfills and household excess and has successfully managed to upcycle around 40 tonnes of waste so far. In turn, they have reduced quite a significant amount of carbon footprint.
Shailaja wishes to clarify that unlike the popular notion, upcycling never compromises on quality.
“The Indian mindset is that since the product is created from waste, it should be practically free. So our team has turned it a habit to explain the step-by-step intricacies of creating an upcycled product, so they are ready to opt for a sustainable version of a common household item,” she explains her core challenge.
Creativity from the other end of consumption
Rimagined, a term which is a wordplay on the term ‘Re-imagined’, sports a logo with a reverse R in the front, which summarises their entire concept – finding creativity at the other end of consumption.
The Bengaluru based enterprise has found a sizeable consumer base among the younger and aware urban residents. Recently, they have also branched out to cater to pan India customers. The founder feels that as one of the very few successful e-commerce ventures in the upcycling sector, it is their responsibility to create widespread awareness in the nooks and corners of the country, not just restricted to a handful of metropolitan clusters.
From mistreated housemaids to proud employees – how Rimagined changed lives
Perhaps the best aspect of Rimagined is their workforce which exclusively comprises mothers and housewives from a lesser privileged background. Though based out of Bengaluru, Rimagined has its production centre in Kolkata. There is a heartwarming story that explains the distance.
Shailaja shares, “A year after we launched, when I decided to create the Rimagined label of products, I chose to create a women-centric team. Coincidentally, my friend Debopriya in Kolkata, an artist who teaches special kids from a low-income background reached out to me with an unusual appeal. She noticed that the mothers who accompany these kids, sit outside waiting for the classes to get over. She asked me if there was something that can be done to help them augment their income by using that waiting time.”
It was just a matter of connecting the dots after that. The women, who either worked as housemaids or were unemployed before, started their journey with Rimagined from January 2018. For all of them, there has been no looking back.
“One lady has saved money and bought an auto-rickshaw for her husband. For another, the newfound financial independence gave her a voice. Despite her husband’s apathy, she now sends her kid to a special school and dreams a better future for him. Another woman has purchased a one bedroom flat for her family,” Shailaja shares some snippets of dreams they fulfilled.
They also work with handloom weavers in West Bengal and Bhuj, Gujarat.
One small check before you buy something
As a social entrepreneur, Shailaja Rangarajan has achieved milestones which very few dare to aim. She is indeed a true inspiration for the new generation of women who are aspiring to explore the aspects of social entrepreneurship. At the end of the day, Shailaja believes herself to be another conscious individual, on a mission to save the future of the planet and her people.
“My only request to everyone has always been to know and understand where your products come from. Before you buy any product, just check if there is an upcycled, low carbon footprint version available. If you perform this one check every time you buy something, you will automatically make a huge impact on the environment,” she signs off.