Throughout the busy streets of Mumbai, India, large blue Jhola bags can be seen everywhere, bursting at the seams with the owner’s precious cargo. Like all plastic bags, however, their job soon comes to an end. They become colourful litter at the side of the road, where they collect dust and dirt. In a city of 12 million people, these Jhola bags really start to pile up.
It’s in these heaps of plastic bags that Asha Handicrafts saw potential.
Asha means “hope” in Sanskrit. Asha Handicrafts is an environmentally conscious Fair Trade organization that decided to start purchasing used Jhola bags from people who were selling them on the streets to earn income. Once washed and sorted, they’re placed in the hands of artisans working in Asha’s Trash to Treasure program.
Let’s take a journey with Asha’s talented artisans as they transform worthless bags into funky, unique pieces of jewellery:
1. First, the bags are cleaned and sorted by colour by one of the six artisans working in the program.
2. The bags are then either cut into strips or shredded into thin pieces of plastic resembling confetti.
3. To start making the jewellery, a base needs to be created. This is done by cutting out a square sheet and placing it on a heat press. Once on the heat press, the necessary details of the design are added. Strips of plastic are added to give a product stripes, and the shredded plastic is added to give a speckled look.
4. Once cooled, the artisans use the solid sheet of plastic to begin cutting out their designs. This particular sheet of plastic (see photo below) is cut to the proper width with a knife, using a metal ruler to mark the size of the earring. This creates multiple long strips of plastic, each with its own unique but similar pattern. To size the earrings, a weighted metal square is used as a template, and a sharp knife is hammered down to cut the plastic. The result is a perfectly square earring.
5. Once the earrings have been cut into the correct shape, a hole is drilled into the top for the S-hook to be attached.
6. The earrings are buffed to create a smooth rounded edge. A blow torch is also used to remove any excess plastic fibres before the final detailing stage.
7. The earrings then enter the final stages of finishing. After adding the S-hook, along with a tiny blue plastic circle for an added touch of detail, the earring is complete and ready for customers to enjoy.
Transforming trash into treasure on the streets of Mumbai provides a unique way to clean up litter. But more importantly, Asha’s Trash to Treasure project provides talented individuals who would otherwise have few options with meaningful employment.
In a world where the future of most investments is unpredictable, you can rest assured that investing in education and empowerment for women will always pay off.
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