The rampant consumption of plastic waste has triggered a hazardous impact not just on the environment, but also on the health and well-being of humans. To address this pressing issue, a 47-year-old woman from Assam, Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi, who lives in the vicinity of the Kaziranga National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - has come up with a novel idea. She, along with women from her collective ‘Village Weaves’ collect the waste (littered at the park), and use it to weave handloom products like handbags, table mats, doormats, and more.
“Despite a ban on littering, there are plastic bags everywhere which are not only an eyesore but also hazardous for animals who choke on them,” shared Gogoi with the media, adding that her enterprise that was established in 2004 has empowered over 2,300 women across 25 villages in Assam.
Gogoi’s husband Binod is employed at a local wildlife conservation non-profit organisation, and works towards the welfare of the environment and animals. After several discussions, the couple decided to come up with a three-pronged solution to tackle plastic waste, recycle it, and provide sustainable livelihood to local women.
Creativity for a cause
“At first, I tried using just plastic to make different objects from it. But it didn’t work. I then experimented with other types of materials. Finally, it was only after I mixed plastic with cotton threads that I was able to create a durable and pliant fabric that was ideal for creating craft products,” she says.
Assam is well-known for handloom weaving, and it is this very skill that has been at the centre of this cause. Most local women have a loom at home, which is made from bamboo. Using this to her advantage, Gogoi has employed several local women, and even their families.
“Often entire families join in collecting waste, weaving handloom products and other associated tasks which helps them earn good money. For instance, in my home, my husband, in-laws, brother and mother all help me with not just weaving, but also marketing the products and other administrative work,” she shared with the media.
Their products are sold through Kaziranga Haat, a gift shop that Gogi started in 2012. During peak tourist season, the women make anywhere between Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 per month, during peak tourist season.
Grappling with challenges
The collective has been unable to garner sales, with the pandemic stalling tourist entry to Kaziranga. Currently, her source of income is through her tiny cafe called ‘Roop’s Kitchen’ that serves an Assamese thali with four local delicacies and breads.
There are some other issues that the artisans are dealing with, including outdated looms. Although Gogoi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she hasn’t received any response.
“There are many central and state government schemes as well for artisans like us, but they never reach us in our nondescript villages,” she added.
Gogoi hopes for the situation to improve, once the pandemic is under control.
(Edited by Sanhati Banerjee)