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Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Achievers: Anita Ahuja - Converting Trash to Treasure
The article profiles Anita Ahuja, a 47-year Indian women, who has started an organization called Conserve which recycles waste plastic bags into fashion accessories. Not only her ecofriendly business generating good profits but it is also providing employment to many of the city's poor people.
Her organization uses poor garbage pickers to gather waste plastic bags, a source of polyethylene, which are then used for making products such as totes. These products are then exported aboard through wholesalers to countries in Europe and the US.
The products show up in stores in Britain, France and the U.S. (including chains like Whole Foods (nasdaq: WFMI - news - people )) at anywhere from $16 to $50. So far she's sold 174,000 pieces. Last year Conserve brought in $317,000, keeping $150,000 in its for-profit arm. That money was put back into the business and used to run a school for the children of the ragpickers--200 enrolled and counting. Along the way, she's taking on Delhi's recycling mafia and the Indian bureaucracy, and getting a toehold in Parisian fashion.
She got the idea of starting Conserve in 1998 while discussing the issues like sewage and garbage with her friends. Her initial idea of recycling the kitchen waste of an entire neighborhood into compost didn't work out. However, as usually happens with most entrepreneurs, that project led her to the idea of recycling waste plastic bags into various homemade accessories.
Over the next two years Ahuja experimented with recycling the bags. She tried weaving them together to create a tarpaulin-like covering for the shacks of slum dwellers. Another time she tried pasting pieces of the polyethylene onto canvas and cardboard. She saw that a thicker fabric could be used to make bric-a-brac like pen holders and file folders, and realized she'd finally found a successful recipe when her homemade products were popular at a fair at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. She decided to venture into accessories.
Buyers of her products now include Global Girlfriend, a Colorodo-based online retailer that sells Conserve totes wholesale to Whole Foods stores. She is also expanding her facility to meet the needs of larger retailers such as Target and Zara. Thanks to Anita's efforts, her organization is not only profitable but it also provides livelihood to many poor garbage pickers and other employees.
Bharti Sharma, a mother of one daughter, does quality control in the workshop and represents the organization at trade fairs--a long way from her ragpicking days. "I've worked here seven years, and my life is so good [that] I have no plans of leaving this place," she says.
For complete article, see:

Forbes: Bag Lady

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posted by Little Rishi @ Saturday, August 29, 2009  
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