"We call it 'waste', but it's such a bad term. It's a resource."
Co-founder Anita Ahuja and the entire team at Conserve India believe it is time to change our change our vocabulary around waste. Where others see waste - in the mounds of plastic bags, in piles of discarded rubber - Conserve sees opportunity.
Founded in 1998 by Anita and Shalabh Ahuja, Conserve was envisioned simply as a recycling organization to deal with the waste in the neighborhood that local authorities could not handle. Soon Conserve realized that the plastic bags that made up the largest portion of the waste could not be recycled locally, and a new solution was needed. That solution was found in fashion.
By buying a Conserve bag, belt, wallet, shoe, or necklace, you not only get to be a trend setter with a beautiful accessory - you will also be helping the environment and some of the poorest people in India.
Conserve India has developed a unique upcycling process to use the plastic bags picked up from Delhi’s streets every day. Because the bags themselves are already colored, the resulting fabric made from them can create vibrant accessories without the need for additional dyes. Moreover, the process Conserve developed to create this Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP) uses less energy than conventional recycling and causes no pollution. In addition to plastic bags, Conserve also upcycles rubber, denim, nylon webbing from seatbelts, and even excess sari fabric, into beautiful fashion-forward accessories.
This mentality around waste extends not only to the materials used in Conserve's fashionable accessories, but also to the very people who labor in the slums of India. Wasted human potential is also a resource that should be harnessed - to improve the world and also to improve the lives of workers.
Conserve believes first and foremost in paying a fair wage to everyone. As a result, a ragpicker can earn three times more on average by working for Conserve than working on his own. In addition to fair wages, Conserve India is campaigning for an official registry of ragpickers in Dehli, to support and educate them about market rates for the waste they collect and how to handle it properly so that they can work safely and for a fair price. Conserve offers also training to its employees and has a policy of hiring staff from within the organization - encouraging staff who start out as ragpickers to learn new skills and move to jobs in manufacturing or in the office. With the profits from its accessories, Conserve supports schools in the slums where many workers live and has recently started a health care clinic.
"[Waste] creates jobs, it creates profits. We need to change our vocabulary."
Through its beautiful upcycled accessories, its support of local workers, and its commitment to energy-efficient reuse and recycling, Conserve India is taking what other people see as waste and transforming it into beautiful things, and into hope for the world and for all of us.