Tag Archives: conserve delhi 2010

Final project evaluation summary

6 Mar

On my final day at the Conserve India office key members of the Conserve India team and I undertook a simple project evaluation. Together we reflected on our experiences of the project and made some group decisions on what we felt we’d achieved.

Remember our objectives? How we aimed to:

  • create new valuable products out of Commonwealth Games waste – establishing Delhi 2010 as the first Games to upcycle event waste
  • enhance Conserve India’s capacity to improve the wellbeing of Delhi’s poorest communities by selling more of their upcycled products
  • raise public awareness of waste issues and the benefits of upcycling, particularly  at major events.

We used a basic spider diagram as our evaluation and reporting tool. Click on the diagram and read the summary below to see where we ended up in several key areas:

CD2010 project final evaluation spider diagram

The Delhi 2010 Organising Committee

Establishing a partnership with the Delhi Organising Committee (OC) was one of the more challenging aspects of this project. Although we did find supporters within the OC, who directed us to waste materials, we were unable to secure an ‘official’ partnership. At the highest level this entailed the OC formally and publicly acknowledging a commitment to working with us.

The Games Contractors

We had a lot more success approaching companies contracted by the OC to deliver aspects of the Games. We were offered a variety of waste materials by different contractors. A number of these companies were interested in working with Conserve on upcycling initiatives beyond the Commonwealth Games. The team at Conserve India now have new contacts and industry knowledge, positioning them well to continue working with event waste in India.

Conserve India’s Capacity and the Games Upcycled Products

These two aspects were so interrelated I thought it best to deal with them together. Essentially, the biggest challenge here was time – we simply did not have enough time to fully test samples, lock in buyer interest, modify samples to meet buyer requirements and secure a significant wholesale order.

On top of this, Conserve India was already busy meeting current production demands while transitioning to a entirely new factory. We were happy, however, with having made product samples in what Anita called ‘laying foundation stones’: that is, giving something a go and learning from it for next time.

Liz and Conserve India

This was about recognising that our relationship was fundamental to the project’s success. Again this was constrained by time. In three months we felt as though we’d only just got to know each other.

One of the main things we all learnt from working together, was there could have been more discussion in the months leading up to delivering the project. Although this is tricky where you’re in different countries, for a project to be fully participatory all the key players need to be involved in creating it.

The Awareness Campaign

This was our unqualified success. We all agreed that the media campaign we ran during the Games delivered some great results – including generating unexpected interest from big corporations.

The social media campaign was more of a slow burner, but we did increase followers and generate quality feedback and engagement with our supporters through these channels. The blog, in particular, proved to be a great way of documenting our project story in a far more interactive way than any monitoring or final report could do. We learned a lot here.

If we had to do it all again, the main thing we would have changed is to have someone connecting with the Games much earlier in their planning process. Starting the project only one month before such a mammoth event was cutting it a little fine!

Overall, we were happy with the project as it was. Because what it was, was pretty great.

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Upcycling and street style

4 Mar Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot

My final 24 hours in Delhi proved quite busy. We were lucky to have a travelling American artist/photographer, Joey Edwards, join us for our last street shoot.

Joey had volunteered with Conserve India a few years ago and was dropping in to the office to say hi. We, of course, jumped at the chance to have an extra photographer for our planned photoshoot at Delhi’s Connaught Place shopping centre.

And here are the citizens of Delhi who graciously stopped to model our bags. Amazingly, these lovely ladies knew about the project because they’d read about it in the papersCommonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot

…and we thought our next model, Sujay, looked far more stylish than the United Colours of Bennetton mannequins we snapped him in front of (especially their hair arrangements…or lack thereof).

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 2

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 3

…We loved how Sumit’s dark clothing highlighted the bright colours of our Games messenger bag…

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 4

…and, finally, the very obliging Anyad and Mrinali, lending us their unique looks for this photo…

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 5

What was great about the shoot was that people got the idea quickly; they understood what we were trying to do.

We were overjoyed with their show of support (and the photos – thanks Joey and Jenna!)…

…like Shammi Kapoor (the ‘Elvis of Bollywood’) on seeing his true love…

…or Rahat Fateh Ali Khan mid-flight in song…

…Gold!


Insane in the membrane…

24 Feb

Ok, so we’re heading into the home stretch with this project blog (just over a week to go until my final deadline: Sunday March 6). I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted about the Games PVC banner material.

So what happened to all those banners – all 25 tonnes of them?

Commonwealth Games banners scrap

Commonwealth Games banners stored at the warehouse

We made a heap of products and sold them for stash of cash, right?

Not quite.

I was trialling one of the sample PVC bags, taking it to all my meetings, usually stuffed full of things like a Macbook laptop and a waterbottle (no point mucking around when it comes to R&D).

using the Games messenger bags

On the way to a 'very important' meeting at the 2010 Commonwealth Games

A few weeks of this and I began noticing cracks in the folds – the PVC banners from the Games media event just weren’t durable enough for a bag in constant use. But what about the official Games wall wrap banners? Could we still use them?

Checking out the banner material with Conserve India's sampling unit

Checking out the wall wrap banner material with Conserve India's sampling unit

Sadly, it turned out they were made of a similar form of PVC.

It’s called blackout flex – basically polyester thread spray painted with a thin PVC resin coating. Great for cheap, temporary advertising applications, but not so good for a high-end, durable fashion accessory.

It felt like we’d hit a dead end with our Games upcycling experiment. We made one last visit to the warehouse, thinking we’d collect a couple of the wall wraps for future experiments with the material.

But when we arrived we noticed these…

Commonwealth Games athlete flags

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games street flags

Sponsor flags

Air India and Tissot Games sponsor flags - major brands being trashed...literally

trashed brands

Hero Honda and Central Bank of India: do you know where your brand is being dumped?

They were street flags, strung up across the city for the Games and made from a tougher form of PVC (blockout flex).

So, with clouds of disappointment rapidly lifting, we took as many of the flags as we could manage and hurried back to Conserve’s workshop.

As for the wall wrap banners, as far as we know, they were sold as cheap scrap to the city’s waste dealers. We’d like to think they ended up serving a useful second purpose. However, we can’t be certain.

But one thing is for sure, dear readers, it’s a little insane in the brain making so many of them in the first place, let alone without much thought for what happens to them when the party is over.

Looking forward to showing you what we did with the flags…

Plastic Bags: a material with inherent beauty

17 Feb

Today, in our last interview for the ideas hub, we hear from Conserve India’s co-founder, Anita Ahuja.

With an academic background in political science, Anita’s career has encompassed various roles: writer, artist, designer, environmentalist and social activist. Today, she combines all these skills and interests in her work as Conserve’s Creative Director.

1. How did Conserve India begin?

I started Conserve India over 11 years ago, with my friends and family, as a small neighbourhood composting project. But we were also tackling poverty and unemployment by trying to provide an income stream for Delhi’s ragpickers – many of whom live in the city’s slums.

Early on we realized there wasn’t a great local market for selling compost. We also noticed plastic bags were a big waste problem as they weren’t being collected well or recycled. If left as litter on the streets, the bags can clog up drains and get eaten by animals such as cows.

It sounds a little strange, but when I saw plastic bags floating down the street it was almost as if they were calling out to me to do something with them.

Where other people saw waste, I saw a material with inherent beauty.

Anita Ahuja interviewed for french documentary series, Shamengo

Anita Ahuja interviewed for french documentary series, Shamengo

So, with my engineer husband Shalabh and members of our family, I began thinking about how we could use this material.

Through trial and error, we developed a unique heat press technology to make our patented material – Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP).

The plastic bags are collected by the ragpickers, washed and sorted then pressed into sheets of HRP. As it’s mostly done by hand, producing HRP is an energy efficient process.

We also avoid adding any dyes or toxic chemicals – we simply layer the shopping bags until we achieve the colours we desire. I then began experimenting with making and selling HRP products.

About six years ago, Shalabh and I established Conserve HRP, the business arm of Conserve India, so we could lessen our dependence on grants and development funding by generating more income from product sales.

We have since diversified into other materials such as tyre tubes and seatbelt offcuts. Over the years we have attracted very supportive overseas buyers and our organisation has continued to grow.

2. Would you describe Conserve India as a social enterprise?

Yes. Conserve is a hybrid organisation – we are a registered non-governmental organisation (Conserve India) supported by the export business (Conserve HRP). Conserve HRP buys the sheets of handmade recycled plastic from the NGO side.

I don’t think working for profit is a bad thing – it’s good to diversify your income streams. It’s what you do with those profits that defines your organisation.

Although our business arm makes a profit, that’s only one third of the triple bottom line. You wouldn’t get the full picture of Conserve India if you only looked at turnover. We are strongly committed to the social and environmental outcomes in what we do.

Our success in exporting products made from waste, or upcycled products, allows us to pay fair wages and plough profits back into health and education services for our staff and their families.

The 'Robin' HRP messenger bag

The 'Robin' HRP messenger bag

In a traditional corporation you would probably view these services a additional perks or benefits of working there.

But many of our staff come from the poorest communities in Delhi and struggle to access enough income, let alone education and health care; so the social development aspect is a fundamental part of our mission.

3. What are some of the challenges you have overcome in establishing this organisation?

In Delhi it’s actually illegal for people to pick through waste. Once it reaches the local dhalaos (neighborhood collection and recycling centres) it becomes the property of the municipal authorities.

The ragpickers are only tolerated at these centres because of the obvious waste reduction and cost saving benefits they bring by sorting and extracting the recyclables from rubbish.

So working with the ragpickers, we are dealing with a caste of people with very few rights or social standing.

Because of these issues, and the perception of our work as dirty and unhealthy, at the beginning we found it hard to rent space for sorting and washing the plastic bags.

A Conserve India washing unit

A Conserve India washing unit

We also found it difficult to have HRP products officially recognized as handicraft by the Indian government because it’s an innovative material and not over 500 years old.

If we could have achieved this it would have made it easier for us to sell our products through government-sanctioned emporiums in India.

But we’ve managed to survive by focusing our efforts on the export market and the many supportive buyers we’ve found overseas.

With an unskilled workforce – many of our staff can’t read or write – we’ve had to be very inventive in setting up our production processes.

For example, we named all the different coloured bags after well-known Bollywood stars and used their pictures to identify piles of the same coloured plastic.

But finding creative ways to address such issues is what I enjoy about this work; if you believe in what you’re doing, you can always find a way to solve a problem.

4. What about the future?

We are constantly on the lookout for new business opportunities.

The Conserve Delhi 2010 Project opened up the possibility for us to continue developing products with major event waste.

The project also stirred up interest from several corporations leaving us with potential for working in the domestic market.

We’ve also had many inquiries from around the world about our process for manufacturing HRP and we’re considering franchising our patent on the technology.

At present we are shifting our operations to a new, purpose built factory on the west of Delhi. It’s an exciting transition, where we hope to employ more staff and transform even more waste materials into new and valuable products.

Anita and Shalabh Ahuja at the new Conserve India factory

Anita and Shalabh Ahuja at the new Conserve India factory

Upcycling: like playing Hacky Sack with materials…

11 Feb checking out the fence bunting

There were quite a few Games waste materials we identified during and just after the event. But establishing a viable upcycled product range takes quite a bit more than just finding materials.

Can the material be made into products fitting our current brand and organisational capacity? Can we afford to store enough of it? What about the product testing?

And of course, there’s the market development work – not many businesses can afford to produce products without some sort of guarantee they’ll sell.

So we had to be careful about which materials we accepted from the Games. Apart from the PVC banners we actively targeted, we were offered a few other interesting materials:

  • Recyclable waste directly from the Games Organising Committee Headquarters. This was mostly office waste – paper, cardboard and plastic bottles. Although Zitta Schnitt’s fabulous open source PET bottle purse designdid make us stop and ponder for a moment……………………we decided most of the materials weren’t suitable for durable fashion and homeware products.

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters - inside and out

  • Temporary fencing and bunting cloth – during the Games, many events were cordoned off with thousands of temporary fences. We were offered these materials during the de-commisioning process after the event. We contemplated taking a small number of fences to trial some industrial furniture items (such as lampstands and shelving) as well as simple drawstring gym bags from the bunting material. But due to storage issues and the uncertainty factor regarding sales we had to say no.
Games fences and bunting

Delhi 2010 temporary fencing and bunting material

checking out the fence bunting

You watch the athletes, we'll feel the fence. Scoping out venue bunting material.

  • Unused Delhi 2010 Games ticket envelopes made from Tyvek plastic – this was such an interesting material I’m dedicating tomorrow’s post to it.

So, there’s a lot to do in realising an upcycling business opportunity. One of the ideas we had about securing a buyer for our Games products was to approach upcoming major events – such as the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – regarding upcycled merchandise.

Instead of cheap Chinese imports (like these merchandising items at one of the Delhi 2010 retail outlets)…

Merch cushion covers

Is pillow fighting a Games sport?! Random cushion covers on sale at Delhi 2010 retail store

gamesmerch2

Fuzzy plastic cars and things. What the...

…why not products made directly from materials left over from the last mega event?

Can you see where i’m going with this?

Imagine: closing the loop on waste from one major event to the next; like playing hacky sack with materials for as long as you can.

It’s a big idea and one, I’m certain, with many challenges to be overcome. But it’s not impossible to change a human system is it?

We got a little excited by the possibilities and dashed off a few emails to the London 2o12 and Glasgow 2014 organising committees but, alas, no cigar.

Not even a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.

These events are organised many years in advance and perhaps, for the London Olympics at least, the most sustainable products have already been secured for their branded merchandise? This is, after all, meant to be the ‘first sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games’. London 2012 Sustainability Plan, 2009

But when I logged on to the London 2012 shop I was surprised to find little, if any, details about the products other than most came from the manufacturer to the world – China.

Take, for example, a simple drawstring gym bag (sound familiar?) It’s made from polyester and quite cheap at  7 pounds. You could argue the Olympics, in an effort to be inclusive, has gone for low priced merchandise.

But then there’s the Stella McCartney Team Great Britain gym bag at almost 4 times the price – China and polyester again.

Maybe the sustainability credentials for each product just haven’t been made public? Maybe the organisers thought it wouldn’t make a difference to sales.

Maybe.

But it would be nice to have a choice, wouldn’t it?

Festival perspective

14 Dec

For our final instalment in the Conserve Delhi 2010 ideas hub I’d like to share a response from Riki Edelsten, Partnership and Resources Manager at one of Melbourne’s premier community events: the Sustainable Living Festival.

SLF River Crowds

Sustainable Living Festival crowds along the Yarra River

Over the past decade the Sustainable Living Festival has inspired large audiences to live more sustainably, by showcasing and celebrating sustainability in the heart of Melbourne city.

Much has changed since the first Festival in 1998, held in regional Victoria and attended by just over 2,000 devoted innovators: the Festival now attracts over 120,000 visits to the event in Federation Square each February.

In 2011 the Festival is expanding to meet people where they’re at. Inspired by successful community engagement and mobilisation models from around the world, the 2011 Festival two week extended format is reaching out into our streets and suburbs engaging new audiences on local and global issues and relevant solutions.

This will be the fifth year I have been involved with the Festival. I began as a volunteer in 2006, producing Festival communication materials. Then I went on to find employment with a major sponsor of the Festival, the Victorian Government’s lead agency on Climate Change, Sustainability Victoria.  This year I’ve returned as part of the Festival core team and I’m loving it!

2011 Sustainable Living Festival website: http://festival.slf.org.au/

1. What’s the motivation behind the Sustainable Living Festival?

The ongoing goal of the Sustainable Living Festival is to accelerate community uptake of sustainability. Therefore we were delighted that 90% of visitors to the Festival believed that information from the 2010 Festival will help them to take action to live more sustainably.

2. How do you deliver the Festival with minimal environmental impact?

The Festival aims to walk the talk in event production. Each Festival our team work hard to deliver an event following our ‘Own Practice’ principles:

Cyclic – creating no waste

Solar – using clean energy

Efficient – running with less

Safe – ensuring its harmless

Social – caring for people

Smart – adapting to change

Some of the ways we deliver on these principles are:

  • The Festival uses 100% accredited GreenPower.
  • Promotional materials are printed using a waterless printing process, vegetable based inks and forest-friendly paper stocks or recycled waste paper.
  • Throughout the Festival a well-signed, four-bin system encourages attendees to separate paper, glass, cans, plastic, and food waste for compost and recycling. A waste wise ‘menu’ is also available at tables in the café area, informing patrons about our system and how they can use it.
  • Another great sustainability workout for our volunteers is the Wash Against Waste (WAW) stand. At WAW, a team of volunteers washes and dries used plates and cutlery from Festival food venders, thereby eliminating the need for disposable food and beverage containers. So popular is this concept that the Sustainable Living Foundation developed a WAW service to deliver to other festivals around the Victoria.

For more on the Festival’s own practice principles check out our website.

3. What are the main challenges you’ve overcome?

The main challenges are staging a Festival through a team that is made up of primarily volunteers. With a limited budget, employment periods are short which makes forward planning near impossible.

4.  What are the main types of waste created at the SLF festival and what’s the most unusual waste stream you’ve had to deal with?

Probably not highly unusual, but definitely an unexpected waste stream, were plastis cups supplied by one of our partner organizations in 2009, accounting for the sharp rise in rubbish to landfill.

slf waste statistics

Sustainable Living Festival waste management statistics

5. Have you ever heard of upcycling being done with waste after an event like the Commonwealth Games? If not, how do you think it can be best included in major event production and management?

No, I’ve never heard of waste from an event being upcycled. The best way to include it into an on-going event is with a sales or marketing edge, illustrating a point of difference to event patrons. Imagine if waste from an event was made into products that were sold at the next event – like promotional, branded reuseable cups/bags/water bottles – then the upcycling tells a story event patrons feel a part of. The upcycled promotional products become the outfits of a subculture.

6. What kind of upcycled products would you make from major event waste?

Festival belts with pouches to carry your essential festival kit, water bottles, crockery and cutlery. Items that can be used at the event.

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