Soul to Sole: Here’s how young entrepreneurs today are taking modest steps for the environment

Several entrepreneurs have adopted a “waste to wealth” approach over-time to bridge the gap between industries and the environment.
Soul to Sole: Here’s how young entrepreneurs today are taking modest steps for the environment
Representational ImageThe Bridge Chronicle

“Pollution problem can’t be resolved in a day, the continuous effort needed,” said Prakash Javadekar, Indian Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. He concludes the prime causes of pollution in India are emissions during traffic jams, industry, waste management, and stubble burning.

Civilisation has made people depend on vehicles. Not only they have emerged as a necessity, but with time have become a fashion statement for some. Thousands of years ago, wheels were primarily made of stone or wood. With the passing time, solid - rubber iterations replaced them. Rubbers came from rubber trees which contributed to mass deforestation all across the globe. Slowly and steadily, tires made of 19 per cent natural rubber and 24 per cent synthetic rubber, also known as plastic polymer, came into existence.

However, we never gave a thought about what happens to the tires once they complete their shelf-life.

A report titled “Circulating Tires in the Economy” says that in the financial year 2016-17, 127.34 million tires approximately were produced. Out of this, 60 per cent ended up in landfills that did not undergo disintegration.

As mentioned in the study “Pyrolysis of waste tire and future”, an estimate of 13.5 million tonnes of tires are scrapped every year. Forty per cent of the tires come from developing countries such as China, India, South America, South-east Asia, South Africa, and Eastern Europe. It also mentions how every motorist discards at least one tire every year.

The discarded tires undergo the process of pyrolysis, which emits gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, ethane, and other hydrocarbon gases — along with oils containing carbon residue. If these tires are not taken care of in a controlled environment, the pollution caused by them could lead to an increase in dust particles in the air by almost 500 per cent.

“To date, we have up-cycled 500 kilograms of tires to make shoes out of them,” said Pooja Apte, the founder of Nemital, a shoe brand that up-cycles shoes from tires. “We believe in putting a step forward towards greener Earth.

Discarded tires used by Nemital
Discarded tires used by NemitalBornika Das

Spending four years of her life in the corporate world, Pooja Apte chose to complete her master’s in Renewable Energy from The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi. There, she learned how to win a small battle in this war of pollution. Recycling or upcycling tires was a breakthrough for her in the year 2019. Being an environmentally friendly person, she opposed the use of leather or plastic in her shoes.

“It is a vegan process where instead of leather; we use tires to make shoes. Also, we are introducing slow fashion,” said Apte. “Shoes made of tires have ten times more durability than others. We believe in the long shelf-life of shoes.”

In January 2021, Apte introduced the use of flax hoardings in the upper part of the shoes. They also aim to expand their business to countries in some parts of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mumbai-based Amit Jain’s Paaduks is more of an initiative than an enterprise, aiming to share the profit they make with the cobblers.

Jute, canvas and cotton fabric with vegetable prints — along with tires — are a few common materials that go in making a pair of shoes.

Cobblers at Paaduks at work.
Cobblers at Paaduks at work.Bornika Das

Paaduks combines traditional art forms with contemporary ones to resonate with the current fashion sense of the consumer. In fact, they cater to domestic customers by selling sustainable shoes. Which, in turn, lauds the efforts of the local cobblers in the vicinity.

Jain opened up another branch of business in 2017 titled Funky Kalakar. They not only work with shoes but also manufacture bags and accessories from scrap materials. It offers global exposure to cobblers and artisans as 100 per cent of the company’s business currently comes from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands.

“Both brands are direct to consumers. We have eliminated all middlemen in between. We directly want to connect with people who believe in sustainable products and want to offer them products with reasonable prices and which are also aesthetically pleasing,” said Jain.

Jain has tied up his company with Research and Development (R&D) Institutions to develop newer sustainable materials, which will help the company to tackle the waste problems in the society on a better and more industrial-scale level.

“Once the R&D goal is achieved, we’ll have the potential of changing the whole footwear market of India, as well aboard,” he said. “We are also trying to increase the number of cobblers and have recently expanded our production capacity to three times. Since last year we have seen exponential growth in terms of daily orders.”

As humans, we often tend to forget about the pollution that goes into making our favourite brands. With the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the lifestyles of people are taking a tremendous leap.

Industries are trying their best to produce products to meet the demand of their consumers.

Due to this, manufacturers find it challenging to provide the best of their products, which, in turn, are discarded away within a negligible course of time.

In this process of race, we forget the harm we create to society.

Urban people tend to discard shoes after using them for a year, filling up the land and water bodies with them.

The report titled “A sustainable materials for footwear industry: Designing biodegradable shoes” says that Asia amounts to 54 per cent of footwear consumption, followed by Europe (15 per cent) and North America (15 per cent).

The most critical environmental challenge that the footwear industry faces today is the enormous amount of post-consumer shoe waste, such as rubber, leather, and plastic. These are all non-biodegradable waste and add to the pollution already existing in the environment.

Discarded shoes at Greensole factory.
Discarded shoes at Greensole factory.Bornika Das

Shriyans Bhandari, the CEO and co-founder of Greensole, came up with the idea of recycling discarded shoes into new flip-flops.

“The idea struck me and my co-founder Ramesh Dhami, while we were planning to throw away our athlete shoes. Though the sides were torn away, the soles remained intact,” said Bhandari. “We thought of using these shoes to make something new. Initially, we started recycling our shoes to chappals and flip-flops and now it has emerged as an institution of “CSR corporate and retail range” of slippers and sandals.”

On the flip side, children from rural areas, deprived of footwear, frequently catch hold of soil-transmitted helminths. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 1.5 billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths globally.

Improper sanitary facilities, combined with the lack of footwear, ables the parasite to bore itself into a foot in a “corkscrew” like manner. This parasitic disease led to a loss of 4.1 million disability-adjusted life years.

Greensole has taken the initiative to donate shoes to the underprivileged students studying at government schools all across India. In rural India, most children cannot afford to buy shoes. They walk barefoot to their schools.

“Our brand like every other well-known brand is becoming a mainstream one in terms of recycling and donation. Our employees are working hard behind it. Also, we have trained some women to take part in our initiative,” said Bhandari.

The issue of discarded footwear is an alarming issue for Thailand as well. As per a report, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of trash currently float in the water bodies weighing 270,000 tons. Amongst them, discarded flip-flops may account for more than 25 per cent.

Dr Nattapong Nithi-Uthai, also known by the nickname “Arm, the co-founder of Tlejourn, wanted to reuse the discarded flip-flops and, at the same time, make money out of them.

“I came up with Tlejourn which engages in turning ocean debris into valuable products. Our well-known product is flip-flops from discarded flip-flops collected from the beaches around Thailand,” said Arm.

Recently, Tlejourn collaborated with Nanyang Industry, the oldest and the largest manufacturer in Thailand, to produce their new product known as “Khya”.

Tlejourn supplied the industry with shredded ocean waste and their knowledge to make flip-flops with their materials. They had the largest sale of 30,000 pairs within nine days. Likewise, Muzina, a Japanese brand manufacturing in Thailand, has one of the design collections featuring their materials.

Presently, seven families are working with the company. Tlejourn has as well increased the household income of their female workers by approximately 15 per cent.

Today, they aim to widen their manufacturing unit by incorporating plastics from lighters, bottles, and bottle caps into their product.

These young entrepreneurs are taking small steps toward benefiting the environment, and they also hope to bridge the social and economic gap present in society. Their hard work aims to transform the “waste to wealth” in due course of time.

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