U is for Upcycling

Amishi Parasrampuria, India

Madhurya Sai Amirapu on October 15, 2018 in Environment

Reduce, reuse and recycle. These three R’s sum up our knowledge of common environmental duty. However, there is a U that often goes untaught. U is for Underestimated, Under-appreciated and Unique. U is for Upcycling.

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, can be defined as the creation of products of equal or greater value than the discarded or waste material/product that it has been made from. It is healthier for the environment than recycling is, as the latter requires energy for the process itself and the end product is of lower quality/value than the original itself. Moreover, a material can only be recycled a certain number of times. In order to achieve successful upcycling, there needs to be a balance of innovation, knowledge of product design, perspective and a fair bit of perspiration.

Enter Amishi Parasrampuria, Founder at Upcycler’s Lab, Sustainability Consultant and Global Shaper. Amishi, who also has a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in International management, explains the above positions- “Upcycler’s Lab is an initiative that develops learning tools for young children revolving around environmental sustainability and welfare. It’s where we concoct games and puzzles, that are in turn products of sustainability.”

Before Upcycler’s Lab, there was the Upcycler’s Project. When one looks up the work of this Project, one will see the most beautiful pieces of art made from waste (home décor from old vinyl records is one such example). Materials like vinyl are not only detrimental to the environment but also quite difficult to recycle, which wastes more energy in the process and thus ends up not serving the main purpose.  Amishi explains the origins of the lab, “We were originally upcycling products that were targeted at adults such as keychains and decorative items from vinyl, glass, e-waste and paper, while trying to mechanise and standardise the whole process. However, the aim of creating a change in the waste management behavior of consumers wasn’t being fulfilled. We noticed that we weren’t exactly making waves in the awareness department (no matter how premium they made old cd’s look). Adults are harder to sensitize and mould mindsets for in such aspects, and that was a big part of what I wanted to do.”

Around the same time, inspiration came in the form of a brick. Amishi works with an organization called Global Shapers which is an initiative of the World Economic Forum, it mobilizes young change-makers to create local impact. Amishi is also currently their curator for the Mumbai chapter.  It is a network of young adults who undertake local projects to improve their community. As a part of her work with them, she joined The Bottle Brick Project, of the Mumbai Hub. Their objective was to upcycle non-bio-degradable waste to help lift the burden on landfills and came up with the ingenious plastic brick idea for the same. Students from around 50 schools in Mumbai were trained to make these plastic bricks using discarded plastic (PET) bottles, filling them with plastic waste. These eco-bricks are then used to build community structures.

These eco-bricks also happened to lay the cornerstone and build the inspiration behind Upcycler’s Lab. It was during this project, that Amishi realized the malleability of students’ and children’s minds. She could vision the potential good that it could be utilized for. “It was then that I saw up close, that children are real agents of change, if taught well. Not only are they the future, they also can make a good impact on the adults around them.” And that led her to come up with the idea of creating creative activity boxes for children using recycled paper, and later engaging and educational board games such as Action for Aqua board game, where you have to play to clean your local lake and save it from oil spills and waste, Garbage Grab board game, where you have to play and win by segregating waste in wet, dry and hazardous waste and Earth Lab, where they learn about environmental conservation through play, to name some. All the material that goes into the making of the box and games is upcycled material. And the product itself is easily recyclable.

As to the design and development of the playful and educational games, Amishi and team have pulled out all the stops. On researching for her idea, she found that the Finnish early education system, a play based system, is one of the best in the world. They wrote to their Education Ministry of Finland, who replied with links to resources and support. All this science and a whole lot of goodness goes into the games. They are also very parent inclusive and are always receptive to consumer feedback. Speaking of feedback, they have received amazingly positive reviews in just a matter of 8 months since the launch.

Thinking outside the box isn’t easy, because most of the times we end up thinking about the box itself. This is where Amishi Parasrampuria’s work is brilliant as she has created an interactive box that is not just a part of saving the environment but is about making sure it is in safe hands in the future as well.

On being asked about the hardships she faces sustaining this novel, fulfilling entrepreneurship, Amishi answers, “The waste management industry is a risky and tricky business. It’s a lot of hard work, and there is a lot of on-the-job learning. You have to be flexible and dynamic, but this also means it doesn’t matter what background you come from, educationally or otherwise, to take it up. If you’re passionate about it, you should take the leap.” Pertaining to the product itself, “Play based learning is still not that popular among Indian parents due to the competitive model of our education system but it is coming in slowly.” Who knows, such models and games just might be the future of toys and learning.

In a country where waste management requires major upliftment, we are grateful to Amishi Parasrampuria for not just taking bold and inventive steps towards creating a first of its kind children’s product but for selling important products that sell equally important concepts.

Check out her venture at The Upcycle Co!

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