Interview with the Plastic to Thread Conversion Artist


Rita, a maker in MakerMela, has been an English and social studies teacher for a long time and was looking to do something for the environment from home. In 2016, she saw this video on Facebook of women making mats from plastic bags. What was interesting was that they were using Walmart Plastics Bags. She had an expertise in knitting so she thought maybe yes, this is what she can do from home. Having spoken to her recently, here are the excerpts.

Where did you begin with? Considering we don't have Walmart in India.

I started from shopping bags. Finished with them and then I went to the kitchen and used all plastic bags that were coming into the kitchen. I started with making mats and then as I kept getting ideas from people when someone asked me questions like, "Hey Rita, why don't you make a bag for me?" or something like "Why don't you make a clush?"

Simply put, you were making yarn. Could you take us through the process of making a plastic bag to a roll of yarn?

It looks simple but it's not. There are 4 major processes in general. When you get a plastic bag, it can be of any size, from 2 inches to 20 inches. Whichever bag you get, all you have to do is cut it open, and then make loops. These loops are joined together and this becomes your yarn. Plastic yarn of as we call it- "Plarn". And with this Plarn, you make whatever comes to your mind.

How do you deal with plastics of different microns? How do you decide which yarn is used to make which product?

Yes, so as you know plastics are of different microns. Some are soft and some are hard. Milk packets are soft plastic. Bread wraps are soft. So, with softer ones, you make bags and mats, and with hard plastic, you make baskets. It all comes down to how strong it is. I liked the color of the bags in which my Grandma stored grains, so I collected them for almost six months. When I had enough, I wanted to make baskets out of them but then I got an idea, "Why not make a clush?"

Why not create an NGO or begin a training centre to make more of such products?

I have become an artist now, I started feeling the hardships faced by artisans. They work really hard and we pay them peanuts. How much goes to an artisan who actually makes the product. Nothing. They get nothing. So that is why I'm raising my voice for them. As for your question on creating an NGO, yes, I will train them for selling if there is market that is if people are ready to pay the price. Till now, I've just been gifting them.

As a very radical thought, how about involving students as well?

All schools have their environment day in June. The mothers generally come to me to ask what their kids can do for the day. Well, it is simple. Mm, off the top of my head, collect six Aashirwad Aata bags, laminate them and voila, you've got yourself a set of table mats.

This is a really noble idea and shows the power of bringing about a small change. Any underlying message you'd like to impart?

My principle is simple. Every plastic that comes home, should become something. I don't let plastic bags go out. I've made big, big pillows from plastic and stuffed them to make mattresses and gave them to kids. I hope to continue. I can feel the hardships of the artisans. For me it is not just business, I do it for the environment.

Open mic

As a prelude to TEDxSomaiyaVidyavihar 2019, we are organizing an 'Open Mic' for showcasing the hidden talents in everyone of us. This Open Mic will be open for everyone to attend or perform. The pre-event will also include a panel discussion featuring Shri Samir Somaiya sir and Provost Prof. Rajasekharan Pillai, and will be moderated by Dr. Coomi Vevaina. The topic for the same will be "The Shifting Paradigm of Higher Education".