Innovating with plastic waste

We co-created a brief with Paryavaran Mitra (PM), a female empowerment social enterprise who are based in Ahmedabad, India. The focus of this brief was to develop new ways PM could add value to the plastic waste they collect. To explore this further, we conducted ethnographic design research in Ahmedabad.

In response to the problems that the women and PM face we have partnered with UK-based designers to develop a way plastic can be melted into marble-like sheets. These can be used to make artisan products in India or sold directly to the UK.



Harry Clarke – Management with Innovation (MSci) 

Angus Hills – Geography with Innovation (MSci) 

Ryane Tully – Psychology with Innovation (MSci) 



Paryavaran Mitra supports ragpickers In Ahmedabad. Ragpickers are exploited by scrap shops who take advantage of their illiteracy by offering below market rates for the waste they collect. In addition to this, these scrap shops act as loan sharks meaning many ragpickers find themselves stuck in inescapable debt traps.  

PM addresses this issue by intervening in the market as an ethical scrap shop within the slum community. With PM we are looking to explore ways in which they can upcycle the high quantities of waste that they collect to generate a new income stream and bring more ragpickers into formal employment. 


We were lucky enough to visit and work with Paryavaran MitraHowever, this presented an ethical problem; we did not want to create imbalanced power dynamics. Thus, had to use creative research methods that would empower the ragpickers and allow them to openly tell their stories.  


We spent a lot of time working alongside the sistersyielding a wealth of ethnographical research. Ran art classes to research creativity and gave out disposable cameras so individuals could capture their personal journeyThis research allowed us to design a product that perfectly suited the wants and needs of the sisters. 



There is a huge unemployment in India and a need for more of these ragpicker women to be brought into formal employment. As infrastructure in India begins to improve, the amount of waste available for the rag-pickers will start to decrease and so will the money they can make.  

Many of these women are illiterate and have few options for alternative work. Therefore, the more women that can brought into the gift of change program the better. This will not only provide a stable income to the women but also happy and healthy environment for them to work.  



Product sales will mean that women currently working as ragpickers will be able to transition to a safer and more stable livelihood creating the plastic sheets. This will allow those most vulnerable in the slum communities to support their families without endangering their health.  

We have connected PM with UK designers who will be shipping the material from India to the UK to create products with, providing PM with a consistent income stream.  

 Consequently, PM can now spend more time and money training the sisters to design and create products of their own to sell locally.