Quite a Bagful, this! RC Pune Central shows the way to convert newspapers into eco-friendly paper bags to help livelihoods.

Inmates of Yerwada Prison engaged in paper bag making.
Inmates of Yerwada Prison engaged in paper bag making.

We have helped make 40 million paper bags last year and the project has encouraged reverse migration in areas such as Paud, Roha, etc. People had moved out earlier in search of jobs; many had been engaged in rolling beedis for a living. They have all come back to make paper bags from old newspapers, earning Rs 125–150 a day,” says Rtn Surendra Shroff of RC Pune Central, D 3131. A charter member of the club established in 1984, he is chairman, Paper Bag project and Trustee, Khandala Blind Home.

He initiated the art of transforming old newspapers into carry bags among the visually- challenged inmates of the Blind Home with assistance from Prof Anil Gupta, Executive Vice-chair, National Innovations Foundation. The idea was to engage them productively for 8 hours daily, and the bonus was that they were able to make enough money to buy gifts for their families who they visit twice a year.

250 million bags have been produced and sold since its inception.

From Pune to Karaikal

As member of the Rotary Tsunami Committee, Shroff was at Karaikal in Tamil Nadu for relief activities. He recounts an interesting incident which triggered this massive project for his club. As he was interacting with the orphan children by the seashore, they asked him about the paper bags he was carrying. When told those were made by children of the Blind Home, the Karaikal children wanted to learn the craft, and said that they didn’t want to go fishing into the sea which had taken away their parents. “When I said that I had to return to Pune the next day, they hatched a plan to make me stay!” This they did by asking him to show his airline ticket, a boy grabbing it and refusing to part with it till he had promised to teach them how to make paper bags!

Shroff was only too happy to teach them the trick of converting paper into bags the same night under lanterns.

This project was then duplicated at RC Pune Central, where over 1,000 workshops have been conducted so far. It is a one-day programme where five models of paper bags are taught. Each student has to give an undertaking to teach 12 others in a year, and thus the chain continues.

PRIP K R Ravindran looks at a paper bag while Rtn Surendra Shroff briefs him about it. Vanathy Ravindran (extreme right) is also in the picture.
PRIP K R Ravindran looks at a paper bag while Rtn Surendra Shroff briefs him about it. Vanathy Ravindran (extreme right) is also in the picture.

When the project was shared on Rotary Showcase, “we received 70 enquiries from various countries. We’ve sent them demo lessons on DVDs,” says Shroff. Back home, the demand is huge and companies like SKF, Telco, Coca Cola, Gymkhana and the Golf Club support the project with their huge orders. “Chitale Bhandar and Mapro take at least three lakh bags a month.”

These eco-bags can be customised. They last for at least six months and are usable 20 times. By using back-liners of stickers and cardboard cuttings special quality bags are made and sold at Rs 5 to 7.50 a kg, thrice the price of newspaper bags.

It is an income generation opportunity for over 10,000 people and 50 SHGs. “Over 250 million bags have been produced and sold since its inception. It is no rocket science, requires no electricity or machine power,” he smiles.

Newspaper collection

The Rotarians encourage people to donate old newspapers sold as raddi. “When I go for guest lectures, I tell the organisers to present me with old newspapers instead of mementoes.”

Over 300 tons of newspapers are collected from Rotarians, corporate offices, libraries, hotels and newspaper publishers, and are gifted to various groups for making bags. “PDG Deepak Shikarpur is a big supporter of our programme. He collects and delivers newspapers from his office/apartment complex regularly.” Other Rotary clubs from across the country and abroad, Inner Wheel clubs, Rotaract and Interact Clubs are also involved in this project.

The Rotarians encourage people to donate old newspapers sold as raddi.

The bag was a huge hit during the recent Pandharpur Wari, an annual pilgrimage where the Varkari communities around Maharashtra walk to Pandharpur to offer prayers to Lord Vithoba and 40,000 bags were marketed to the Varkaris. “We expect more business from them,” says Shroff.

His ‘aha’ moment

He recalls a special moment when he had the opportunity to discuss the project with Prime Minister Narendra Modi which resulted in ten municipalities adopting this craft. Shroff has also promoted it at the IITs in Kharagpur, Delhi and Bengaluru.

“PRIP K R Ravindran, during his term as RID, appreciated the project when he saw the mentally-challenged children make paper bags at Prism Foundation.”

This has also been taught to inmates of Yerwada Jail and Gurgaon’s Bhondsi Jail. The proceeds from the sale of the paper bags made by them were used for the welfare of their families. He was delighted when some cancer survivors gifted him with dry fruit boxes. They had repaid their loans with the proceeds from the sale of these eco-bags. And on another occasion, a woman who was abused by her mother-in-law for having lost her mangalsutra to a chain snatcher, told him that she had purchased a new one. The eco bag project won the Change Maker of D 3131 award for the club this year.

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