“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, a chat with Plastic Maker Hubs.

Deepesh & Sanket @ The Maker’s Asylum

On my tour through India doing research for my documentary about frugal innovation, I am visiting the impeccable Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai. Surrounded by nutty professors, I find myself at ease and in the right place. Two of those nutty professors are Deepesh and Sanket. Founders of Plastic Maker Hubs. Obsessed by frugality, and proud Jugaad innovators, their quintessential lean startup, is situated in a 2 by 4 cubicle in the back of the Asylum.

“Only the weird kids come to this side of the Asylum”, Deepesh answers ironically, when I told him it took me a while to find them for this interview. He is checking his plastic invention baking in his small hotglowing OTG.

Since all Indian names mean something and I hadn’t heard ‘Deepesh’ yet, I asked him what his name meant. “Deep means ‘lamp’ and “esh” means ‘God’. So I am God’s own lamp.”

The Plastic Makerhub lamp is currently illuminating the fact that in 2050 there will be more plastic waste than fish in the oceans and their motto (which is printed on their recycled packaging) is clear: ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’.

“We work with local trashpickers here in Mumbai to pick up plastic, that we in turn make into coasters, wallets, notebooks and clocks.” Deepesh says. Sanket adds that many people even send back their packaging after they have received their acquired product, so even their delivery system relies on giving material a second and third life. Deepesh points to a box, that they have reused 3 times, a box that would cost up to $3 in the West. “Everything that we conceptualise, is done by using things that can be found in any household, so even the little oven we use can be afforded by one of the wastepickers. We teach them how to use the oven to make products out of the plastic they gather, trying to add value to their work and to simplify manufacturing. Jugaad for us Indians, frugal innovation for you guys.”

“The project started from an open source background and we would love for people to emulate the business model.” Frugal, flexible and inclusive.

In order to be able to reuse things as much as Deepesh and Sanket, I assume they must have practiced it for ages. “Basically, we learned this from home. Reusing has always been part of Indian culture. Reusing plastic bags, delivery packaging and glass jars. It’s only since purchasing power and consumption in India started rising, more waste got generated than there was space to process it.”

“As soon as you start working in the field of recycling, you start to value it”. We can’t waste our material, because everything we use here can be of value or can get a second/third life. We don’t want to preach too much about it, but it’s true”, Sanket smiles. “Plus we want to cut expenses and improve efficiency as much as we can, since we are only 4 months underway with our initiative.”

The startup is very much in line with Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission to make India clean and sustainable and Deepesh is very confident Modi would be proud of them. “I actually wanted to write Modi to tell him about our work, I am pretty sure he would be happy to hear about us.”

When I asked them if they knew about The Ocean Cleanup Deepesh and Sanket both replied: “We want to give a shoutout to Bojan Slat and we would like to ask him to sail by the Mumbai coastline as well, so they don’t forget.”