Profiles in Regeneration: Renuka, 26, UK

I am consciously trying to learn more about the environmental justice movement and how we can move to dismantle inequity.

Plastic is incredibly harmful to the environment. Not only is it made from oil, but it takes a thousand years to decompose… so essentially, it doesn’t. It fills landfills and for that reason, young people are looking for solutions, both in how to manage the plastic that currently exists and alternative materials to replace it. That’s where Renuka Ramanujam comes in. At 26, she is creating new material made from onion waste and milk protein glue to be used as an alternative to plastic or leather.

Regenerative Futures: How are you feeling right now?

Renuka Ramanujam: I’m feeling optimistic, but tired. I think there has been somewhat of a shift in mindset from those who may have been a little more passive. There is more attention to racial and environmental issues than there has been for a while. Despite the fact that it may be for a hot second, this has been a fairly pivotal moment that can be referred back to. The tiredness and fatigue come from working around this momentum to ensure that it is being honored to its fullest potential, as well as having had to engage in a variety of conversations that have required more emotional labor as of late.

RF: What’s a secret your search history can tell us about you?

RR: Not entirely a secret, nor necessarily especially unique, but that I am a bit of a daydreamer with a wide variety of interests! My thought processes are hardly linear, jumping from one topic to another; I’ll have a page open about a waterless dyeing company, whilst looking through recipes for a vegetable stock that can use my food waste to be made. I’ll then also be listening to a podcast like Serial, which really challenges and makes us question human behavior.

RF: What are you reading/learning about at the moment?

RR: I am reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am re-learning to knit and in the process of signing up for British Sign Language lessons. I am consciously trying to learn more about the environmental justice movement and how we can move to dismantle inequity.

RF: Who is your favorite human and why?

RR: I don’t think I have just one, but one that comes to mind is my aunt. She’s incredibly persistent, brave, and determined despite all that has come her way in life and has an amazing aura of wisdom and perspective to share. In fact, the introspection and abundance in her run so deep that she is able to find grace and positive aspects to the misfortunes that she has encountered. She isn’t perfect, but she is able to acknowledge that and allow for growth. Her ability to look beyond herself is beautiful.

RF: Which key moment inspired you to start your project?

RR: I don’t think there was a key moment, just a strand of thought that organically developed. I had been exploring biomaterials for a while, and in the midst of a natural dyeing project, I was curious to see what would happen if I could somehow use the biowaste (onion skins) to create a material and circle this. I had recently been reading Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, which had opened my eyes to ways to use design as a keystone for sustainable systems.

RF: In two years' time, what would success with your project look like?

RR: In two years' time, I imagine that I’d have a few qualities, if not just one quality, of the onion veneer out on the market being used in small product lines and collections. The system would be mostly circular in large scale production and as localized as possible. There would be a small community built around the raw material production (e.g., a dyers workshop for the natural dye produced or a soup kitchen that would use the fresh vegetable stock base.)

RF: If you could focus a large percentage of government funding on one industry or project for the next five to ten years, which you choose and why?

RR: I would focus funding on education in a few specific channels: environmental-related issues, mental health, and a decolonized curriculum. I find a lot of the issues that we have been spotlighting especially with recent events arise from systems of inequity stemming from the foundation of colonialism. We have in the past focused on fighting it through the direct protest of the parties that uphold it, but I think there has been a realization that education and the future generations are a pivotal focal point and a more effective route to impart change. There are charities within the UK that have an agenda to refocus school curriculum to ensure Black history is included; this should be mandatory, not an ‘add-on’. Also, investment in waste management would be important. This includes educating the public more broadly on recycling and waste, as well as investment for businesses to use to ensure they are limiting their waste or that it is cycled back properly.

RF: What is the best and worst thing about the education system in your country?

RR: I don’t know the education system in the UK terribly well. However, I think the age at which children are sorted into streamed schools is surprisingly young. Combined with the catchment area rule (similarly known as redlining in the USA), the system can come across as quite elitist and privileged. I think the quality and resources available here in the UK are fantastic, which is why we see so many international students here for tertiary education. Looking at India and Singapore in comparison, children are well educated, yet there is a high focus on achievement and grades that fosters a rather toxic high-strung and outcome-focused environment.

RF: Do you have a message for anyone your age living in the year 2060?

RR: To not stop fighting for what you believe in because of complacency or status quo. To constantly question the systems that surround us to understand if they really are for the benefit of the people. To respect the environment that we call home, and nurture it as it nurtures us — the anthropocentric age should have been over by now. To be kind to one another.

RF: What inspires or frightens you most about the future?

RR: The disregard of each other and the planet and what will result of it. The fact that people hold so much hate for each other, and sometimes for such arbitrary reasons.

RF: Regeneration is…

RR: Abundance in motion.

To learn more about Regenerative List finalist, Renuka Ramanujam, click here.

Regenerative Futures

A Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of Regeneration from Irregular Labs.

Regenerative Futures

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of regeneration: equity, inclusivity, fluidity, and the pursuit of circularity and abundance. An Irregular Labs Initiative.

Regenerative Futures

Written by

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of equity, fluidity, and sustainability. An Irregular Labs initiative.

Regenerative Futures

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of regeneration: equity, inclusivity, fluidity, and the pursuit of circularity and abundance. An Irregular Labs Initiative.