She wasn’t the creator of the newspaper bag concept, but Diwia Thomas has done her part to merge their production with the world of community development. Based on a deeply rooted desire to help women create a degree of financial independence, this lifelong resident of Cochin has used her business acumen, social network and marketing skills to advantage.
With the limited supply of paper pulp in India, newspaper printers have implemented the innovative practice of a de-inking process for recycled newsprint. Currently about a quarter of the paper the printers use is recycled material, which has both saved on paper pulp imports and driven up the price paid per kilo for old newspapers. India has a well-established history of recycling and these new developments have given more financial incentive to do so.
Diwia knows the system, her clients and her resources well. It only takes a gentle nudge to friends and family to leverage the equivalent of their daily coffee expenditures in the form of a weekly donation of their newspapers—they give them to her instead of selling them to a recycler (who would pay an amount worth a coffee at a local café). Only full, flat sheets of newspaper can be used in bag production, but with the ubiquitous use of newspaper in this culture as wrapping for everything from eggs, to vegetable market goods to crockery, there is plenty to go around for other recycling purposes.
After learning the basics of bag folding herself, Diwia has gone on not only to teach a growing number of women this skill, but also she has coordinated the collection of raw materials and sale of the finished product to such a degree that the demand for the bags is higher than the group’s current capacity to fill it. Businesses are clamoring for these bags to show their support for a good cause.
This has led to our plan to coordinate the bag making efforts of the Cochin group with the Forestry Department project in Thekkady; using workshops for skill-sharing as well as productive cooperation. The bags can be produced in a variety of methods, mostly low tech with minimal equipment. This blends well with a cottage industry or cooperative format… stages of the products can be prepared at central locations where either block forms or folding equipment is stationed and other stages can be completed at a location as simple as a kitchen table.
The range of stages also allows for a range of skill capacity. Those who aren’t adept at precise folding can glue, thread string handles or attach or stamp labels. The students at the Samrakshana School: an Institute for Physically and Mentally Challenged Children and Adults in Chittoor, have participated in some simple aspects of production as part of their vocational work. This piecework has helped them both therapeutically and financially.
The bags themselves can now be found in venues ranging from restaurants to boutiques and resort gift shops. The Kerala Forestry Department has set a goal to discontinue all plastic bag use in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, replacing them with locally produced newspaper bags. The same paper trail can also be followed to produce gift bags with handmade paper, carrying the product into an entirely different market.
Take Out anyone?