Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

Following the Paper Trail, Redux

raxa collective bagI have been following the Paper Trail since I got here as an intern and got involved in this social entrepreneurship project Raxa Collective has been working on! There are some types of environmental action that focus on being inherently low-impact from the original design while other methods focus on closing loops from more poor designs that leave good material wasted, such as newspapers. Something is sustainable when it meets the triple bottom line: environmental, economic, and social. RAXA Collective has been meeting this triple bottom line with its newspaper bag initiative! Working with the group, PaperTrails, they have been able to provide a livable income for local people who are unable to get work for whatever reason. They have work based on creating useful bags or envelopes out of recycled newspaper. Paper Trails has been providing bags and envelopes for Raxa Collective’s properties from newspapers and other recycled material. Now, we are taking the newspaper bag initiative to the next level. Continue reading

Training session at the newspaper bag unit

Our newspaper bag unit is a permanent, exciting work-in-progress. Using upcycled newspapers provides us with an alternative  to plastic bags in our two shops at Cardamom County– the Raxa Collective store and the via kerala shop. It is also a way to work with more people in our community. We have been working at making this unit a sustainable entreprise with many collaborators since the beginnings of Raxa Collective in 2011.

Newspaper bag training unit - Raxa Collective Continue reading

Why Should Bags Have All the Fun?

For over a year now we’ve been writing about newspaper bags along with the people and organizations who work with them.  We’ve also written about how newspapers are used in other forms of recycling.   I have recently come upon an additional “closed loop” use for this ubiquitous material.

Dutch designer Mieke Meijer in collaboration with design label Vij5 has created a product called NewspaperWood.  The material has the potential to put a portion of newspaper discarded daily into an up-cycle system bringing paper closer to the wood from which it’s made.

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Pepper Harvest and Paper Bags

Guest Author: Aby Thomas

The title “Pepper harvest and Paper bags” may sound unusual, but it’s related to the newspaper bags initiatives by Cardamom County and the forestry department to create alternatives means of income for the tribal ladies leading to community development. The Vanasree Auditorium ladies have multiple responsibilities based on their working directly for the forestry department.  But the Mannakkudy ladies have had the newspaper bags as their primary income.  Until recently….The paper bags unit was active until the end of December, but now the tribal ladies are busy with their pepper harvesting. The pepper harvesting season in the locality begins with the month of January and ends during March. During these periods, the ladies help men in harvesting pepper. Continue reading

“Work from Home”

There are countless number of individuals (myself including) who might easily punch these key words on Google search in the fervent hope of finding a solution to earning a legitimate income. And in return one may find many a solution but none that are particularly practical. There are many of these ads which range from data entry, to doing surveys, making online submissions…the list seems to be endless.

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop conducted by Diwia Thomas who is the organizer of PaperTrail – a  not-for-profit organisation that makes newspaper bags and paper products from donated newspaper, ensuring a livelihood for women from all backgrounds.  Continue reading

Paper Patrol

Guest Author: Aby Thomas

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Last week I wrote about the ladies of the Mannakkudy EDC and the success and quality of their bag production.

Now I’d like to tell you a bit more about the Vanasree Auditorium ladies and their Forestry Department responsibilities. If you notice that the ladies’ clothing is different from their counterparts in the Mannakkudy section of the EDC, you are correct. Part of the Vasanta Sena (or Green Army), these women help with both forest patrols against poachers and illegal logging, and as guides for the Cloud Walk Trek as well.  And since they pick up plastics and other non-biodegradable waste along the way, they understand the need for a plastic free national park all the more. Continue reading

Breaking News! Prices of Old Newspapers Soar!

Guest Author: Diwia Thomas

While asking around for newspaper donations, I often meet with reluctance and wondered why?  Ten years ago a kilo of old newspaper fetched only a meagre Rs 3/- , today the raddi-wala (the guy down the road who buys scrap) pays an enticing and irresistible Rs 7/- per kg.  I promptly made a trip down there to broker a deal with him for a steady supply of newspaper for our paper bags. He tells me that newsprint companies in India have begun to recycle old newspaper into newsprint. In the past newspaper was recycled into boards or brown coloured paper for packaging and boxes because recycled newsprint turns a dull greyish colour unsuitable for printing. Indian newspaper companies have found ways to deink newsprint pulp and retain its brightness for printing purposes. Mammoth deinking machines do this job. Featured here is a small one, just to demonstrate the process. Continue reading

Bags For Bombay

It is customary to bring fancy printed material to industry trade shows. At our next event, in Bombay during the first three days of September, instead of  bringing brochures we will bring these bags.  A new calling card, as it were.  Thank you Diwia, and the team at Thought Factory Design, for quick response to this idea to make it happen.  A special thank you to Raxa Collective team member Bruno for thinking of this initiative (he was in the middle of announcing his wedding engagement in the office when this idea came out of his mouth!) as an answer to all the paper that goes into trade shows.  Now, some of it will go into our recycled bags.

Profile: Anu & The Reception

Over the past number of weeks, I have spent much of my time in and around the reception, working with the ever-smiling and cheerful Anu, the Front Office Manager here at Cardamom County. Having spent five years here at Cardamom County, she is a seasoned professional who always keeps guest feeling happy and welcome.

At the reception, guests are welcomed in the traditional way of Kerala. This involves giving the guest a sandalwood aarthi tikka on the forehead.  This beautiful ritual includes a thalam (a special tray) with a small lamp or nilavilakku & small vessels, including a kindi and a para, which contain oil and kerala rice, a brown speckled and starchy specialty of the state. Continue reading

Brown Hawk-Owl

On the morning of Diwia’s paper-bag workshop, the team was pleasantly surprised by what could only be considered a portent of success and good luck – a small owl was perched on the roof of reception, in plain sight during the daylight hours. I was summoned forth with my camera, and was fortunate that the owl still hadn’t alighted by the time I arrived, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

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Enough About Me, Here We Go

Guest Author: Aby Thomas

I started work recently, responsible for managing human resources at Cardamom County.  It has been my dream to become a manager in the hotel field since I was young, and I am beginning to fulfill that dream.  I completed my Masters in Hospitality  Management(MMH) from Marian College Kuttikkanam, a near by hill station. I am putting an image of my school here in thanks for the preparation it gave me.

My family home is at a place called Vandiperiyar, 12 km away from where I work, and I can recommend anyone to visit this part of Kerala.  To tell you why, I will need more time and space than my first post will allow.  For now, trust me.

Since joining one month ago, I feel freshness every day. I come across different incidents that I did not expect when I was a student. Recently I got an opportunity to join Michael and be involved in the newspaper bag making training conducted by Diwia Thomas, supported by Cardamom County in tie up with the Forest Department.

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Details and Progress

This afternoon I visited my favorite newspaper bag unit in Kumily to check in on the progress since Sunday and to clarify the structure they had set-up on Sunday morning, mostly in Malayalam. Here’s my report, which is heavy on details and light on style.

Each of the producers was previously associated with an Eco-Development Committee (EDC). These committees have been established by the Forest Dept. over the last fifteen years, and are divided by location, or in the cases of the Mannan and Peliyan, by heritage. Current participants represent nine different EDCs: Mannakkudy, Paliyakuddy, Korishomala, Kollampottada (divided into three), Vasanthasena, Spring Valley, and Mullayar. Each has put forth a representative, who will serve to facilitate communication among them. They have, for now and for the most part, elected to retain the division of these committees, perhaps partially out of habit, but certainly for convenience’ sake. EDCs exist in neighborhoods within 5km of the forest’s edge. Though we held the workshop in Vanasree auditorium, just around the corner from Cardamom County and in the same building as the office of the Eco-Development Range Officer, Sanjayan, and some have chosen to continue working there, some from more distant locations prefer to base their operations out of EDC offices nearer to their homes. I don’t know who will administer supplies to these offices, or how, when the operation becomes more complex. The Vasanthasena committee formerly created a newspaper bag unit, and a few of its members have prior experience and know-how. It has been proposed that all the producers unite under the auspices of this group, but they have yet to ratify this motion officially.

Those in attendance on Sunday morning elected three officers to govern the unit: a Convener, a President, and a Secretary. They will receive assistance from two ex officio secretaries and a ‘facilitator,’ all of whom are employed by the Forest Dept. The elected officials alone have access to the finances. Sasi Kumar, one of the ex officio secretaries, currently is charged with maintaining the registers. When I asked what policy regarding the registers they would pursue in the future, Shymala, the ‘facilitator,’ told me they had not yet concerned themselves with the specifics. Abie, who was translating for me, used the phrase “baby steps” to convey the meaning of her answer. Continue reading

They’re Real, Not Plastic

Earlier this year I would have thought blogging about plastic bags would be boring and quite redundant.  I have heard and read of the dire effects plastic bags have on the environment countless times.  And I am well versed in the “green tips” of bringing my own bag that are so prevalent.  Intellectually, I realize that plastic bags…well, suck.

I heard the implications and I pride myself to be eco-savvy yet I still would often be caught red-handed with those pesky plastic bags on a few desperate occasions. Continue reading

An Auspicious Beginning

The end of a remarkable weekend. A plan realized, an organization kick-started, exceptional levels of eagerness and dutifulness, and a very healthy dose of fun. Tomorrow I’ll post in detail about what was achieved this weekend, where the project will go from here, and my other general impressions. But until then, I have to admit that I’m riding a high, for the first time having been part of such a fruitful and meaningful collaborative project. Here are some pictures from today’s meeting, during which logistical concerns were ironed out and questions about printing and creasing were answered:


Forest Department & Social Entrepreneurship

Well, we’re back from our first day.  The reason I came for this internship, originally, was to support and document entrepreneurial conservation.  From meeting Diwia when I first arrived a couple months back, to meetings with various levels with the Forest Department’s hierarchy and front line, to today was one of those small arcs of history.  The Forest Department’s approach to conservation, leveraging the abundant mix of creativity, entrepreneurship, and energy in the local community, was a testament to the possibility of good governance.  One of my first posts when I arrived in Kerala, noting the news accounts about public sector corruption in this country, is balanced today by a more inspiring portrait of what that sector can and does do more than they get credit for.

To describe the workshop as a success, I think, would be an understatement. The enthusiasm and enjoyment that infused the work, which no one seemed to tire of, was infectious, and I think everyone is looking forward to tomorrow morning. The fact that only three women said they couldn’t come back for tomorrow (which, I’ll remind you, is Sunday) morning’s session is particularly telling, and I hope the photos posted here are equally so. There were a lot colorful accents to the main event, notably the children who ran around helping their mothers (or made their own bags), the men on the side learning in their own way, and Diwia’s scolding the interns (myself included) and George for making too much noise. It was described as a party and a picnic, but in the end a whole lot of learning went on, and close to 300 bags were made.

Check out this video that Sung and I made this morning (set to the music of a South Korean pop star’s hit song, to honor Sung):

Check back again tomorrow at 11:30 EST for more live updates, and in the meantime read over the day’s happenings!


Forest Department Training and LiveBlog

Tomorrow is an exciting day of great import for the social enterprise we’re assisting the Forest Department with. If you haven’t read our previous entries (here’s Michael’s, here’s Amie’s, and here’s Diwia’s), we’re starting a sustainable micro-enterprise here in Thekkady aimed at employing local (mostly) women and making useful bags out of recyclable and recycled material, namely, excess newspaper. This evening, Diwia Thomas, who began a similar enterprise in Cochin, will arrive to provide a weekend training session that begins tomorrow morning at 10. We’re expecting upwards of 40 women to attend, all with the hopes of being part of this business. She will guide them through and teach them how to make quality bags, as well how to maintain and organize the operations of the business. All our meetings and conversations with Forest Department officials and local women should hopefully pay off tomorrow, and the operation should be on it’s feet by the end of the month.

Given how exciting this is for all of us, we will be hosting a live conversation about what is happening in the training session, hopefully deploying photos and videos to help you, our readers, get a sense of the event. This conversation will take place at, a free liveblogging service. If you’re not familiar with this format, ‘liveblogging’ is often used for streaming important information about sporting and political events. We think it is also worth applying for this event.

So please join us! Tomorrow morning I’ll post a link, which will lead you here: click here.

We’ll be starting at around 9 AM (11:30 PM EST). If you’re in a different time zone, you can at least catch the beginning and maybe the end. It’s easy to post questions and respond on coveritlive, and the format will work much better with added voices.

See you tomorrow!


Guest Author: Diwia Thomas

Two years ago, during the economic crisis that swept over world economies, I encountered many women, in my very own social circles, who found it difficult to keep the home fires burning. Their stories were all different- husband’s who lost their jobs, businesses that had to be shut down due to non-viability, sudden disease that struck the sole breadwinner of the family, etc. Whatever the story, the effect was the same. I felt a strong urge to help them out.

Collecting newspaper from my kith and kin, I taught these women the basics of  making a newspaper bag, found customers to buy them and PaperTrail was blazing its own trail.

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