How this former Dubai expat makes sunglasses from plastic trash

Anish Malpani’s 'social enterprise' makes eyewear from packets of chips

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Allan Jacob

Published: Fri 24 Feb 2023, 3:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 24 Feb 2023, 5:28 PM

Fancy a pair of sunglasses made from packets of chips collected by waste-pickers who rummage through piles of trash for hours? Sounds implausible? It’s true. Others will be constrained to pinch their noses before they try them, which hasn’t stopped a former Dubai resident who’s making the effort rewarding for garbage collectors and the wider community.

This is how the sunglasses are made.

Waste-pickers procure the discarded packets from garbage and deliver them to the startup lab, which then converts the tough plastic into eco-friendly sunglasses.

Anish Malpani, the man behind the idea, believes his venture will make a direct social, economic, and environmental change, and claims that the product is a world-first, which it appears to be. Perhaps that’s why he chose to call his venture a social enterprise. He has hired six to seven garbage collectors who work part-time for his startup.

Previously, plastic waste from the ocean depths was scoured to make eyewear. That effort, though noble, was hard to sustain and we are back to the question of how to make discarded plastic of all kinds fantastic for use again.

The former Indian expat’s enterprise could set in motion a waste-to-use revolution if his plan gains steam with adequate funding. More importantly, the local community is involved.

Based in the Western Indian city of Pune, Anish also hopes to export his plastic waste-to-eyewear sunglasses to the UAE where he lived until his late teens. Recalling his formative years in Dubai, he says: “I even got an article published in Young Times.”

He later made the rounds of corporate America, Africa and the UAE, in a variety of roles, including data and finance. Now that the social innovator in him has been awakened, Anish sees the world in a new light through WITHOUT, the sunglasses brand that has been inspired by trash.

The eyewear has been converted from impossible-to-recycle chips' packets by Ashaya, his startup that also ensures dignity of labour for garbage collectors.

These workers work part-time, for three hours daily, and have seen their incomes triple for a year now. Once the packets are collected from the garbage, it’s a technical and complicated process but Anish is adept at breaking it down for the uninitiated.

“These packets are made from 3-5 different types of materials, including multiple types of plastic (PP, PE, PET), metal and sometimes cellulose fused together,” he says.

They are put through a shredding and washing process, after which, a (patent-pending) chemo-mechanical extraction procedure separates the materials and breaks them down. These are then made into compounds of high-quality materials which are then injection-molded into specific products (like sunglasses).”

The lenses, however, aren’t made from plastic packets but are sourced from a local supplier in Pune. They have UV protection and are polarised. The beta version of these sunglasses is on sale for Rs1,099 in India (inclusive of taxes and shipping). The company is seeking customer feedback and hopes to retail them for Rs3,000 soon.

There’s a lot of interest in his product from Dubai, as the young entrepreneur strives to make inroads into what is a hyper-saturated market. Competition is fierce among established brands and the fashion-conscious customer has a plethora of choices that suit different budgets.

Introducing an eco-friendly product at this stage could be a challenge and is a balancing act. But the entrepreneur sees the bigger picture in the battle against plastic waste.

So the goal is monetisation of waste in such a way that impact can be sustained along with operations. This is a first-impact startup, stresses the founder and insists that the focus is not on profit maximisation, but "impact maximisation through profit generation".

So what next for the venture that’s still in its infancy?

Raising funds to make the project viable to encompass not just sunglasses but also other products from hard-to-recycle plastic. The company hopes to grow and build capacity to recycle from 5kg-500kg a day.

“We can then really start scaling these plants across India and the world, ideally in a decentralised fashion,’’ he says. Sounds fanciful, but if sunglasses from packets of chips can become a reality, why let other wastes go to waste?


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