How Lifaffa is innovating circular economy models within India’s waste management industry
“Our vision is to create a complete circular economy model. With the success of this model we can delay plastic ending up in landfills for at least a hundred years.” — Kanika Ahuja, Founder and CEO of Lifaffa
As estimated by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a transition to circular economy models within India could generate an estimated $624 billion by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 44% with a significant reduction in pollution.
In contrast to the “take-make-waste” linear model, a circular economy model is regenerative by design and aims to keep products and materials in use. Though the circular economy in India is still at beginning stages, waste management is a prime industry to lead the transition to more restorative and socially impactful economic models.
LIFAFFA was started by Kanika Ahuja in 2017 to advance the circular economy in India through upcycling single use plastic into fair trade fashion accessories. Ahuja’s ultimate vision is to shift the market demand for upcycled products within India to realize a complete circular economy model linking production and the local market.
“Growing up, I had a lot of exposure to the slums near Delhi and from an early age have had a strong understanding of the social issues within these communities. My motivation was to bring a means of livelihoods to the people there and improve waste management.”
Lifaffa develops sustainable innovations including plastic-to-fabric and low-carbon textile recycling to strengthen the circular economy in India and support communities in the process.
“We started working with plastic waste that has no resale value and so nobody else was collecting it. This plastic waste was single use – we developed the technology to convert this kind of plastic into a new fabric. Because plastic comes in so many colors we have been able to create beautiful patterns from it,” Ahuja explained.
Lifaffa creates a range of products and fashion accessories from recycled plastic including handbags, wallets, and footwear. The social enterprise employs waste pickers and migrant workers in the different processes of collection, segregation, and fabrication of the material to provide a source of sustainable livelihoods in low-income communities.
Social Enterprise Model: “A big learning is that the social enterprise model is workable and profitable. Many new social enterprises are cropping up in India and I’m so glad to see that the movement keeps gaining momentum,” said Ahuja.
Lifaffa is a social enterprise operating both nonprofit and for profit arms. The nonprofit arm conducts capacity building and training sessions within local communities as well as leads the research and development of new innovations. The for profit arm is responsible for the design and marketing of the products created by Lifaffa and ensuring that the organization runs sustainably. Lifaffa is also a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and exports products to Fair Trade buyers in Europe and North America.
Diversify products and ideas: Lifaffa’s success is rooted in working within diverse locations and communities in addition to diversifying sources of plastic and waste.
“We started with projects near the river Yamuna which flows through Delhi. Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and so we have diverted much of the ocean’s plastic waste and the landfills’ plastic waste into our projects,” Ahuja said.
From initial sites including the Yamuna river, Lifaffa has since expanded to source from multiple waste streams. Ahuja’s team is constantly working on new innovations and products to develop to reduce plastic waste and advance the circular economy as a viable economic model within India.
Supporting women: “Supporting women is a big priority for us. We conduct a lot of sensitization workshops in the slums to promote ideals and the practice of gender equality.”
Lifaffa provides sustainable sources of livelihood for women and currently employs 80% women and 20% men in the organization at large.
Supply Chain Logistics: Because Lifaffa uses the natural colors of plastic waste rather than adding artificial dyes, the social enterprise relies upon the colors of the original plastic in selected waste streams.
As Ahuja explains, “If we have an order for 1,000 bags for a particular color, it becomes a challenge to find enough plastic sources of that color in the waste stream. This is why we now have groups in multiple locations so that we can collect enough plastic for specific orders.”
Consumer Demand: Because the consumer market in India is still growing, Lifaffa exports fashion products to Europe and North America.
“It’s too expensive for us to reach our audience in India right now,” Ahuja said.
COVID-19 Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for the work of Lifaffa.
When the pandemic first hit India, Ahuja’s team sprang to action to support the workers and communities Lifaffa partners with.
“For the first two or three months we were focused on fundraising because the grassroots communities we work with have no savings. Suddenly their jobs were taken away,” Ahuja said.
Vision for the Future
According to Ahuja, “Lifaffa is an aggregated platform for the different groups we are reaching in India. We want to replicate this model in different parts of the world.”
Lifaffa’s vision is to build a complete circular economy model that delays plastic from ending up in India’s rivers, oceans, and landfills for over a hundred years. This complete circular economy model will be possible when the production and the market are linked within the same location – this model includes the key components of collecting single use plastic waste, creating new packaging, recycling this packaging into fashion products, upcycling these fashion products into new products, and continuing on so that ultimately no new waste is produced.
Kanika Ahuja is the Founder and CEO of Lifaffa.
To learn more about Lafiffa please visit: https://lifaffa.com
As mentioned on Ground Breakers Hub. Read more here