The next time you trash that chips packet wrapper, it may just end up in a pair of sunglasses. Surprised? Pune-based Anish Malpani was too when he realised the untapped potential Multi-Layered Plastics (MLP) hold. Having spent the last two years experimenting in his firm Ashaya’s lab to find a solution, he has now created a process to ‘chemo-mechanically extract materials from this waste’ with their patent-pending technology and convert them into high-quality products, the first being a pair of sunglasses, under the brand Without. With the beta programme wrapping up recently, the team is gearing up for its launch in June. “The goal of the beta programme was to sell 500 sunglasses in three months, but we sold them in six days! We’ve sold 1,000 units so far, and are using the feedback for the new version.”
The finance professional-turned-entrepreneur says he returned to India to find an impactful solution to the country’s waste crisis and launched Ashaya in 2021. But this was after having spent 15 months in Guatemala, and then some time in Nairobi working with local entrepreneurs and nonprofits. On his return he researched on India’s waste management crisis, and MLP seemed an obvious choice to work with given that less than 1% of MLPs are recycled.
“The issue with MLP is that it comprises many layers such as plastic, aluminum, etc that are not only impossible to recycle but differ with each product. Hence, standardising the recycling process is tough. In comparison to other MLP recycling processes, ours focusses on material extraction versus end-of-life recycling,” says Anish, 34, who sources the plastic directly from waste pickers, and has also employed five former waste pickers part-time. No one else collects this waste from them, and we source approximately five kilos a day from a waste-picker collective that is run by 12-13 women ragpickers, which is associated with SWaCH / KKPKP.” He explains how his team made a list of 400 products and shortlisted 70 including photo frames, wallets, pens, etc. Sunglasses made the cut for their first launch under the brand name, Without. “We had several focussed groups before zero-ing in on the name. As we build a world without waste, the consumer can purchase our product ‘without’ worry.”
So what did he keep in mind when developing the design for the sunglasses? Anish says the focus was to create a basic, trendy design, and the result is a light-weight, UV-polarised unisex wayfarer “that will not break, even if bent or thrown off a building”. “We wanted to have another, funkier, style but we did not have the time and wanted to launch the beta programme soon.” When Ashaya launches them publicly in the next few months, “we will have more designs that are out there”, he says, adding, “we will take aesthetics into consideration. This is not just a sustainable good, we want it to be cool.”
Plastic to product
Taking us through the recycling process, Anish says the first step includes shedding the MLP, washing it, and then separating them using their tech where the plastics get demetalised and separated. “We compound them into high-quality materials to make products through conventional injection molding processes. This is tough because no one else is doing it and it’s hard to come up with and scale up.”
However, Anish is quick to add that “sunglasses aren’t going to solve the problem of waste or the MLP crisis”. Having said that, his work is “proof of a concept that we can take a material that is considered impossible to recycle and convert it into high-quality materials and products”. Post the launch, his first step is to scale up and work with all plastics and materials. And also look at the long-term upliftment of waste pickers by . decentralised recycling centres. “Eventually, we’ll move to all types of plastic waste, and the end goal is all municipal solid waste,” he concludes.
Preorder the sunglasses for ₹1,599 on ashaya.in/