K K Manoharan spends two to four hours a day making useful things out of plastic waste. And this has been his routine every single day for the past 15 years. With no formal training, Manoharan learned how to weave plastic strips and strands into pretty household products such as mats, flower pots, baskets and bags himself and educates people in his township on the reusability of plastic.
The daily-wage labourer from Edappal in Malappuram district is the recipient of the 22nd PV Thampy Memorial Endowment Award for Environment Protection, a prize instituted in honour of journalist and environmentalist P V Thampy.
Manoharan says he started collecting discarded plastic to make small baskets to collect flowers during Onam. “I had no idea how to do it, but I used to weave strands together and a basket-like thing would take shape. I gradually began observing that there was plastic everywhere—road sides, construction sites, public places... even a newly built house would have plastic sacks strewn around it. This began to trouble me. Sometimes they would burn it and the fumes smelled toxic.”
He would scour his surroundings and the entire town for material. Manoharan usually works with plastic strips that are used to bind boxes. He uses plastic bottles too, which he would cut into thin strips with an instrument he made himself using a small wooden block, inserted with a blade. “That helped me convert the bottles into strips quickly. A one-litre bottle would yield up to 6-7 metres of plastic strips.”
Manoharan is a familiar figure in Edappal; he says he doesn’t have to go looking for materials now as often as he used to. “Shops and other establishments who know my work collect plastic waste and when their sacks are full, they call me. So I just have to go and pick them up.” He would take it home, wash it, dry it and start work on it.
Over the years, as he discovered that he had skill for crafting, he started adding a design element. “I would mix and match colours, especially for bags. Young people would like using them then.” His murams ( winnowing sieves) are extremely popular among the homemakers as they last much longer than the bamboo ones that are usually used. “A plastic muram can last up to 20 years,” he says.
He does not put a price to his products, but if buyers insist on paying, he quotes a small price. He would sell a muram for ₹300 maximum. “What I do instead is teach them how to make it themselves, so that they can start making household items from the plastic waste generated at home.” Manoharan has had some keen students over the years, who have learnt crafting from him.
He has been invited to schools and colleges in nearby towns and villages to give talks on plastic recycling and he makes it a point to take his products to exhibitions, craft fairs, public meetings and even political events, where he would display them. “I have woven a banner in plastic, which says: Make something useful out of discarded plastic; save the environment.”
Manoharan is 59 years old; he says he would continue his efforts in creating awareness. “If people start doing something like this in their own villages and cities, we could prevent a lot of plastic from ending up in our landfills.”
The award will be given away at a function, which will be held today at the YMCA Conference Hall, Chittoor Road, Ernakulam, at 5 pm. For information, call 9847051802 . (Some of Manoharan’s products will be available at the venue).