Have You Heard of the Economy of Trash?


Goonj Recycling urban waste

Anshu Gupta: The voice of Goonj

If you haven’t, you should.

I met Anshu Gupta last week, the face behind GOONJ, whose organization has won many awards for his social entrepreneurship: the Economy of Trash — where one man’s waste is recycled into another man’s object of need, even desire. I realized how one man, with good entrepreneurial skills, an insatiable curiosity for inconvenient problems and the ability to innovate in order to solve them, can create a revolution.

The New Yorker says it better than I’ll ever say it , but what you essentially need to know is this:

1. Goonj takes urban waste in India (clothes, blankets etc ), and recycles it into commodities (schoolbags, sanitary napkins) for the rural poor. If you want to see what real, intensive recycling looks like, take a few minutes to watch this video.

2. The Goonj drive to create affordable sanitary protection for Indian rural women addresses a big gap in demand and supply, and starts off a dialogue on a topic that is taboo in most Indian living rooms. “Many Indians possess only one or two items of clothing….a woman with one sari must conceal herself while it dries after washing. And many women stay hidden indoors during their menstrual cycles because of orthodox religious beliefs and because they have no proper undergarments and only a piece of cloth to serve as a sanitary napkin.” (Here’s how you can help these women through Goonj)

3. The clothes are given in exchange for development work in the village, which gives the receivers the feeling that they earned it. This might seem strange, but we’re talking about a scenario in some parts of rural India where people become indentured labor just in order to buy new clothes.

4. Most of Goonj’s operating costs come from individual contributions, because the urban dwellers are made aware of the dismal state of their rural counterparts, and contribute their unwanted, but still usable items in order to help out. What lies unused in the wardrobes of the urban middle-class and the rich, is turned into pure gold for the rural poor via Goonj’s process of value addition.

What I loved about the Goonj approach is the open-ness towards innovation, the dignity afforded to those who receive donations, and  the readiness to let others replicate the organizational model.

With an annual budget of $550,000, 150 employees, and hundreds of volunteers, Goonj is growing apace. What it needs are folks who see the beauty of its concept, nurture it, and contribute towards its upkeep, because it is a win-win, no matter how you look at it.

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Would you like to be part of this economy of trash? Check the IndiChange site and ISB iDiya contest page for more details on this post.

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14 thoughts on “Have You Heard of the Economy of Trash?

  1. I am reminded of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem where the solution to the famine in Sravastipur was collecting a single fistful of rice from every household to have enough food to feed all the hungry mouths.

  2. Brilliant stuff — especially the wonderful consideration given to women who would otherwise have to hide away for several days a month.

    I’m already totally into ethical shopping and will not buy anything made in a sweat shop, as well as doing all the recycling I can think of.

  3. The link didn’t take me to a video however; I appreciate and understand the work involved. Such wonderful work is being achieved by GOONJ; great credit to its founder and workers. Also to you for highlighting this issue. Woman/people all around the world need to appreciate the struggles of those less fortunate… Thank You for your support..

    • Sorry about the video — it seemed to work fine for me when I checked just now. This is an issue that is never spoken of at world forums, and needs to be raised more often. i hope you’ll consider contributing to the cause, as just 5 USD would help a woman receive sanitary protection for an year.

  4. Well-written Damayanti. Thank you. It was great meeting you. I am continuing to raise awareness and funds for GOONJ. Will get in touch.

    • You’re an inspiration, Ramya. Let me know when and how I can help. I keep tweeting, and sharing on FB about Goonj whenever I can. My husband has suggested to his company that their CSR be done with Goonj this year — but they’re an American MNC, and the final decision is up to an India-based panel. Will let you know if something works out.

  5. On your blog the first time Damayanti, I visit Goonj often, its not too far for me, and give away all the unwanted clothes piling up in the house. This man is doing a great job! I want to thank you for spreading the word, I think I should share the same on my blog! :) the more I am reading your blog, liking it better!

  6. Poonam, welcome to my blog. I hope you will visit often.
    You do better than me, by actually contributing material to Goonj, which is part of its spirit. Go ahead and blog about it too — each contribution would help. :) No need to thank me, I’m just doing my tiny bit in spreading awareness about this huge issue in our country, and the amazing work Anshu is doing in the community to sort it out.

  7. Hey Damyanti, what a wonderful initiative and a great post. Trash to treasure in the real sense. We are so isolated from the real problems of our country and it is people like Anshu Gupta who show us the path. I have been giving old clothes, blankets, woollens etc to a local orphanage time and again. Goonj’s cause is really good and I would surely want to blog about it and contribute too. Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

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