Those snazzy shades you’re flaunting likely came from the empty chips packet that you junked a while ago. Pune-based new-age company Without makes sunglasses from recycled plastic waste — be it empty chips packets, chocolate wrappers, or empty milk sachets. 

Its founder, Anish Malpani, says that after quitting a cushy job in New York he wanted to tackle social and environmental issues back home in India. He studied the workings of social entrepreneurs across the country before zeroing in on the waste management space. He learnt that close to four million wastepickers work without proper gear, even as nearly 80 per cent of the waste generated by cities remains untreated and ends up in landfills. 

“I realised that’s a lot of economic resource going waste... the key issue was the lack of technology needed to increase the value of hard-to-recycle plastic. This gave rise to Without,” he says. 

The knowhow

With an initial investment of $200,000 and a modest lab set-up, the company found a way to manufacture sunglasses from recycled multi-layered plastic packaging through its patent-pending chemo-mechanical technology. 

“The technology involves mechanically separating layers of materials in chips packets, particularly multi-layer plastic packaging, to extract building blocks. These building blocks are then converted into new materials for conventional applications,” Malpani explains. 

The company sources plastic waste from the wastepickers’ collective in its neighbourhood in Pune. The sunglasses, priced around ₹1,000 each, are sold on the company website. Besides conforming to production standards, they have UV polarised lenses, Malpani says.

Sustainable model

After netting sales of around₹20 lakh in the past year, Without is now exploring business-to-business (B2B) sales for corporate gifting. 

The company also plans to build a pilot plant to test its technology at scale. 

Malpani says the long-term goal is to replace environmentally harmful virgin materials with recycled and sustainable alternatives. Simultaneously the venture aims to economically uplift the community of traditional waste recyclers.