Thinking about the environment and how we can help save it can often be an overwhelming task. The problem, we realized was in the sheer scale of things - mounds of plastic, dire stories of enormous landfills. One thing that can help is to remember is this quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Small steps are what take you closer to the goal. In this case, literally. Small Steps are super strong bags meant to replace the hundreds of plastic bags we have all probably used over the years.

Think of all the times you’ve gone shopping and bought veggies in that suffocating plastic bag. Then that bag has gone into the trash, and in the best case, into a landfill. In the more likely scenario, into the gut of an unsuspecting animal wandering on the road. We know this happens. And yet somewhere, all of us have felt an inertia towards change. Because the plastic bag is so common, cheap and convenient.

We at Shunya are thrilled to partner with Small Steps, a project of Upasna, Auroville. Several years ago, they wanted to change this scenario. They wanted to design a bag that would eliminate all the excuses we make for continuing to use plastic. And in the process, create employment for rural communities and raise awareness about the environment.

The first step was the design process. What emerged from it were bags that are nifty, super strong and folded into the palm of a hand. They doubled up as keychains or belt extensions and held more weight than a plastic bag of the same size so that no one would have an excuse for forgetting. The material was half cotton and half polyester and resisted fungus and insects.

The next step was to train women from the rural communities nearby in making the bags. 300 women were trained in the tailoring process. 200 women regularly participate in the making of bags. They were given micro loans to obtain sewing machines, participated in training programs, and educated about plastic and waste. In the process, the makers have become the ambassadors of the project.

Once the bags were in regular production, Small Steps began distribution. The aim is not to be for-profit, but to be socially sustainable. School children have been given over 300,000 bags. Lakhs of bags are sold directly and indirectly to customers.

Small Steps’ dream is to make and distribute 1 million bags over the next 3 years, providing 1000 people with employment for at least 1000 days.

Distribution and awareness have gone hand in hand. Events in schools, film screenings in communities, and creating ambassadors of change in village clusters have been keys in
creating mindset shifts in people. A team of global ambassadors spreads awareness across the world.

Over the years, Small Steps has distributed more than half a million bags. One bag can replace over 700 bags. That means they have probably led to three hundred and fifty million less plastic bags in the ecosystem.

Let’s think of that for a second. 350 million. We said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Make that several million. Add your voice to it today.

Content by: Shruthi Vishwanath
Pic Courtesy: Small Steps