Operating under the tagline, "more the waste, better the taste," the Garbage Café opened in Ambikapur, in the state of Chhattisgarh. A project from the municipal council, the café offers a hearty meal for one kilogram of collected plastic. For a half kilogram, you can earn a substantial breakfast, as Vice reported.
Last week, an impoverished garbage picker who could once only dream of eating at a café, was sitting at a table over a hot meal of dal, aloo gobi, poppadoms and rice, which he paid for with one kilogram of plastic waste. "The hot meal I get here lasts me all day. And it feels good to sit at a table like everyone else," he said, as The Guardian reported.
Ambikapur has aggressively attacked the pollution crisis India faces by investing in cleanups, and jumping 15 spots in the rankings to become India's second cleanest city this year, as the Times of India reported. Only Indore in central India is ranked cleaner.
Simar Malhotra, co-founder of Parvaah, a not-for-profit in New Delhi which campaigns against plastic, believes the Garbage Cafe is worth emulating across the country.
"How many schemes solve two problems in one go?" said Simar Malhotra, co-founder of Parvaah, a not-for-profit in New Delhi that campaigns against plastic, as The Guardian reported. "The cafe tackles waste and also gives hungry people a hot meal which in turn motivates them to collect more plastic."
The way it works is pickers bring their collected plastic to a waste management center that gives the collector a coupon. The coupon is then brought to the Garbage Café, which is located at the city's main bus stand, where the coupon is then exchanged for breakfast or lunch, according to the Times of India. Or, they bring the plastic to the café.
"It's become well known fast, because it's located right by the main bus stand in the city," said the city's mayor, Ajay Tirkey, as The Guardian reported. "We're getting about a dozen people coming in every day. One day a whole family came in with huge sacks weighing seven kilos."
"What's important is that our meals are nutritious and tasty. We didn't want to give rubbish," he added
The city makes nearly $17,000 per month selling recycled plastic granules. It has also used recycled plastic to improve infrastructure. In 2015, the city built a road almost entirely made of plastic granules. The nearly one mile long road has held up to use even through monsoon season, according to the mayor, as The Guardian reported.
The collected plastic from the Garbage Café will be used to construct roads.
While the Prime Minister announced that India would start to phase out single-use plastic by 2022, the country struggles with the nearly 25,000 tons of plastic waste it creates every day. India lacks the infrastructure and waste management systems to separate plastic from general waste, as The Guardian reported. Ambikapur stands as an outlier with 100 percent door-to-door waste collection.
The city hopes to expand the operation, hoping to provide shelter to the homeless in exchange for collected trash, according to Vice.
The idea is starting to catch on in other parts of India. Municipal authorities plan to open a string of Garbage Cafes in the country's capital New Delhi. Nearly 70 percent of plastic waste in the capital is from single-use items. It often ends up in landfills or clogging drains, according to The Guardian. It's extremely dangerous for hungry cows who graze in waste bins and consume plastic.
Last year, a veterinarian in New Delhi removed over 150 pounds of plastic from a cow's stomach, according to The Guardian.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
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The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
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Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.