SEEMA MUNIZ profiles SATYAJIT who turned his commitment for cleaning beaches into a mission of upcycling multilayer plastic

From being a tax officer with the Commonwealth of Australia to an ocean/beach comber to a pioneer artisan in upcycling of multilayer plastic: that in brief encapsulates the journey my brother Satyajit has taken in the last decade. The latter part of it started with COVID-19 and the sudden acquisition of that precious commodity which on normal days is hard to come by: gargantuan chunks of free time!

Being an avid swimmer with a childhood love for the ocean, it didn’t take long for the boy in 48-year-old Satya to re-emerge. And, there he was on deserted beaches which were once abuzz with tourists, wrestling not only with the waves, but also with trash strewn across the sands. 

Seema Muniz

Soon a whole bunch of stranded backpackers from around the world and like-minded people had joined hands to clean up the neighborhood beachesFrom collecting, sorting, rinsing with soap and drying, it was an extensive time-consuming exercise. But when the results translated into a more enchanting seascape and a safer environment for marine life, every whit of it felt worth the time and effort. And thus was born the zerowaste group, dedicated to saving the environment in general, and beaches in particular. 

“Sure, we did have our own set of trials and errors, but, it always felt as though we were moving in the right direction”, Satya, one of the few remaining members of the original zerowaste group who continues to work actively towards that end, confides with his usual smile.

From pouring melted plastic bags into moulds and creating eclectic pieces of art, Satya, has come a long way. “We soon realised that melting plastic was also polluting the environment and could not have been a long-term solution to the growing plastic problem.” 

A masterpiece from packets of chips, atta bags and more

“There were a few organisations/NGOs out there, who were working in this field and had already upcycled several tons of plastic. However, I noticed that the multilayer plastic posed the biggest challenge in most of the undertakings. So, I decided to channelize my energy towards solving the multilayer equation,” adds, Satya, animatedly. 

Starting from cutting every rinsed and dried plastic bag into one long strip, making ropes, to creating works of art with them has been a lengthy voyage with all its ups and downs, but with ‘aha’ moments at the end of it. Right from making baskets, lampshades, and pocketbooks to weaving buckets, chappals, toy boats and sails, Satya’s objective is to illustrate the versatility of the medium by using nothing but one’s hands, eyes and imagination. “Moreover, I wanted to create something which would use no external source of energy. And, voilà!” There is a definite sense of fulfilment as he points to the assortment of woven articles he has churned out doing just that.

Satya with volunteers explaining how plastic can be recycled

“Don’t take me wrong…My message should not be misinterpreted to imply that plastic bags and packaging material should remain in circulation to facilitate making more things. No, I am categorically against its usage. But, until a concrete plan of action to phase it out can be effectuated at a national/international level and replace it with something biodegradable, we need to take matters in our own hands and do something about it”.

“Imagine if every village had a basketry unit to upcycle plastic, the kind of employment and revenue it could generate? It could prove to be a real boon for the rural economy!” His eyes sparkle as I watch him gradually drifting into that realm of possibilities. But, until that happens Satya will keep on weaving baskets of hope and spreading the word. His dedicated team of three, which also includes our 80-year-old mother, have already visited several schools and colleges to teach students and faculty the importance of recycling/upcycling as well as of creative ways of doing it. The team has also currently adopted two villages and is teaching whoever is willing to learn how to turn trash into treasures.

Seema Muniz, a feature writer with the Times of India group in the nineties, is an avid reader and educationist, who homeschooled her son until tenth grade, while drifting between New York and Alaska with her family. She is also an artist, with a few solo and group shows in Albany, NY, to her credit. 

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Featured Photo shows Satya combing beaches for trash