Meet the advocate who recycles idols and photo frames into toys, home décor products
In 2019, Nashik in Maharashtra was in the news for heavy rains and flood-like situations after water was released from the Gangapur dam, which led to the Godavari river flowing above the danger mark. Advocate Tripti Gaikwad, a longtime resident of the town, was concerned and decided to see the flood-hit areas.
“When I went to the river banks, I saw a gentleman who had brought quite a few large photo frames, mostly of gods and goddesses, ready to throw them into the river. I immediately stopped him, but he said he couldn’t think of any other place to discard gods’ photo frames, only the river seemed ideal.”
Tripti was shocked and felt compelled to do something. She asked the gentleman to remove the wood and glass from the frame, and dip the printed photo in the river water. “Once it disintegrates, you can collect it and submerge it in your plant pot,” she told him.
“After this incident, I thought if I could make a difference in such a small way, I could do this at a larger scale too,” says Tripti, who immediately started her research on recycling different materials–from plastic and plywood to metals.
What started as a small recycling project in 2019 was scaled into something more in July 2021, when Tripti launched Sampurnam Seva Foundation with the objective of recycling as many idols and picture frames as possible. She says, for her, it is akin to giving ‘purnatvar’ (completion) to the broken idols of God. Tripti says, to date, the foundation has managed to recycle over 50,000 items of religious significance, with donators numbering over 5,000.
She adds that considering the sensitivity behind working with holy and religious items, a pooja is conducted for each item that is being recycled.
A small beginning
In 2019, soon after the incident at the riverbanks, Tripti began to reach out to her circle on social media to build awareness and ask for old frames and idols of deities that people didn’t need anymore. To her surprise, the response was overwhelming in the first week itself.
To begin with, she collected idols made of plastic and metals, melted them, and recycled them into simple toys. The idols made of Plaster of Paris (POP) were converted into powder, and with some cement added to it for easy binding, they were recycled into bricks or feeding bowls for stray dogs. She even took to creating birdhouses with some of the recycled materials.
Last year, right after the Ganesh festival, when Tripti and her team of volunteers were inundated with idols, which they recycled into toys and distributed to the children living in the slums in Nashik.
Charity with a mission
Recently, Tripti got together with one of her friends and came up with the idea of making home décor products with these recycled materials, titling it Aaras. The initiative was mainly started with the aim of providing employment to women who are not able to work outside their homes, and autistic individuals.
“We have trained them to paint and decorate these items. It makes them happy, and also enables them to earn their daily wages,” says Tripti, who currently employs nearly 10 such individuals. She says the items will soon be available on Amazon under the brand name Sampurnam.
The foundation is also selling cubes made of melted metal to a local factory that utilises these to make wires. Plastic that is melted and converted to granules is sold to factories that deal with such raw materials.
Tripti says her work has garnered such high attention in the last year alone that she receives nearly 10-15 parcel packages daily from across the country. The packages mainly contain idols, photo frames of gods or old people, texts, and other items of religious significance that people feel can be used in a better way.
Asked how she manages to cope with the volume, Tripti informs that was one of the challenges she faced, besides funding. "I neither had space nor the funds to rent a place. I then decided to charge a basic fee from those who were donating the items, and with that, I was able to set the ball rolling," she says.
Tripti has now rented a warehouse in Nashik which is used to store all the donated items, and where the products are segregated and sorted according to the type and materials used. “In the future, I want to concentrate on doing such work at a district level across the country,” says Tripti.
Although she works as a full-time advocate, practising in the family court, Tripti manages to dedicate a fair amount of time during weekends and other free time to the cause of Sampurnam.
Advising women on how to pursue their dreams, she says, "Every journey is bound to come across some obstacles. Nothing will be smooth sailing. But be prepared to work hard, and you will see the results."
“I have a good team in my legal practice that is very supportive of my work, and as for my work with the foundation, I feel it’s all a blessing,” concludes Tripti.
Edited by Megha Reddy