Meet the Class XII student who is fighting climate change by recycling paper and planting trees
17-year-old Mehul Kumat.
Famously called the ‘City of Lakes’, Udaipur is defined by its natural beauty and architectural grandeur. Located in the southern region of Rajasthan, the city is surrounded by the spectral Aravalli mountain ranges and thrives under a cloak of greenery.
However, a few years ago, many lakes around the heritage city started drying up due to extreme heat waves. According to reports, this also let to the gradual deterioration of the environment.
Born and brought up in Udaipur, 17-year-old Mehul Kumat had very fond childhood memories of taking long walks along the city’s green trails, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain during monsoons, and gazing at the glistening water bodies.
He was disheartened upon witnessing the degradation of these landscapes. However, he didn’t lose hope and decided to do his bit to revive the water bodies.
In 2018, he established Kritaash – a non-governmental organisation aimed at restoring the ecological community. ‘Kritaash’, which literally translates to ‘hope for a better future’, is now involved in recycling waste paper into useful products and organising afforestation drives from its proceeds.
“Climate change is one of the biggest threats that mankind is presently facing. From causing erratic weather changes to poor water and air quality, it has taken a toll on the entire ecosystem. In order to secure a better future for the planet, it is important for this generation to get involved. I kicked off the NGO with the same intent,” Mehul Kumat, tells SocialStory.
Mehul with his sister and mother.
An endeavour for a greener tomorrow
Mehul, who is studying in Class XII at the Study Senior Secondary School in Udaipur, is known as an ‘ecofreak’. He was actively engaged in leading a lot of afforestation drives at school each year.
Once he resolved to set up the NGO, he got four of his like-minded friends to join him. They together figured out a way to recycle the huge mounds of paper waste getting dumped across landfills into items such as paper bags, bookmarks, and invitation cards.
Mehul and his friends recycle waste paper into other useful products like bags.
“After doing some research on the recycling methods, we started collecting paper waste and old newspapers from scrap shops in our neighbourhood. Then, we set up a small apparatus in my house and performed a series of activities – from shedding the paper using a mixer, laying down the pulp in the form of thin sheets, drying them under the sun, to finally dying with colours and folding them to make the products,” explains Mehul.
While Mehul’s elder sister, Dyuti Kumat, guided him throughout the process, his father helped him with an initial fund of Rs 35,000.
Though Mehul relied on word-of-mouth marketing, he eventually started promoting Kritaash’s output on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. He also wrote a couple of blog posts to raise awareness about the significance of recycling waste and sticking to sustainable living.
Mehul along with his friends from school.
“So far, we have managed to sell 600 paper bags, 500 bookmarks, and 50 invitation cards. Each of the items was priced at Rs 20, Rs 30 and Rs 50, respectively. And, we used all the sales proceeds — which amounted to about Rs 30,000 — to plant trees in and around our locality, or gift saplings to other people,” he notes.
To draw the attention of young minds about various environmental issues, Mehul and his friends took the initiative to conduct workshops across many schools in Udaipur.
When asked about the challenges he faced along the journey, he said,
“Simultaneously balancing the operations of the NGO and my academics was a little difficult. I used to spend around three to four hours on making the paper products and marketing it. When I am not working, I spend time learning to code and playing the guitar.”
The team of Kritaash after conducting a workshop at a school.
An achiever all the way
Besides working towards creating a positive impact on the environment, Mehul is trying his hand at hydroponic farming — a technique of growing plants using just water and nutrients, instead of soil. He has set up a vertical terrace garden at home and also developed some highly potent greens.
“Hydroponics is the future of farming. It allows people to grow crops in locations where soil conditions are too poor to support cultivation. Moreover, since it does not require pest-control, the resultant produce is generally of high nutritional value. And, that is why I am keen on learning it,” Mehul says.
The hydroponics garden set up by Mehul.
Recently, Mehul received a scholarship to be part of the prestigious Young Entrepreneur Academy, a four-week e-learning summer camp conducted by New York Times bestselling author and social entrepreneur, Roger James Hamilton. He was the only Indian teen among 30 others who got selected for the programme. Offered by Genius School via their digital education platform GeniusU, the course focuses on imparting entrepreneurial and leadership skills to students.
The 17-year-old is planning to expand the activities of Kritaash and hopes to build a hydroponic farm of his own in the near future.