India's Gen Z climate warriors

The young disruptors and innovators taking action now.

[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

New Delhi, India - Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish superstar climate activist, pulled no punches when she delivered her verdict on the final agreement cobbled together by world leaders at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this month.

“COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah” she tweeted.

But in that same tweet, Thunberg also channelled the determination of legions of youth climate activists the world over: “But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”

That rallying cry echoed on the streets of Glasgow, where young activists including Theresa Rose Sebastian, an Indian student who co-founded Re-Earth Initiative, had come to observe and make her voice be heard.

“I came [to Glasgow] with hope … that governments would finally tear away from their greed and injustice and work to create a better world,” she told Al Jazeera via email. “The truth is, I am heartbroken, disappointed and betrayed.”

Her feelings of disappointment and betrayal were even more bitter given the headlines India grabbed during the summit. At the opening of COP26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered what was considered one of the summit’s highlight achievements by pledging that India - the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter- would achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

By the close of the summit, though, India’s climate cred took a bruising, when the country, along with China, weakened the final agreement’s anti-coal commitments by changing the pledge “phase out” coal to “phase down”.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, that watered-down language on coal comes as the city’s air is so thick with pollution that schools have been closed and five coal-fired power plants have been temporarily shut down.

By 2070, Prime Minister Modi will be 120 years old. Sebastian will be 67. She, along with other members of Generation Z - those born from the mid-1990s through the early 2010s - have the most to lose if the planet is not rescued from man-made pollutants.

They are trying to wrench away power over the planet’s future from big corporations and governments. And in India, like other nations, they’re using their rage, chutzpah and brilliance to do it.

India’s youth climate activists are calling for urgent action, holding governments and businesses to account and harnessing technology creatively to clean up the mess.

Al Jazeera spoke with five Indian climate warriors to hear their stories of action. Each one spotlights a facet of the climate crisis and the stubborn inaction of older generations that is spurring young people forward.

Together these conscientious disruptors and innovators shine a light on India’s schizophrenic reality of abundance and scarcity, business opportunities and desperate attempts to survive, female empowerment, and a sometimes self-serving climate action ecosystem where privilege begets privilege.

Ridhima Pandey is a 14-year-old high school student and a climate activist [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Ridhima Pandey is a 14-year-old high school student and a climate activist [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

‘It's me, it’s Greta and 14 others’

India’s most revered river, the Ganges, passes through Ridhima Pandey’s pilgrim town of Haridwar in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

Pandey’s days are packed. A high school student, Pandey, 14, attends classes, has commitments to speak at climate seminars, and supports hunger strikes against illegal sand mining that’s devastating the Ganges. Then there are tree-planting drives, letters to write to Prime Minister Modi and her petition that’s pending at the Supreme Court of India.

At night she is busy tackling nightmares.

It’s been eight years since an extreme weather event in Uttarakhand called a cloudburst triggered floods and landslides. But Pandey still vividly recalls those days in June 2013.

Though her ground-floor house was not flooded, she saw the devastation on the news. “The kids were crying … their family members, their houses … broken trees … everything was pretty much destroyed,” she said.

I started having nightmares ... There is water everywhere, I don’t know how to swim ... I've died because of a flash flood, or lost my parents.

by Ridhima Pandey

Her mother, a forest beat officer, explained cloudburst and its science as one can to a five-year-old. But her father, then a field officer with Wildlife Trust of India, brought home pictures of animals injured in the nearby Rajaji National Park. Pandey recalls horses and mules in pain, suffering from infected wounds.

“The very first thing that happened after that,” she told Al Jazeera over Zoom, “was that I started having nightmares ... There is water everywhere, I don’t know how to swim ... I've died because of a flash flood, or lost my parents."

The devastation of 2013 claimed more than 5,700 people in Uttarakhand, which, experts say, was a cumulative effect of incessant rain, callous planning and construction, illegal sand mining and hydroelectric projects.

In February this year, part of a glacier broke off in Uttarakhand. The furious avalanche and deluge that followed brought back memories for Pandey.

Even today, she says when there’s lightning or thunder, she fears “I'm gonna die …”. On nights when it rains, she says she sits up on her bed, ready to run.

Pandey channeled her debilitating fear into learning about nature and its fury. It didn’t take her long to conclude that despite assurances and promises, the government was not doing enough.

In 2017, she approached two lawyers, her father’s friends, to file a petition against the government for violating children’s right to a safe, clean environment. The government, said the petition, was guilty of inaction in meeting the goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius.

Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary, co-founders of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), filed the petition at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s green court, on Pandey’s behalf.

“Every industrial project has a carbon component and the petition said that there has been no difference in the government’s decision-making process before and after the Paris Agreement. That it’s business as usual,” Dutta told Al Jazeera.

“Whether it’s the Paris Agreement or anything, they're somewhere failing because they only work on paper, not on ground … The National Green Tribunal was to give, maybe, a warning … show them the right path,” Pandey said.

Dutta is a leading environmental lawyer who takes on big corporations and has filed about 1,000 cases to date. “We lose most of the cases,” he said. He and Ridhima Pandey lost at the NGT, too, but they moved on to the Supreme Court, challenging the dismissal.

“They [NGT] basically came to the conclusion that there is no concrete evidence that the government was not fulfilling its commitment under the Paris Agreement,” he said.

[Hanna Duggal/Al Jazeera]

Climate Action Tracker, which collates and analyses measures taken by governments to meet their Paris Agreement commitments, ranks India's climate targets and policies as “highly insufficient” even after taking into account Modi’s announcement in Glasgow that India will become carbon neutral by 2070.

In February this year, the Supreme Court heard the case - Ridhima Pandey versus Union of India - and instructed India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to file a response about how forest and environmental impact are being taken into account while sanctioning new projects.

Dutta says whether they win or lose, Pandey’s petition is important because “Unlike most litigations that you see on environment … usually filed either by the elite or the children of elite people … Here is someone who's in a small town, of very humble background … with no resources, a Hindi speaker … I think that is significant.”

Pandey’s petition catapulted her into the limelight. In 2019 she was one of 16 kids from across the world who filed a landmark complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child against five countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey, all signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — for violating children’s rights by failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“So it's me, it’s Greta and 14 others,” Pandey said.

In New York, where they had all gathered to file the complaint, Pandey couldn't speak with Greta Thunberg.

“No one really allowed us to talk to her because they were like, she was frustrated after she had that speech at the UN with the Trump situation,” Pandey said, adding that she couldn't even get a photo with Thunberg. “I now know how important that is,” she laughs.

On October 16 this year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child refused to hear their petition.

But Pandey’s efforts won her some very high-profile admirers.

In August this year, Pope Francis — who is also the author of Laudato Si’, an encyclical or letter on the environment — invited Pandey and four others for a private audience. “I can’t reveal who, why,” she said, but added, “It was amazing. I mean, I didn't really know who [the] pope was and then I Googled, and I was like, it is a huge thing.”

Pandey and her father quarantined in Rome. Then she and the other invitees went to meet the pope.

“It was very, very private. It was just the pope and five of us … in Vatican City,” she said.

“It was a hall kind of thing … near the painting that’s there, with, you know, those two hands”.

Gayle Kimball, a professor of women’s studies and sociology at California State University, Chico in the United States, researches and writes on climate action from a gender and feminist perspective. In her book titled Climate Girls Saving Our World, she has profiled 54 girls and young women from across the world who are leading climate movements.

[Hanna Duggal/Al Jazeera]

When asked, over a Zoom call, why she focused on girls and not boys, Kimball said, “That was an easy decision because they are the leaders … Fridays for Future, Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement in the US … Almost all of the climate organisations led by youth were formed by girls … There’s a boy here, there … but [the] majority are girls”.

Kimball, who calls these climate activists “revolutionaries”, says the reason girls are at the forefront of this movement is because boys are under more pressure “to conform to some sort of acceptable image … being perceived as cool … [while] the girls are more willing to be labelled as the weird climate girls.”

Three of her 54 "revolutionaries" are from India — Ridhima Pandey along with Srianjini Raman and Disha A Ravi, both of Fridays for Future India.

In February, 23-year-old Ravi, one of her organisation’s founders, was arrested and charged with sedition after Thunberg tweeted her media and communication plan in support of the ongoing farmers’ protest in India.

Kimball says that the young women she interviewed for her book told her that as women they are used to struggling, “to get … [a] job, political representation, respect".

Medha Patkar, 66 —  a founding member of Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement), which has been fighting for the rights of people displaced and affected by a dam project in the Indian state of Gujarat for more than 30 years — said women often challenge social injustices because they are used to being “outside the system” whereas “men join the system very often”.

Women also have “perseverance”, she said, “so they don't leave once they take up a cause; [they] don't compromise that easily.”

Another activist Al Jazeera spoke with said, “The experience of women across socioeconomic strata is a sense of humiliation … They do these things, in many ways, as acts of resistance.”

Kimball also notes that girls are more mature and “willing to do the long meetings and the organising that it takes to bring about social change”.

Only one of the 54 girls in her book is an innovator: Anna Luisa Beserra, a Brazilian national who is harnessing solar power to clean water because, as she told Kimball: “Unclean water is the second main cause of death of children age five and younger.”

“The innovators in the news are [mostly] boys,” said Kimball. “But I think, maybe, we just don’t hear about young women who are developing these things … Also, girls are not as socialised to be inventors … they don’t get the Tinkertoys and the Erector Sets and the Legos as much as the boys do.”

Angad Daryani, 23, has set up a low-cost, AI-powered outdoor air purification system [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Angad Daryani, 23, has set up a low-cost, AI-powered outdoor air purification system [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Tinkertoys and clean air

Angad Daryani got the Tinkertoys and scaled model cars that he wanted as a child. In 2017, at the age of 19, while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta in the US, he set up Praan Inc. Daryani, who calls himself an inventor and social entrepreneur, put in his own money, took loans from family and friends, and received grants through the Georgia Tech Accelerator Program.

Praan means breath/life in Hindi, and it’s “an attempt at helping a billion people breathe cleaner air in cities”, Daryani says. The seventh version of Praan’s MKOne, billed as the “world’s most advanced low-cost, filterless and AI-powered outdoor air purification system”, is now in production.

India’s air quality is the world’s third worst and of the 50 most polluted cities in the world, 35 are Indian, according to IQAir. In 2019, 1.7 million Indians died due to air pollution, reports The Lancet.

[Hanna Duggal/Al Jazeera]

Daryani, who at the age of 15 worked on an MIT-backed project to create a device that converts digital text to Braille in real time, speaks with the bemused drawl of a geek, as if he were the missing character from The Big Bang Theory — the Indian who loves car engines, plays football and invents.

Speaking with Al Jazeera from his home in Mumbai, he said the existing solutions to clean up air “are not quite solutions; it’s what I call an illusion”, noting that two tall smog towers set up in Delhi recently at almost $2m apiece are prime examples.

To clean up the air in countries like India, he said, the purifiers should not require special land, and the technology has to be filterless so that there's no recurring maintenance cost.

Praan’s MKOne is a cylindrical filter - very similar in shape and size to outdoor heaters - and costs upwards of 70,000 rupees ($942). A cluster of them are required to “create hyperlocal, clean air zones”. Where these cylinders will be placed, say, on an office campus or college, will be decided once Praan’s team simulates a 3D replica of the area, including the wind flow, and injects pollutants into it.

The global air purifier market was worth $11.2bn in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compounded average rate of 10 percent until 2026, according to Expert Market Research.

Daryani said he flew in his engineers from Atlanta to pitch Praan’s air purifiers to the Delhi government in 2018. Officials sat through the presentation, he recalled, and then wished him and his team all the best.

Daryani’s exasperation is palpable when he talks of the government’s bias towards Indian premier engineering schools, and how he is often treated as a kid.

“That's why I have all these big-name investors, right. Like this person's net worth is worth the city so, like, please relax,” he said.

Praan’s MKOne is patented in the US, is manufactured in India and has received $1m from New York-based Social Impact Capital and $50,000 from angel investors because “We deliver what we claim,” he said.

Praan’s purifiers arrive with drums to collect pollutants. Once full, they are sent to a factory that manufactures carbon tiles, packing away the pollutants for a long time. Each drum, Daryani said, yields about 20 to 30 tiles.

By comparison, one of Delhi’s smog towers is 24m (78 feet) tall and occupies a plot of 3,600sq m. It has 15 operational staff and requires 10,000 US-imported filters that cost about $25,000 and have to be replaced every three months. When the new ones go in, the old ones head to landfill sites or incinerators.

[Hanna Duggal/Al Jazeera]

The smog towers, like Praan’s purifiers, aim to scrub away particulate matter (PM), the microscopic matter suspended in air, from the atmosphere. PM is categorised as "hazardous" when it exceeds the mark of 300 micrograms per cubic metre. Between 101 and 150, it is considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups". Air quality is considered "good" when PM concentration is below 50.

In the first week of November, one smog tower recorded PM10 (particulate matter) concentration of 649 micrograms per cubic metre at the inlet and 511 at the outlet.

"That's a reduction of just 23 percent,” said Daryani. “If MKOne had 649 micrograms per cubic metre at the inlet, we would be able to measure around 130 micrograms per cubic metre at the outlet."

Next year, Daryani said, Praan's air purifiers, which open and close automatically based on weather conditions, should be available to rent. He has worked out the rental in a way that if a school with 10,000 students were to rent 50 devices for 24 months, “the cost of breathing clean air per person per day would be less than one rupee (less than a cent)”.

Aditya Mukarji is a 17-year-old "youth changemaker and environmentalist” [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Aditya Mukarji is a 17-year-old "youth changemaker and environmentalist” [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Elites and youth climate activism

Bharati Chaturvedi heads Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, a non-profit organisation in Delhi that runs livelihood programmes for the most vulnerable, especially waste pickers, and campaigns to reduce consumption, waste and pollution.

Chintan also runs a volunteer programme that attracts kids from some of India’s best schools.

She said that about 70 percent of the kids who apply to volunteer covet the “certificate” of having worked for the organisation more than the actual work itself because credentials that make them look like conscientious citizens are almost mandatory when applying for university abroad.

The global environmental crisis, which has spawned an ecosystem that needs young heroes to be showcased as success stories, feeds off of this pool. At World Environment Day events and when dignitaries come visiting, kids who have phones that are charged and topped up, whose parents can send them in cars with a driver, kids who can speak English and answer questions without much mentoring, make for great photo ops. They tell simple, happy, inspiring stories that make everyone smile, and embarrass none.

“I'm always taken in by the elite capture of that space of climate change warriors,” said Chaturvedi.

She talks of kids whose parents run their children’s Twitter handles and hire PR agencies to promote them.

These are the kids, she said, who will first tell you their age. “But if you ask a poor kid to self describe, when we tried that, no one mentioned their age. They didn't seem to feel any need to, you know, put it in your face that ‘I’m so young’.”

Aditya Mukarji describes himself as a “17-year-old youth changemaker and environmentalist” and is one of Chintan’s many volunteers, but one that Chaturvedi took a keen personal interest in because “his mom went to school with me and his dad went to college with my husband", but also because ​​he was “genuinely interested in trying a few things”.

She recalled going to Mukarji’s house and “having a substantial amount of vegan things to eat while brainstorming with his parents about what project Aditya should do”, adding, “that's how he started on straws, because Chintan was doing a lot of work around plastics.”

Mukarji likes to frame his work on eradicating single-use plastic, especially straws, since 2018 differently. Speaking with Al Jazeera over the phone, he said a 2015 viral video of a turtle with a straw in its nostril moved him to action.

[Hanna Duggal/Al Jazeera]

“That horrifying scene of the turtle sneezing and crying and blood flowing out of its nose really impacted me … really made me think as to what we humans are doing to this planet … India produces 29,000 tonnes of plastic waste in a day… Eight million tonnes of plastic waste flows into the oceans,” Mukarji said, noting that by writing to hotels and restaurants, "I’ve been able to eradicate over 26 million plastic straws and a few million other single-use plastics from over 200 establishments annually.”

That’s no mean feat for a teenager because the facts are staggering. A plastic bag takes 20 years to disintegrate, but a plastic straw takes 200 years.

Mukarji’s list of successes includes many of India’s top hotel and restaurant chains, and his list of accolades is long.

He’s even been featured in a comic book. Emmy-nominated writer-producer Paul Goodenough, who also set up Rewriting Extinction, has conceptualised a 352-page, $30 book - The Most Important Comic Book on Earth - in which 300 creators have worked with celebrities and climate activists to tell 120 stories.

“Ricky Gervais did a story on bullfighting … Peter Gabriel did a story with me … on being able to talk to animals. Judi Dench was joined by a tonne of celebrities in a comic … about rebuilding British wildlife,” Goodenough told Al Jazeera over email. Mukarji was immortalised by artist George Kambadais, who portrayed him as a lone superhero fighting the menace of straws.

The first panel of that comic features him and a turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril.

“We helped Aditya much, much more than we help other kids,” said Chaturvedi. “I am not their moral minder. I care more if they did any work … there are so many who do nothing,” she said, recalling how one day, Mukarji came to her office with “his pocket money to give to some waste pickers”.

Bilal Ahmad Dar, 20, is a waste picker in Jammu and Kashmir [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Bilal Ahmad Dar, 20, is a waste picker in Jammu and Kashmir [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

The Warrior of Wular

Bilal Ahmad Dar, 20, a waste picker in Laharwapora, Jammu and Kashmir, had been paddling alone in one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes for years picking out trash. What began as a desperate and sole means to survive and provide for his family got cast as a crusade when others took notice.

Filmmaker Jalal Ud Din Baba told Al Jazeera that he met Bilal in early 2014, when he had set out to make a film on Wular Lake, to show how encroachment, sewage, and pesticides were threatening not just the livelihood of thousands of families, but also Kashmir’s survival.

A shallow lake with a maximum depth of 5.8m, Wular is spread across 189sq km and is referred to as Kashmir’s saviour because of its water-carrying capacity. “Kashmir would have drowned in the September 2014 deluge if it hadn’t been for Wular,” Baba said.

“I was shooting from almost 1,000 feet [300m] above, near the Shrine of Baba Shakur-ud-Din … In Wular people were collecting water chestnuts, nadru [lotus stems], catching fish … but then I saw a young child … he was doing something different … In his small boat, all alone, he was picking up kuda kachra — chappal, plastic bottles, polythene, rubber.”

More than 10,000 households across 31 villages live off Wular. Bilal’s family was one of them.

After much coaxing, Bilal narrated his story and Jalal changed the focus of his film from Wular to the warrior of Wular.

In his small boat, all alone, he was picking up kuda kachra — chappal, plastic bottles, polythene, rubber.

by Jalal Ud Din Baba

When Bilal was nine years old, his father, who used to work in Wular, hurt his leg. It was discovered that he had cancer and his leg was amputated, but the disease eventually took his life. For a while, his mother worked in other people’s homes to provide for Bilal and her two daughters.

“But one day, when Bilal was in grade eight, he had to deposit school examination fees and told his mother he needed 900 rupees [about $12]. She didn’t have the money and at night he heard her crying. Next morning he told her, ‘You sit at home. I will work. I will earn. I will take care of you and my two sisters.’ That was the day he quit school,” Baba told Al Jazeera.

Conscious that neighbours would taunt his mother and sisters for living off garbage, Bilal would row his small boat six to seven kilometres away from his house and return late in the evening with the day’s collection that he would sell to recyclers.

In a country where segregating waste at the source is neither fashionable nor convenient, waste pickers are the critical, cheapest unsung soldiers on the ground who keep India’s recycling rate high.

“Around 60 per cent of India’s plastic waste is recycled … thanks to the waste picker-based recycling economy,” a 2019 government report said.

Baba’s 28-minute film, Saving the Saviour — Billa the Saviour, travelled to film festivals in India and abroad in 2016 and won awards. It “made a real case for Wular,” and Bilal, he said.

The Srinagar Municipal Corporation made Bilal its brand ambassador, and in September 2017, Prime Minister Modi, in his monthly radio broadcast, spoke about the ragpicker who has been cleaning “12,000 kilogrammes of waste” from Wular annually.

Slowly things are improving for Wular. Dredging work, as part of the government’s 16 billion-rupee ($215m) clean-up and beautification drive to turn the lake into an ecotourism attraction, is under way. But Bilal is upset.

“Prime Minister saab had said that Srinagar Municipal Corporation has given me a gadi [vehicle] … They said they will give me Rs 1.5 lakh [$2,028.36] for a house. But I have not got it,” Bilal told Al Jazeera. To get his monthly salary of 8,000 rupees ($108), he has to run around every month getting signatures from multiple officials, he said.

He said he is often assigned to other tasks, most recently coronavirus-related sanitisation drives. And so, whenever he goes back home, he gets into his boat and cleans Wular.

Ashay Bhave, 23, makes shoes from recycled plastic bags [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Ashay Bhave, 23, makes shoes from recycled plastic bags [Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

10 plastic bags and 12 plastic bottles in a shoe

India banned thin plastic bags in 2016, but there are enough going around for Ashay Bhave, 23, to fashion shoes out of them. He calls his “100 percent recycled” walking shoes Thaely, the Hindi word for the ubiquitous plastic carry bag.

“When I was in 11th grade, my family moved from Mumbai to Dubai,” Bhave, whose father works in the oil industry, told Al Jazeera over a Zoom call.

Keen to learn footwear design, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. But neither the course nor the institute’s alumni impressed him, and after the first semester he transferred to Amity University in Dubai to pursue a degree in business administration. What attracted him was Amity’s Shark Tank-like competition, Eureka, where the award-winning business idea would receive office space, support and mentoring.

Bhave said he first got inspired to find a recycling use for plastic bags during a visit with his grandparents in Mumbai. “It’s the one that most animals, birds and fish confuse for food … not plastic bottles, plastic bags … [because they resemble] jellyfish … I did some research and found out that nobody is recycling plastic bags,” he said.

Familiar with waste recycling because his mother used to run a vermicompost plant in Mumbai, Bhave, a skateboarder whose baby face is encased in wild curls, began baking, microwaving and using hair straightener to see if plastic bags could be turned into a usable material. After some failed experiments and noxious fumes, he zeroed in on the right temperature and pressure to create what he calls ThaelyTex. It had the feel and flexibility of leather. He took it to a cobbler sitting under a bridge in Mumbai, along with a rubber mat from a nearby gym that was closing down, and came back with a single shoe for $40 to $50. It won him the college competition. Then, the very next day, one of the judges, a Swiss social entrepreneur, signed a gentlemen's agreement with Bhave to work together.

They have since raised $150,000 and patented the process and the plastic fabric, which is now being made at a waste collection and segregation unit on the outskirts of Delhi. From there it is sent to a factory in Punjab where, as per Bhave’s design and specifications, Thaely shoes are made.

I did some research and found out that nobody is recycling plastic bags.

by Ashay Bhave

Available online and at Dubai Mall’s Level Shoe District, the world’s largest shoe store, for $99, Bhave’s creation has sold more than 2,000 pairs since he launched in July this year and has “got very big distribution deals from Australia, Europe”, he says.

“Unlike shoes from other major sports brands which at best have 30-40 percent recycled material,” Bhave says, “Thaely shoes are made from 100 percent recycled material.”

Each shoe has a QR code that, when scanned, “will tell you how each component is made, where it is made … in certain cases where the raw material for that is coming from,” he said.

Recycled polyester made from plastic bottles is used for lining and laces, the sole comes from recycled rubber, and the box, made with seed paper, will sprout into a basil plant.

Each shoe, said Bhave, helps divert 10 plastic bags and 12 plastic bottles from the oceans and landfills. And in a unique reversal of fate for waste that often gets dumped by the First World into the Third World, recycled waste from India is now headed for Europe, Dubai and Australia.

On Wednesday, Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group, an Indian auto giant, tweeted, "I’m going to buy a pair today ... And when he raises funds-count me in!"

Source: Al Jazeera