Paper environments: Using waste to create sensitive furniture

By Manisha SGonSep. 25, 2015in Economics and Technologies

Written specially for Vikalp Sangam

Photos by the author

The work of Anand Bhave

Anand Bhave holds a full time job in Mumbai, yet his heart lies with his passion for recycling. On a visit to his home, one is greeted by a pile of waste paper; corrugated sheets, notebooks and cartons lie around on the porch of this small residence in Andheri. Anandji’s enthusiasm for his hobby is delightful and one is quickly caught up in the story of his work.

Patiently pasting layers and layers of paper together by hand, Bhave moulds furniture for every day use from it. Small teepoys, benches and stools are part of his range of items and one is invited to sit on one of these that has survived nearly twelve years of usage gracefully. The durability of the technique and the thought put behind structure is evident in the weight that these items are able to bear.

Stools and teepoys made of waste
Stools and teepoys made of waste

While designers abroad have been using corrugated sheet for making furniture for some years now, Bhave explains that in his case all the paper is waste. Because it comes in different shapes sizes and densities, putting them together becomes a craft. His work takes from the techniques of paper mache but is different too.

Structure is fundamental in the weight bearing capacity of paper furniture
Structure is fundamental in the weight bearing capacity of paper furniture

The whole family comes together to make these on the weekends, his wife offering suggestions for the finishing and look and the young son handling Bhaves Facebook page. This family enterprise is returning to the age old traditions of working together as a team even as they earn an income elsewhere.

Bhave’s primary motivation is his passion for craft and working with his hands. He draws, paints with natural dyes and also delves in crochet and braiding. Yet his humble initiative is now attracting the attention of artists, and groups working with waste in and around Mumbai.

Anand Bhave trying out one of his pieces
Anand Bhave trying out one of his pieces

Bhave has been commissioned by the National School for the Blind to make furniture for visually impaired children. ‘Paper is soft’, he explains, ‘and when a visually impaired child stumbles and falls he is less likely to hurt himself badly on a paper stool than he will be by wood or metal.’  As the requests to manufacture this furniture grow steadily, he is also receiving people who would like to be trained in the technique he has developed. Using natural glues that can be easily prepared at home and waste paper, the activity could become a viable source of income for the under privileged. The skill level can be acquired with appropriate training and he is happy to conduct these for groups in Mumbai.

All types of waste paper find use in Bhave’s work
All types of waste paper find use in Bhave’s work

For a crafts based activity to become a viable alternative it requires the ability to be scaled up, a steady supply of waste material and manpower willing to put in the labour. The good news about Bhave’s technique is that it is easy to learn as a skill and requires just the willingness to work with your hands.

With a few more inputs from product designers Bhave’s products could become mainstream, competing with cheap wood furniture imported from SE Asia and replacing the use of wood with paper.

He is happy to monetise his work, but not at the cost of the peace and harmony in his family. Working at his own pace, alongside his family members, Bhave brings another important point home to us. That an approach that focuses mainly on profit making, growth and expansion and sacrifices societal balance, will fall into the same consumeristic trap that most mainstream markets are setting.

Bhave’s products build in a level of sensitivity and softness, not just in the qualities of the materials he uses but in their overall approach to production as well.

This article is part a series under the Green Idea campaign called The Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives, and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. The team aims to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling.

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