Empowering women with making Alternative to plastic!

Empowering women with making Alternative to plastic!
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 7/28/2019 5:06:45 AM IST

300 million tons of plastic is produced each year. Only 10 percent of it is recycled and the rest pollute our environment. A million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute. By the year 2050, researchers believe that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fishes. Currently, the oceans have 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic which has accounted for the death of 1.1 million sea bird and animals every year. 

When plastic was invented roughly 100 years ago, it was used for multiple purposes and eventually even packaging because it is cheap, malleable, ductile, durable and sterile. Today, we have created our own monster which has saturated our environment and is fast destroying the ecology.

What is the solution then? To start with, we need to avoid the use of plastic for packaging and other uses. One alternative is paper bags as they are biodegradable and can be reused. While it takes a month for a paper bag to decompose, a plastic bag takes between 200 to 1000 years to decompose. Plastic bottles take longer- around 450 years! 

Some departmental stores in Dimapur have opted for paper or cloth bags over plastic ones, but on the whole, plastic bags are still widely in use. Dimapur is a classic example of how plastic pollution has spiralled out of control.  Plastic wastes have clogged our drains and we are greeted with the ugly sight of plastic waste all around us. Taking cognisance of this, the Dimapur Municipal Council has mulled/announced the ban of single-use plastic products with effect from September 17.

One first-generation entrepreneur, Imliben Lemtur who has come up the hard way, is ready to help Dimapur get rid of its plastic waste with her paper manufacturing industry based at Signal Angami village.  The industry was inaugurated on June 24 and is barely a month old but is steadily picking up pace and has found takers from various quarters.  The industry called Monalisa Business Solutions currently employs around seven permanent employees and around 20 part-time workers who work from the comfort of their home. Imochetla Aier who has studied Event Management from South Delhi is the supervisor at Monalisa Business Solutions. 

Imliben was born in Dimapur in  1988.  Her father N Y Themjen Ao is also a lawyer and her mother  Temsusangla  is a house wife. She has a brother Nungshilong who helps her with the logistics of her factory. She did her schooling from Christian Higher Secondary School in Dimapur, graduated from Dimapur Government College and completed LLB from City Law College, Dimapur. 

The idea to set up an automated paper bag industry came about after she attended various seminars on creating a plastic free environment where the most common question asked was - ‘What will be an alternative to plastic?’ This led her to travel to various cities and find out first-hand on measures implemented to reduce the use of plastic.   It took Imliben around 7 months to eventually set up her business. She spent around 5 months travelling to different parts of the country to visits factories, understanding different types of machines and comparing prices.

The machine

The state-of –the art machine used at Monalisa Business Solutions is imported from Gujarat. It is the first in Nagaland and second in the Northeast.  The first automated machine is in Guwahati. The machine is capable of producing around 300 paper bags in a minute. It produces small, medium and large size bags and requires two operators. The machine operators Toshi and Danny were trained in Gujarat for three months and an engineer from Gujarat helped assemble the machine in Dimapur. 

 There is also the option of printing brand names on the bags in either black and white or colour. The last stage which is the pasting of handles is however done manually. 

Women empowerment

While the paper making industry will undoubtedly help reduce the use of plastic once the plastic ban comes into effect, for now it has also generated employment and empowered women. Batches of paper bags along with handles and paper strips are sent to the houses of several women who paste handles on the bags. Once the handle pasting is completed, the workers call up Imliben who then arranges for the pick-up of the finished products. Imliben also gives workers the option of being paid daily, weekly or monthly. Most of the women however choose to be paid monthly as they look at is a long-term prospect. 

One such worker is a house wife, Asangla Phom for whom the industry has helped her supplement her family’s income. “Instead of wasting time watching daily soaps on TV, I am spending my time productively now. I use the money I earn from pasting paper bag handles to provide for the family,” says Asangla, brimming with contentment and hope.

There is also a pan shop owner Temjen who pastes handles when he is not attending to customers in his shop.  He said he does not believe in the division of work based on gender and spends almost the entire day pasting handles on paper bags.

Part-time jobs for youngsters/ students 

It was a long-cherished dream of lawyer-turned- entrepreneur Imliben Lemtur to open a business that will help her become financially independent while also providing employment for the locals. Imli, as she is also known as,  has got as the gift of the gab and was told she would win battles in the courtroom because of her ability to reason and argue. But as fate would have it, she chose a path where only a few have ventured into.

As a college student, Imliben always wanted do odd chores or part time jobs to earn her pocket money but never got the opportunity. Today, she is satisfied that she is helping other college students fulfil her dream as they come to her factory to earn their pocket money during their free time or vacation. The youngest part-time worker at the industry is a class 9 girl from Little Flower High school in Chumukedima, Rebecca Ngamchai who has decided to spend her vacation working in the industry for a few hours every day to earn her pocket money. She enjoys the work, finds it easy and believes it is a wise way to spend her time.

21-year-old Arepla Aier who will be pursuing post-graduation next year also works in the industry. Working in the factory has been a learning experience for her and has helped her become financially independent as she no longer depends on her parents to buy her daily necessities. 

24-year-old Nitoli Yeptho who will appear the NPSC exams next year also works in the industry and is delighted by meeting other girls of her age group who have inspired her further to take up any work with dignity. According to her, the industry is empowering women from the college level to house wives. 

The grave unemployment scenario in the state 

Though Monalisa Business Solutions is in its nascent stage, the employment is currently saturated. Imliben says there are at least two to three people approaching her for work every day and she is currently not able to employ everyone who approaches her.  She however records their names and contact details in a register so that she can accommodate them when her business expands. 

Imliben also told this writer that even graduates and post graduates approach her for work and are desperate to work and not worried about the salary. She said it pains her most to see educated people without jobs.  As such, she is determined to scale up her business so that she can provide jobs to the names she has recorded in her register. 

Future plans

Imliben next has her eyes set on Waste Management for which she said she would require the help of the government. For now, she is concentrating on taking care of her employees, their job satisfaction, and scaling up her business. 

Imliben also revealed that she has observed that there are young girls who are clandestinely involved in prostitution. She wants to employ such women on the condition that they do not return to prostitution. Such women would be given first preference, she emphasized.

Securing the future of employees

Not everyone was supportive of Imliben’s idea initially.  She was even ridiculed as many questioned her decision to become entrepreneur after she had studied law. Her experience as lawyer has however come handy as he educates her employee of their rights and privileges. “My knowledge of the law will help me protect my employees,” she added.

Though a new company, she is already working on availing pension schemes for her employees because she believes their future is also her responsibility. 

‘No place for isms in my factory.  Every tribe is important’ 

Imliben says there is no place for tribalism in her factory and every tribe is welcome as long as they are ready to work.  She strongly believes in creating a work environment conducive for growth and with great work ethics. To this effect, she even works with her employee to bond with them and instil a sense of accountability.  

The initial struggles 

If you want a first-hand account of the struggles of being an entrepreneur in Dimapur, you can speak to Imlibenla. According to her, one of the biggest hurdles for a first-time entrepreneur like her is the myriad and hefty taxes that are levied at so many levels and by various “agencies”. She told this writer that to get her machine into Dimapur she had to get police escort to avoid paying around 40,000 rupees just in taxes. 

The second challenge is in getting a loan. She said that even first-time entrepreneurs are asked a balance sheet which is a deterrent. She was however able to get a Mudra loan with the help of some known people. Her application for a loan was rejected the first time but that did not stop her.

She said there are also naysayers who discourage young entrepreneurs by dwelling on the challenges alone. She has however learnt that self-belief, determination and hard work is what helps an entrepreneur reach his/her goal. 

Samuel Beech

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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