By Yashasvini Verma, XI J, Amity International School, Noida
A community project six years ago started Vikramjeet “Max” Singh Kanwar on the path to what is now Max Rebuilds, a recycling and upcycling business that boasts 4000 customers and actions that turn tons of waste into dozens of useful products.
He was just 12 when he started collecting old newspapers from his neighbourhood to be sold, in order to raise money to buy stationery for the underprivileged.
“The project was to last only for a month or two,” he recalls. “But it stretched over a much longer period, as motivated by the cause, people began sharing not only their old newspapers but also other junk items.”
“Even though I was pleased by the response, I was really distressed to see how much waste we all generate. I also realised that so much of it can be recycled and put to good use, and I just could not turn away from the fact that I needed to do something about it. I took a step back and came up with the idea of Max Rebuilds, focussing on three terms — recycling, upcycling and refocusing.”
Vikramjeet’s initiative works with all sorts of dry waste. It doesn’t just recycle but ‘upcycles’ or ‘upgrades’ these materials, which he likes to call ‘recyclables’, and puts them back into circulation in the market.
“We make pens from the cardboard we collect and a range of lights, hanging planters and vases from the discarded glass bottles. We get two types of plastics, high-value and low-value plastic, the latter of which even the garbage collectors reject, like milk pouches.”
And there’s more. “From high-value plastic, we make planters and other recycled plastic products. From low-value plastic, we make tiles and bricks. Our tiles are being patented and have been approved by the Shriram Institute for Industrial Research. We work with residential societies, offices and schools across the city.”
But, there were several challenges along the way. He recalls, “My friends would laugh at me with statements like ‘yeh akhbaar le ja’ (take this newspaper), among other things. But I didn’t let that deter me as I knew I was on the right track.”
Finances were also a problem.
“For example, to create just one pencil out of newspaper, one has to use eight machines and one needs labour too,” he said. “I realised this wasn’t sustainable, and that we had to consider a business model, even though we don’t really focus on earning money. Max Rebuilds, hence, grew into Max Xchange.”
Max Xchange allows people to exchange their dry and recyclable waste for upcycled products such as cushions, notepads, glassware, furniture, newspaper bin liners, planters. Max Xchange collects more than one tonne of recyclable waste daily, making more than 100 kinds of products in all.
The recyclable waste is collected in exchange of “X points” — the currency of Max Xchange.
Depending on the current rate of waste, an individual gets points. For example, the rate of newspaper waste is 10 X points per kg, so a 10 kg load will give you 100 X points. These points can be redeemed for an upcycled product. Max Xchange now has a customer base of more than 4000, has recycled hundreds of tonnes of paper and plastic and subsequently saved many trees.
But it took a while and lot of training to come this far.
“I have had many mentors, including my mother and her close friends, who invested in the business and helped me become systematic,” he says. “We also work closely with local garbage collectors as they have a lot of knowledge about waste.”
Even though many people in the business are older to him, Vikramjeet is known for his strong leadership skills. “If you know your job well, even someone older will listen to you. At the same time, they help me if I falter.”
His leadership skills were fully exhibited during the pandemic as well.
“We all worked like a team. We got the required travel passes, implemented all the safety measures, and we were out in the field to collect recyclables. Even when we had to take a break for a few months, we did not let waste get to the landfill.”
Vikramjeet’s main mission now is to get more and more people connected with his work and to cut down on waste generation. “This is just the beginning. We need to sensitise and encourage everyone around to cut down on the waste they are generating, especially plastic since it is hazardous to the environment. It’s a long road ahead,” he says, signing off.
Yashasvini Verma is a student of Amity International School Noida, India, and the senior sub-editor of the her school’s edition of The Global Times, student newspaper of Amity Group of Schools. She is also the current Editor-in-Chief of the student-run magazine Reflections. An avid reader, a Kathak dancer, a pistol shooter and an ardent debater, she enjoys writing research-based articles, stories and poems based on real-life experiences of people around the world. A proponent of critical thinking, she regularly engages in community service. With her interest in journalism, law and politics she looks forward to adopting one of these fields as her way forward.