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When you tell someone about how you grew up in Sri Lanka, their thoughts instantly veer towards golden, sandy beaches lapped by turquoise seas. But in reality, where I grew up couldn’t have been more different.
In actual fact, I spent my childhood living alongside one of South Asia’s largest rubbish dumps. To give you an idea of scale, the rubbish mountain had got so high that, when it finally gave way and collapsed a few years back, it killed almost 30 people and took down around a hundred homes.
The collapse happened on a weekday morning when most people were out at work or school. Had it been an evening or weekend, the death toll could have been devastatingly worse.
With my eyes opened to the global waste crisis from a very early age, living waste-free quickly became a way of life. But, as I dedicated myself to voluntarily raising awareness of the growing throw-away culture that had engulfed so many lives, it suddenly occurred to me that I was doing nothing to address the root cause of the issue.
I was merely attempting to treat the symptoms. I had to do more.
I realised that mass manufacturing and linear supply chains, where perfectly recyclable and reusable materials are simply cast aside when a product reaches the end of its life or is no longer wanted, were never going to be disrupted unless there was a viable alternative that consumers would readily buy into.
In 2019, I set up Kola Project as a not-for-profit endeavour with the aim of raising awareness of the worldwide waste crisis. But by 2020, it had become clear that if I was going to help make a difference, then I would have to take things a step further.
So, in late 2020, I decided to pivot Kola Project to the next level, offering a tangible solution for consumers who I knew by now were actively seeking a sustainable, waste-free retail experience.
That tangible solution? Circular shopping.
I hope to use this valuable experience to fulfill my dream. A dream that one day, waste-free circular shopping will become second nature. And Kola Project is just the beginning.
Kola Project aims to transform consumption culture. Our circular shopping model, where we buy back our products and turn them into new ones, is a fresh approach in the design and consumer shopping space. And I’m confident that it will be a bold first step towards radical change.
Maneesha Wijesinghe, Founder: Kola Project