Don’t Mess with Madras

The first ever toothbrush you used is still on Earth,” Divya states as the small gathering around her stall stares back dumb-struck in the realisation of that statement. “I’ll buy one bamboo toothbrush for me and one as a gift for my friend,” a voice from the group breaks the silence. At that instant, Pradeep and Divya turn on their portable engraving machine. There is a low hum. Almost instantly, two names were custom etched on the two toothbrushes.

“Chennai is a city,” Pradeep says. “Madras is an emotion,” Divya completes as they both look at each other and grin. While everyone was busy complaining about all the plastic waste on the beaches, Pradeep Sekar and Divya Dakshana started a consultancy—Plastic Free Madras— in 2018. They believed that they could use the emotional bond that Chennaiites have towards their city to advocate against single-use plastic.

The photographers turned social entrepreneurs are the power couple that the city needs. They see opportunities where most others see disadvantages. For instance, plastic toothbrushes are cheaper and more common than bamboo brushes. The simple act of customising these toothbrushes and selling them as lifestyle gifts at pop-ups made them an instant success—while enabling them to educate the crowd on the perils of using single-use plastic,…

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