On India’s residential streets, amid the tea vendors and vegetable sellers, ironing “wallahs” press clothes each day for millions of Indians, smoothing out wrinkles with iron boxes packed with hot charcoal.
But India’s 10 million ironing carts and shops take a hefty toll on the country’s forests. Each uses, on average, more than 5 kilograms of charcoal each day, the government’s science and technology department estimates.
Now, however, a 14-year-old girl, troubled by the heaps of used charcoal left by her local ironing vendor and by his painful wheeze from pollution, has developed an alternative: an award-winning solar-powered iron.
“I calculated the enormous quantity of charcoal being used, the pollution from it that worsens climate change, damages Mother Earth and human health. I wanted to create a renewable resource to replace charcoal,” said Vinisha Umashankar from her hometown of Tiruvannamalai, in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state.
This week her innovation was recognised with the Children’s Climate Prize for its contributions to cleaner air. The prize, backed by a Swedish energy company, includes 100,000 Swedish krona ($11,600) to further develop the project.
It is just one of several national and international prizes Umashankar has won for her innovation: a wheeled cart equipped with solar panels and batteries sufficient to power a steam iron.