Bengaluru Trio Turns Agro-Waste Into Sustainable Plates, Bowls & Trays; Helps Farmers Earn Extra

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Ask any Delhite about winter in the city, the person would surely voice serious concerns about air pollution being at its worst during the cold months. In addition to the regular emission from vehicles and surrounding industries, the capital city hosts another unwelcome airborne menace. The air is greyed with the smoke emanating from stubble burning in the neighbouring states Punjab and Haryana. Despite imposing various restrictions on stubble burning, the problem still continues as farmers fail to find any other feasible solution to get rid of the agricultural waste.

However, a startup in Bengaluru seems to have found the most functional solution to this problem. Bio-Lutions manufacture sustainable, eco-friendly and all-purpose tableware and food packaging from the huge mounds of agro-waste generated annually. Though based in Karnataka at present, the company aims to establish their market in North India as well to eliminate the perilous practice of large-scale stubble burning there.

Most needed in India

Bio-Lutions is a German firm who produce affordable, eco-friendly alternatives of daily-use items. They have partnered with Kurian Mathew, Kurian George and George Thomas in India to launch their Indian initiative of turning stubble into tableware.

Talking to Efforts For Good, Kurien Mathew shares how the unique innovation came along. “I met with Bio-Lutions founder Eduardo at a project in China. It caught our attention there that how much plastic packaging goes into waste every single day. Both of our concerns were similar, so our objectives matched – we wanted to produce an eco-friendly packaging alternative which would be as sturdy, resilient and convenient as the plastic ones,” he recalls.

Both Eduardo and Mathew were architects-turned-product designers, and they zeroed in on agricultural waste as their raw material for the eco-friendly packaging. When a German research institute successfully created a prototype of the product, Eduardo proposed Mathew to launch a production unit of the same in India – the country which generates one of the highest amounts of agricultural as well as non-biodegradable plastic waste. They just had to join the two aspects together.

Win-win for both the farmers & the startup

“With our personal savings, we opened a small pilot production unit in Bengaluru back in 2016. Production was really limited then, so was the popularity of our product. We continued testing various crop wastes as our raw material – paddy and wheat straws, banana stems, sugarcane leaves and fibres, tomato plants etc. Now, a majority of our wares are made from banana stems, pineapple and tomato leaves, sugarcane fibres and water hyacinth,” shares Mathew.

Last year, the firm upscaled to a bigger production unit in Ramnagara, Karnataka. Presently, they source all their materials from the local farmers in Mandya, with the help of the rural NGO Vikasana.

Mathew reveals, “It is a win-win situation for both the farmers and us. They are quite happy to earn some extra by selling their agricultural residue, which otherwise they would have burnt or left here and there. At the same time, we are getting our raw materials in bulk.”

Why opt for ‘stubble-ware’?

So how exactly is Bio-Lutions tableware better than other paper or wood products marketed as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic? Mathew has the perfect answer, “To be honest, paper or wood products are not exactly sustainable, as they are coming after cutting down the trees. Whereas, we are using something which is already discarded. These stubble-based tablewares decomposes faster than other biodegradable variants. Additionally, our products are free of chemicals.”

Bio-Lutions ensure cross-country supply of the finished products. They have established a widespread commercial network by teaming up with retail chains and supermarkets. Initially, the consumers were not so convinced due to the natural brownish appearance of the products, as compared to their immaculate white plates and cutlery. However, with time, the conscious consumers have become pretty thrilled to get their food packaged in boxes or trays that won’t end up in landfills.

Bio-Lutions have also started designing kidney trays for hospitals as a substitute for the stainless steel ones, which require repeated sterilisation. Thus opting for single-use, stubble-borne kidney trays reduces the biomedical expenses of any hospital or clinic.

Efforts For Good take

While India continues to struggle with its enormous burden of agricultural waste, Bio-Lutions has probably figured out the most compatible and relevant solution. It is only a matter of time before they expand to other parts of India and implement their know-how to upcycle farming waste. Efforts For Good urges all consumers to refrain from using single-use plastic containers, packages and cutlery and opt for their sustainable counterparts instead.

Also Read: TN Student Duo Make ‘Herbal’ Sanitary Napkins From Edible Kenaf Plant, Whose Fiber Is Thrown Away

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
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