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.