Bengaluru Trio Turns Agro-Waste Into Biodegradable 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.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

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.

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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.

bio-lutions

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.

 

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A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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