Tejaswini Dash makes eco-friendly handmade paper products from her home in the city. She retails them under the brand Baansuria

Not a scrap of paper would go to waste, if homemaker and entrepreneur Tejaswini Dash has a say about it. On the roof-top terrace of her two-storied house, in a cul de sac at Kannammoola (and at another, more extensive space at Malayinkeezh too), Tejaswini runs a unit that makes eco-friendly and biodegradable paper products and decorative gift items, all out of hand-made paper and recyclable scrap. She retails the paper products under the brand Baansuria, which she started in 2007. Today, a fair number of the paper carry bags that we get from boutique shops, hotels, restaurants, and some pharmacies in the city, are made by Baansuria.

“Lately, there has been an increasing demand for paper carry bags of all sizes – and that’s not so much because of the Government order banning plastic bags below 40 microns. I think it’s more to do with lifestyle changes and an increasing awareness of the need for a sustainable option to plastic. In fact, a lot has changed from when we started five years ago. The biggest hurdle was – and to an extent, it still is – the cost factor. I mean, who would want to buy a paper bag when you can get plastic bags for one-tenth the price? Nowadays, though, many establishments are opting for paper carry bags. Even if they order only 200 paper bags, it’s great, because it means 200 less plastic bags!” says Tejaswini, her dimples flashing, as she deftly folds yellow coloured chart paper into the shape of a carry bag.

“They’re as sturdy as any plastic bag,” she says. The bags will later be screen printed with customised logos, if the customer requires it.

The 38-year-old entrepreneur crafts her signature products in hand-made paper made of wood pulp combined with organic waste such as leaves, grass, bamboo pieces, cotton scrap, jute, banana waste and even hair! “Recycled paper made with just paper waste would not have much strength, and would be thinner than regular paper. The organic material adds strength to the paper and tends to be much thicker than regular paper,” she explains.

Tejaswini sources the hand-made paper from outside. Apart from paper carry bags, Baansuria has a wide range of products that range from notebooks, greeting cards and paper files to folders, envelopes, hand-crafted gift boxes, photo frames, foldable pen stands, visiting cards, paper trays, lamp shades, and so on. “Nothing goes to waste. The basic idea is to reuse, recycle and reduce. For instance, after making notebooks and notepads, with the leftover paper we make smaller notebooks and scribbling pads. With the next bit of leftovers we make chit sheets. Again, there’ll be leftovers. With that we punch out decorative craft material in the shape of flowers, bells, and so on. Even the waste from that is used – to make papier mache,” she explains.

A native of Bhubaneswar, Orissa, and a post-graduate in sociology from Hyderabad Central University, Tejaswini moved to the city following her marriage to Manu P. Nair, a teacher at the NSS Higher Secondary School, Chathanoor. It was a trip to the Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry’s hand-made paper making unit that changed Tejaswini’s life. “My husband and I spent our entire vacation at the unit, watching them work and learning about the art of paper-making,” recalls Tejaswini. “I’ve always had an inclination for environmental and social causes and I’ve always been a bit of a Gandhian all throughout my growing up years. I used to wear only khadi when I was in college,” says Tejaswini. She worked as a documentalist and researcher in NGOs in Orissa for seven years, focussing on women’s empowerment and development, before she settled in the city and started Baansuria (which in Oriya can mean flute or Krishna).

“Whatever I learnt about paper-making has been through a process of trial and error,” says the entrepreneur, adding that the biggest challenge of running a small- scale industry is marketing the products. “It’s very difficult to get qualified professionals who are willing to work for what little we can afford. Even then, not many of them would have the same conviction as we have about the social benefits of such eco-friendly products,” she adds.

Check out Tejaswini’s products at www.baansuria.com.

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