Environment

These small companies are showing us the way to eco-friendly packaging

Pidi serves kozhukkattai in boxes made of palm leaves   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When 27-year-old Asiya K discovered that a typical potato chips bag is made of multiple layers of polymer — sometimes four layers, at times seven — she knew she could never consume chips guilt free again.

“I researched and learnt that despite the harm these bags pose to the environment, most companies prefer these bags as they are lightweight, graphics friendly and do not take much space. However, the downside is that these bags are rarely recyclable as we are still to invent machines that will separate the layers of these bags. I tried looking for chips and snacks packed in eco-friendly bags but there are not many options,” says the resident of Bengaluru.

From T-shirts to plants

Plastic packaging has been one of the greatest contributors to filling our landfills. Recently, the National Green Tribunal pulled up Amazon and Flipkart for excessive plastic packaging, directing the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to conduct an environmental audit and recover the fine from the e-commerce giants.

While giants struggle to find eco-friendly alternatives, several smaller companies across the country are doing their bit to protect the environment.

When Mumbai-based Mikail Pardiwala and his brother Mishal decided to make a switch in lifestyle by adopting organic products in eco-friendly packaging, it was a tough choice. It was a challenge to even identify companies that used green packaging not just for their products but also for shipping.

Finally the duo decided to start its own: Treewear, selling organic deodorants and hand sanitisers.

“The cardboard and newspaper that we use is pre-used and procured from donors. We also look for creative ways to upcycle plastic. For instance, we ship our T-shirts in packages made from post-consumer recycled plastic water bottles, which are otherwise destined for the landfill. We advise customers to use these bottles as planters later, and send our seed-embedded business cards along to help them grow plants in those bottles,” says Mikail.

Their products are shipped in cardboard boxes tied with jute rope, and packed in with newspaper shreds.

“To ensure that our glass bottles are not damaged while shipping, we put them in a triangular box because, according to our experience, such boxes keep the items steady. We do use plastic caps on the glass bottles used for insect repellents and hand sanitisers, as we are yet to find a greener alternative. However, these bottles are made from quality material, so they can be reused after a refill,” adds Mikail.

Reality bites

Helping the food industry to make greener choices is Visakhapatnam-based House of Folium, that sells eco-friendly cutlery. Run by SV Vijay Lakshmi, a former software engineer, the company sells plates, bowls, forks and spoons made from sugarcane pulp.

“We never think about what happens after we toss that plastic container in the trash bin. How much gets recycled? Why waste resources on recycling when we can use eco-friendly materials?” asks Vijay Lakshmi.

“Many of us rely heavily on food delivery apps, especially during the pandemic when we cannot step out. The amount of plastic that is used in the logistics is unacceptable. That is why we need to make the greener switch; we have seen a gradual change happening in Visakhapatnam where home-chefs are consciously making the choice to use eco-friendly cutlery. We also have catered to smaller parties of 150-200 people by providing caterers with our green products,” says Vijaylakhmi.

When Diwia Thomas started PaperTrail in Kochi in 2008, it was to provide underprivileged women a source of income. For the initial few years, the company just made newspaper bags of various sizes. Today, with a team of over 30 women, the company ships its eco-friendly packaging products like boxes, trays and bags across India, some regions of USA, and the Gulf countries.

“Our growth has come from two things; good quality products and people’s growing choice to use eco-friendly alternatives. Our biggest client base is home bakers and event planners, who are consciously working to reduce their dependence on plastic,” says Diwia.

Cutlery made from sugar cane pulp sold by Visakhapatnam-based House of Folium

Cutlery made from sugar cane pulp sold by Visakhapatnam-based House of Folium   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The more, the merrier

One of PaperTrail’s most popular products are biodegradable garbage bags, launched in 2019, after the Kerala Government banned plastic.

Diwia says, “Made from vegetable starch, these bags decompose in 180 days. They are now three times more expensive than plastic ones, as sheets made from vegetable starch are not easily available in the market. Once more people start using it, we will see more suppliers and a drop in price.”

Rennee Saradha, who runs Pidi in Chennai, serves steam-cooked gluten-free kozhukkattais (rice dumplings) in charming boxes made of palm leaves. When she launched her venture early this year, she decided that if the food is native, the packaging should follow suit.

The wide variety of sweet and savoury dumplings she serves are wrapped and steamed in the leaves of native trees like peepal, banana and vilva.

“Using these leaves not just brings down delivery charges, but also adds to the flavour of the food,” she says, adding “If more people use these leaves for packaging, more people will grow these trees.”

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 6:33:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/these-small-companies-are-showing-us-the-way-to-eco-friendly-packaging/article32880910.ece

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