Society

From an electrical engineer to an entrepreneur for biodegradable cutlery

In a world overflowing with plastic, Samanvi Bhograj started a manufacturing unit to make 100 % biodegradable tableware, using plant fibre. Her company,Visfortec, creates cutlery out of sugarcane bagasse.

“I am a third generation entrepreneur, so business was something that I have always wanted to do,” says Samanvi who studied electrical engineering from MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology followed by an MBA from BvB Marshall University in the US. “I wanted to do business that had societal value and not just have another product.” The 32-year-old seriously contemplated “what would make a difference to the city.”

From an electrical engineer to an entrepreneur for biodegradable cutlery
 

Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Samanvi has seen the city transform from garden city to garbage city. Piles of garbage across the city caught her attention. “There had to be a solution to the amount of plastic being used mindlessly,” she says. She believed that when nature has given us everything, solutions to man-made problems too should be found in the environment. “After a lot of research online and speaking to people, we initially started with compostable plastic to replace carry bags, but that required industrial composting. So, we thought the second largest pollutant was the single-use disposable plastics such as plates, cups and spoons. That lead me to research natural materials. Our focussed drive and approach lead to Visfortec.”

The biggest challenge initially was the price. Before the plastic ban, the willingness to pay the extra was not there, as there was a cheaper option. The other challenge was to educate people of the harmful effects of plastic. “Post the plastic ban we see a sea of change in the way people have started approaching alternatives to plastic. We notice people realising that the way our ancestors lived was the right way,” says Samanvi.

From an electrical engineer to an entrepreneur for biodegradable cutlery
 

“However, we still cater to a small portion of consumers that actually use plastics. In five years time you will see more of these green products coming to people’s rescue,” she believes.

Research into bio-degradable alternatives to plastic wasn’t easy. “We initially started with starch-based bio-plastics. Then we moved into bagasse tableware,” says Samanvi. During her search for alternatives she stumbled upon various materials as areca, banana fibre, bamboo, wheat straw and rice husk amongst others. Weighing the pros and cons, bagasse seemed the best alternative. “Bagasse is mainly discarded or used as fuel. The other options are used as fodder for animals, so creating value from bagasse was the focus. Karnataka being one of the largest producers of sugarcane, we zeroed in on it.”

About the longevity of cutlery, Samanvi says, the idea of bagasse tableware was to replace the single-use plastics. They are made to be disposable and they degrade in soil in about 60 days. The company makes 14 products, including plates, cups and meal boxes, with coffee and juice cups being added to the list shortly. The prices vary between 0.95p and ₹13 per piece. “We do an average of 15 to 20 lakh pieces a month which is sold online (www.visfortec.com) and our store will be flagged off by this year-end,” says Samanvi who is happy to be speaking to students in schools and colleges about the ill-effects of using plastic.

(This column profiles those who choose to veer off the beaten track)

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 11:01:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/from-an-electrical-engineer-to-an-entrepreneur-for-biodegradable-cutlery/article24551789.ece

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