Pack it with bee

You may have watched videos about them on social media as alternatives to cling wrap, and they are finally here. It is time to make another choice for the planet with this eco-friendly, desi take on beeswax wraps

Published - December 04, 2018 04:28 pm IST

From trying to find cheaper, more durable ways to pack perishables, the world has moved on to finding sustainable, nature-friendly way to pack. This is exactly why Hoopoe on a Hill’s beeswax wraps are a cause for delight. The beeswax wraps are essentially pieces of cotton cloth lined with beeswax and can be used to store and transport food, in place of zip-lock bags, cling film, foil.

Origins of the beeswax wrap

“Historically, wax paper has been used in various ways, especially in Europe to wrap cheese. They were known to make the cheese last longer. Of course, we use fabric and not paper. Beeswax is a precious raw material and putting it on paper will make the shelf life of the product very low. Cloth has more longevity compared to paper. After a lot of experimentation, and after working with several different types of fabric and several ways to coat, we arrived at something that works,” says Priyashri Mani, co-founder, Hoopoe on a Hill, an enterprise that retails a range of wild-honey and honey-related by-products, such as beeswax.

Hoopoe on a Hill is a four-year old organization that works with Adivasis in the Kodaikanal region of the Palani Hills. “My co-founder Nishita Vasant and I, were working with an organization to meet the Adivasi people in the region and understand their stories. In the process, we met one particular community of Adivasis who are traditional honey gatherers. They asked us if we wanted to buy some of their honey and by the end of it, we had bought so much that we didn’t know what to do with it.”

One thing led to another, and Priyashri and Nishita found themselves processing and marketing the honey.

“Adivasis climb tall trees and temporarily smoke the bees out of their hives. They then cut one part of the hive, which contains the honey, and the wax, and squeeze the honey out of it. The wax becomes a by-product,” explains Priyashri. “One year ago, we had a lot of wax we didn’t know what to do with, and my cousin from Canada happened to bring beeswax wraps from there. Of course, they use other ingredients, unlike us. That is how we came up with the idea of working on a beeswax wrap.”

The bees are not affected in the process, and the broods are safe.

Beeswax wraps, explains Priyashri, are fairly versatile, and can be used to retain the freshness of produce stored in the fridge.

Benefits of the wrap

“A lot of our food in the fridge, from coriander to coconuts, and lemons tends to dry up fairly quickly. Covering it with the beeswax wraps, ensures that these ingredients retain their moisture. The wraps also slow down the process of rotting because the wax naturally contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties,” she points out.

“They can, of course, be used to pack bread and cheese, even salad greens. They can also be used to quickly pack a meal of rotis, sandwiches or biscuits, for the working population, which is always on the move or to pack lunches for children.”

The best part

This is one of the best parts: the wraps can be brought back home, washed in cold water, and reused, for anywhere between four to six months.

“They can be washed over a 100 times. That’s one of the biggest reasons to use one, they are reusable, unlike cling film or ziplock bags. Plus, they are biodegradable, which means that once the wax lining wears down, the cloth is easy to dispose.”

Though the response for the product has been good — with Hoopoe on Hills, which also retails online, apart from putting up stalls in exhibitions and orders have been flowing in from across the country, a lot more awareness needs to be spread, observes Priyashri.

“There is huge potential for the product in the Indian market. We are nowhere close to tapping it, a lot more marketing needs to be done to explain that this product has value in the kitchen and that it is reusable. This is a huge hurdle, although the wraps look appealing and people love the prints on them. However, many are still unsure of what to do with the wraps. People are only going to buy them, if they can use them well.”

At the same time, Priyashri is also aware that since it is a product of the forest, which only the Adivasis can tap into, and know how to do sustainabily, there is a limit to the amount that the forest in the Nilgiris can produce.

“There is enough beeswax for a certain scalability. If the demand goes up, we will have to source it from other parts of the country and not just depend on our bit of the forest.”

Along the way, she hopes to provide more employment opportunities for the women in the neighbourhood of Shenbaganur (where the duo lives and works), which is located a few kms away from Kodaikanal, where bus services are infrequent. “There is a lot of demand for work here. We hope that this enterprise grows into something bigger so we can provide the women here with opportunities for a safe workplace that is fair and non-exploitative.”

For details, visit hoopoekodaikanal.com. Visit their Facebook page: @hoopoekodai.

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