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Earthware: Biodegradable Containers - designing for the future!

Posted by
on August 22, 2016 at 12:37 PM

Besides plaguing dumping grounds around the world, plastic waste is one of the biggest eyesores - whether in holiday destinations or heritage sites. Disturbing the ecosystem in oceans, shores and land alike, plastic pollution is a global menace. In the last few decades, usage of plastic products has been on a rise. Global consumption of plastic has shot up from 260 million tons in 2008 to 299 million tons in 2013. In India itself, it has gone from 4.7 million tons to 18.9 million tons in the last ten years. With the rise in plastic consumption is the consequent rise in plastic pollution. The hazardous effects of this non-biodegradable material is not news for anybody. Hence it is of utmost importance to either find a way of disposing plastic waste or replace it all together. Earthware by Samanvi Bhograj does the latter. They make plant based products as a perfect replacement of plastic.

© Courtesy of internet sources

Earthware is a brand that manufactures a range of products from plant fibre. It produces as much as up to 1 ton of bioplastic products each month and they are aiming to make this number grow to 5 tons per month soon. It is south India’s sole manufacturer of plant based products made entirely in India. Their manufacturing unit is located in Bangalore but they serve the entire country and also distributes to food companies outside India. It commenced in the year 2011 with Bhograj’s keen interest and research in sustainable and eco-friendly material led her to the concept of bioplastic. Bioplastics refers to any material having plastic like properties but made out of natural substances and are hence biodegradable or compostable.

 

Samanvi Bhograj is an electrical engineer from MSRIT, Bangalore and MBA from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore. She comes from a business class family and it made her work along the same lines. She says, “I am a third-generation entrepreneur. My grandfather and father are into steel forging and manufacturing automobile parts. My uncle, B Ramana Rao, is a Padmashree awardee for his philanthropic work in the field of medicine. This inspired me to work harder.” She has always been inclined towards social welfare and environment protection. Before starting Earthware, she had created a low cost single phase preventer used to start or stop a motor without burning it. At her uncle’s clinic she helped design solar panels for nebulization. Bringing together her two passions paved the way to Earthware. She strongly felt that green is the only way ahead. “When I was exploring options before starting my business, I realised that being eco-friendly and going green had become a trend. But you have to actually start implementing it. It is more about the action and intent than just claiming that you are green,”

Bhograj conducted a range of experiments before the beginning of Earthware. She spent a year with her friend and co-founder Suhasan Reddy studying how various starches reacted. They even studied samples of bioplastics ordered from the US, UK and China. They jointly invested for these experiments and concluded that corn starch was the easiest and most suited for bioplastics. Earthware makes products from fibre obtained from Sugarcane, wheat, bamboo, cellulose etc. They also make bagasse based products. Bagasse is left over material after juice is extracted from sugarcane. These bioplastics are renewable, compostable, non-toxic, require less energy for production and are ecofriendly.

Earthware makes a wide range of products that can be used in our daily life. The difference is that usually we see them in plastic and they make it using bioplastics. Some of them include food containers, plates, bowls, cups, spoons, packaging material etc. They majorly cater to the food industry that uses takeaway and delivery containers looking for a greener alternative. They are not only eco-friendly but also healthy to eat out of. Apart from cutlery and kitchen ware, they also make bags, bin liners, wet waste bags and garment covers. One of their oldest clients are Bangalore based trekking company, Indiahikes. They supply liners for their portable toilets. “We didn’t know of any company that made 100% biodegradable plastic bags before we found Earthware. We make the trekkers pay for the bags which we sell to them at cost price” says their Green Trails co-ordinator Izzat Ansari.

Samanvi Bhograj continues to expand her range of products and has recently launched products like covers for rubber saplings in plantations, coffee mugs and toys. She believes, “There are opportunities within the plastic business and in terms of eco-friendly wares as well. The whole disposable plastics range can be replaced by eco-friendly products. I do see growing consciousness among people, from simple things such as refusing to use plastic carry bags to composting waste at home.”

Despite of the advantages offered by bioplastics over plastic products, we don’t see the market being flooded with bioplastic products. There is an awareness and increase in their demand yet it abstains from being as widely used as its plastic counterparts. The reason for this is its high cost, which is almost double the cost of regular plastic products. For instance, a three-piece cutlery set costs 9.50, coffee cups cost between 95 paise and 2.95 for sizes between 90 ml and 300 ml, bin liners cost 3-9 each and carry bags 4-10, depending on the size, thickness and print which is few times expensive than their plastic variant. So a big challenge for earthware is to bring the cost down. She agrees with the cost issue and says, “Considering the cost, it is difficult for us to ask a shop to sell our products,”. Earthware is set to start their own manufacturing unit in Bangalore itself which gives hopes of bringing down the cost factor.

Some other challenges they face are its low shelf life and strength. They have observed a reduction in the properties over time. Also they don’t carry as much weight as regular plastic bags do. Another issue comes with sealing the bags as it cannot withstand high temperatures. Regardless of these difficulties, what Earthware does is a great initiative towards a greener future. 

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