Celebrations today have become almost synonymous with disposable tableware. But what most don’t realise is the enormous amount of toxic waste that is generated when those plastic/thermocol plates, spoons and cups reach the landfills. As per reports, India generates over 15,000 tonne of plastic waste everyday, of which 6,000 tonne remains uncollected. Thankfully, there are a few entrepreneurs who are trying to provide solutions to this problem, with their eco-friendly offerings. One of these is Mumbai-based Abhishek Agarwal who started Pappco Greenware, a compostable tableware brand, in 2011. Pappco Greenware uses sugarcane, bamboo and wheat straw to manufacture disposable tableware. The key ingredient, though, is bagasse, the waste obtained from sugarcane extraction. Their plates cost around Rs 10 per piece and bowls are priced at around Rs 5 per piece. The products are available across leading retail chains, their own website and Amazon.in. “We were the first to bring the concept of bagasse to India,” says 25-year-old Agarwal, adding, “We work with production plants in Rajasthan, Bengaluru and China. The design is ours, they do the manufacturing.”
Outlining the challenges of working with bagasse as opposed to plastic, Agarwal says, “The scale is incomparable. Plastic works in a micro ecosystem… a 2,000-sq-ft area can easily produce plastic. But you can’t expect them to maintain quality standards. In case of a bagasse plant, one needs to have a waste treatment plant as well, so there is no compromise,” Agarwal says. In fact, a lot of waste produced in sugarcane pulp extraction is used to generate electricity in these mills. Another venture working in the field is Chuk, which manufactures green tableware. Owned by Uttar Pradesh-based paper-manufacturing company Yash Papers, Chuk, too, makes use of bagasse to make its products, which are available with select wholesale dealers across the country. Ved Krishna, head of business, says bagasse pulp makes products lightweight, flexible, strong and suitable for use in microwave ovens. “Our products are 100% compostable and decompose within months. Our pricing ranges from Rs 1-7 (for the entire product range), which is cheaper than good-quality plastic,” he says.
But what makes Chuk different in the category is the fact that its products are oil- and water-resistant—a differentiating factor for tableware. This is possible due to the incorporation of food grade chemicals during the manufacturing process, explains Krishna, adding, “All these chemicals are FDA-approved and used in minuscule quantities during production. So they have no adverse effects.” There’s still a long way to go for India to become completely plastic-free, but these ventures are baby steps towards that future. Explaining what prompted him to start Pappco Greenware, Agarwal says, “I wanted to do something that would not have an adverse impact on the environment. I didn’t want to get into something that would add to pollution. I don’t want to earn that way.” Krishna agrees: “We want to earn from nature. We are looking to create various alternatives to plastic bags and styrofoam. Our focus is the food packaging business, as that’s where most of the garbage emerges from.” The main challenge, he says, is creating awareness and reducing the food industry’s dependency on plastic. Agarwal, on the other hand, considers GST as one of the major deterrents. “The current scale puts our products in the 12% slab. That makes it a bit difficult for us to operate. Frankly, there should be no GST at all, but we are ready to settle at 6%,” he says.