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How a woman entrepreneur is changing the environment

 

Women entrepreneurs are a rare lot. But those that exist make a great deal of a difference. In this post, Gouri Athale writes about Samanvi Bhograj, a co-founder of Earthware. It’s a company that manufactures bio-degradable bags, which Indiahikes swears by. 

 

A one stop solution for human waste management

Samanvi Bhograj

“That was one use we had never imagined for our product!” Samanvi Bhograj exclaims with a laugh. She is referring to bio-degradable bags developed as bin liners for urban homes being used by trekkers for their early morning dump. Earthware a Bangalore-based company set up by Samanvi, makes these bio-degradable bags.

In the past, the Army is believed to have used helicopters to airlift soldiers’ waste from the heights of Siachen. That was one way to handle the issue but doesn’t Samanvi’s bio-degradable bags sound a better, more cost effective way to do the same? Do it in the bag and compost it there! Bloggers and green trekkers have been writing about human excreta management in the more inaccessible reaches of our country, a logistics ordeal in its own right specially when the ground is hard with snow and rock, so deep holes are hard to dig.

Samanvi spoke about how the venture began, saying, “Our idea was to encourage people living in urban areas to switch over from plastic for household garbage.” The bio-degradable bags were developed for an urban setting where it is mandatory to separate garbage in the home and not use plastic bags for its disposal. Earthware makes its bags out of imported cornstarch so that the bag composts as it degrades with its household waste.

International norms for bags made from polylactic acid (PLA) from cornstarch are expected to compost within 12 weeks and fully bio-degrade in six months.

For trekking groups in India, limited use of water and the disposal of human waste have always been problems. You dig a hole and squat. But when the ground is hard, deep holes are hard to dig. The army’s `thunderbox’ solution was also tried but who was to empty the box? So, individual bags that would be dumped into a compost pit were the next option.

Samanvi recalls the start point for Earthware, saying, “We weren’t looking at it as a business: it was more of social responsibility thing for us. The business has emerged now.” First time users are amazed that this is plastic-looking product is not only non-plastic but actually composts!

The big challenge for all such eco-friendly goods is the same: cost. Manufacture of plastic, with its huge capacities and volumes, is a cheaper alternative, thus hard to displace. Anyway, no one’s looking to do away with its use altogether. For now, cornstarch-based products do not command the volumes, hence cost of production is high, Samanvi pointed out.

Earthware expects to overcome the challenge of depending solely on bulk orders (for cost viability) by opening a retail store in Bangalore, where you walk in to buy the material you need in the quantity you need.

The other way they will meet this challenge is by widening their product range. So, they plan to launch biodegradable toys in the near future. Catch ‘em young, indeed! This will help them achieve their aim of increasing awareness on the need to use things which are environmentally friendly by biodegrading.

Indiahikes


Raj News January 2015

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