When travelling across India in the summer (from January to May), travellers will encounter a number of sugarcane juice outlets on the wayside. The juice is extracted using an indigenously manufactured diesel machine, with the bagasse (the fibre residue left after the extraction) discarded outside the make-shift outlet like a hill.
The bagasse, a great natural fertiliser, is collected by farmers to use in their farmlands while some vendors dump it on the road-side, a common scene in the country.
But, for Abhishek Agarwal, who comes from an environmentally-conscious family, the bagasse was not a waste, but a billion-dollar opportunity. He, along with his father Anil and US-educated brother Aadesh, started a company that converts this waste into a success.
Located in Mumbai, Pappco Greenware, with a mission to make India green, converts bagasse to cutlery, thus helping to address the huge plastic problem facing the country.
“Pappco is a step towards a greener India. We are here to provide green solutions for the simpler products that we use in our daily lives and businesses,” the company says. “With a product range made from 100 percent compostable plant-based raw materials, we are providing low- impact and non-toxic products for your food packaging needs.”
Pappco was started in 2011, a time when India had just started realising the gravity of its plastic waste problem. It uses sugarcane, bamboo and wheat straw to manufacture disposable plates, glasses and spoons. It remoulds bagasse to a kind of paper and uses it to make the cutlery. In addition, it also uses bamboo and wheat straws.
“Our core value is that we produce disposable cutlery, which comes from plants, not plastic,” Abhishek said in an interview with The Better India.
Abhishek, who was involved in project management in the past, saw such environment-friendly products in countries like Singapore and wanted to replicate them in India. While many countries export such products, the best ones came from China, where a ban on plastic and thermocol was already on.
His father Anil, an astute businessman, visited some manufacturing units in China and came back to India six months later. After that, the trio conducted a study about the Indian market and saw large opportunity for disposable items. They then decided to start a company to produce disposable and renewable cutlery.
There were already companies producing environment-friendly cutlery, but none of them were successful. This is where Pappco stepped in and managed to find traction.
Abhishek says that with the greater awareness about the harmful effects of plastic, the company is now seeing massive opportunity.
While a plastic plate is 90 percent air and is easily bendable, Pappco’s greenware is firm and can stand a reasonable amount of weight. Pappco products can be used in a microwave and reused, and then disposed of safely.
Abhishek says that while the greenware is a bit costly compared to plastic cutlery, the environmental benefits far outweigh the price considerations.
“Today when we use a disposable, it is convenient for us, but it is terrible for the planet. We need to somehow expand the extent of this convenience to include our environment and those living around us. We must design newer materials that do not poison the planet and at the same time we must adopt measures that make it ‘inconvenient’ to trash single-use products without proper attention,” the firm said in a blog post.
“We sometimes get too fixated on the economics of things and the price points which really suppresses our ability to find a solution. For us the problem is plastic, it is the pollution, the death of life — ours and of other animals, and our concern should be the well-being of the planet. If this has to come at the cost of an entire economy driven by plastic manufacturing then, it may well be so. We can’t regard the economy as important while drafting this solution because frankly for the economy plastics are not bad and we will once again fail to see the problem,” it added.
Pappco’s products are available at some leading offline retailers in India, in addition to e-commerce giant Amazon.