In southern India, EnviGreen manufactures a replacement for the plastic bags that pollute the country.
How can the impact of the plastic bags that too often end up polluting the environment be limited? How can shopping bags be made environmentally friendly as well as accessible? In 2012, these questions troubled Ashwath Hegde. The young man from Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka in southern India, then had the idea of a biodegradable bag -but not made from petrochemicals with their negative impact on nature and wildlife.
After four years’ research, the young man found an original, innovative answer: biodegradable bags made from natural starches such as corn and tapioca - made from manioc. He developed a secret combination of twelve elements - natural starch, tapioca fiber, potatoes, corn, vegetable oil derivatives and even bio-waste. The resulting paste is converted into granules and made into a biodegradable "plastic".
Result: bags which break down in 15 seconds in hot water or which, if burned, disintegrate into ashes without producing toxic fumes. Another advantage is that these bags are edible and don’t endanger animals.
So Ashwath Hegde then refined his formula. Even the paint used for the logos printed on the bags is made without chemicals. He received the support of a number of laboratories and pollution control organizations such as the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), the Central Institute of Plastic Engineering, TUV-SUD South Asia and Technology, and Sriram Institute for Industrial Research.
First step towards "organic plastic" in India
In the summer of 2016, he launched his company, EnviGreen Biotech India Private Limited. He opened a production unit in Bangalore, a mega-city of more than 11 million people nicknamed India’s Silicon Valley. EnviGreen’s Bangalore site already produces 1,000 tonnes per month of this "green plastic".
A promising start given that the capital of Karnataka alone consumes 30,000 tonnes of plastic bags per month. Nationally, 15,000 tonnes of plastic is discarded every day - only 9,000 tonnes of which is collected and treated. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself supports the production of 100% biodegradable shopping bags to replace oil based plastic bags.
An infinitely adaptable invention
Since January 2017, EnviGreen has begun to distribute its green shopping bags in retail outlets. Although the cost is 35% higher than a standard plastic bag, the product is still cheaper than a cloth bag. Ashwath Hegde also plans to make garment bags, garbage bags, packaging, sachets and plastic film from his revolutionary material. He is also developing his idea in Qatar, where he runs Go Green Qatar, an organization that organizes plastic waste awareness campaigns.
In India, Ashgath Hegde aims to go even further by encouraging local farmers to cultivate the raw material needed to produce this new material. A virtuous local loop that will help reduce pollution in Indian cities.
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Main picture: Getty Images