The ban on polythene bags and plastic items is now spreading across the country with the government implementing its policies under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. However, plastic carry bags are still ubiquitous in the marketplace due to their dirt cheap prices and reluctance of shoppers in carrying reusable bags while shopping. Further, it is extremely difficult for authorities to locate polythene bags and seize them from retailers and hawkers.
Plastic items have proliferated in our lives over the last few decades in all the spheres of our lives. Unless there are cheap and reliable alternatives to plastics, it is really tough to remove them from our environment. The search for the right alternatives is on. Fabric-based bags such as silk, jute, cotton are great alternatives as they are both biodegradable and reusable. However, they are costly to be considered for one-time use.
Paper bags have been used for packaging consumer goods for ages, but after the invasion of cheap polythene bags over the last three decades, their usage was reduced to a minimum. Now, with rising awareness about environmental issues, people have realized the need to use paper bags. Leading retailers across India have now moved to paper or cloth based packaging. While there is large-scale adoption of paper bags in large metros, smaller cities are yet to adopt in a big way.
While paper bags are a good choice as cheap alternatives to plastic shopping bags, there is one major harm in using them. Virgin paper bags cause more harm than good because they are sourced from wood, leading to further destruction of forests. Most white or light coloured shopping bags are made from virgin paper and printed with chemical based ink. So we need to find better alternatives.
Fortunately there are voluntary organisations and micro-enterprises that have found a better solution to replace plastic carry bags:
Two Pune-based youngsters Rohit Nayak, and Sudhir Deshpande launched Eco Ad in 2012, which utilises an interesting combination of newspapers as raw material and local ads as revenue. Being a social entrepreneurial venture, Eco Ad employs underprivileged women from urban slums to assist in the bag manufacturing process who earn an average of INR3,000 per month.
Multiple layers of inexpensive up-cycled newspapers are interlocked and bound in a particular way to create a sturdy bag that can be reused.The company supplies paper bags to retailers and restaurants at nominal rates or INR1.5 for bags capable of carrying load up to 1kg and INR5 for bags that can carry 5kgs of load.
Further, Ecoad has found another interesting revenue source. It enables local businesses like bakeries, hairdressing saloons, retail shops to place ads on its paper bags made of recycled newspapers, which are distributed in small retail shops like drugstores. Ecoad also takes help from student volunteers from various colleges who spread awareness about the use of eco-friendly bags in Pune and collect newspapers as donations.
Shimoga-based micro-enterprise Indigenous Innovations uses recycled craft paper and cotton handles in its bag production. Craft paper has enough strength to withstand more than 5kgs of weight and rough handling. This not only ensures recycling of waste paper, but also provides business to local paper manufacturing industries. Further, it employs underprivileged women for making handmade craft paper bags and the entire process is completely manual.
Indigenous Innovations has evolved a simple business model to produce paper bags in a cottage industry:
• Paper is sourced from a local paper manufacturing company to reduce transportation cost
• Housewives are recruited as associates to produce paper bags in a piece-work method
• Infrastructure costs are kept to the minimum by utilising their house terrace for production
• Paper bags are sold in a batch of 1,000 bags at INR6 to earn a decent profit of 20%
Positive feedback from existing customers in Shivamogga has helped in bringing other retailers through word-of-mouth. Beyond Shivamogga, Indigenous Innovations has plans to expand its market to nearby cities like Davanagere and Mysuru in Karnataka.
We are on the look out for more such paper bag producers in India. Please mails us at [email protected] if you know any.