Waste of paper and other valuable resources is an often discussed topic in media. However, hardly there are any serious initiatives to reduce paper consumption or at least recycle paper into useful products. Almost all paper production in India happens in completely mechanized paper factories that need large scale investment. We rarely find a small scale handmade paper unit in rural areas, where there is a drastic need for employment and an abundance of raw material.
Thankfully, BG Handmade Speciality Papers is a pioneering venture in rural Karnataka that has been producing handmade paper in a sustainable manner and providing jobs to rural artisans for the last two decades. This micro-SME was established way back in 1995 by a pioneer in paper technology, B G Seetharaman. After studying paper technology in his engineering degree, Seetharaman felt there is a need to use locally available raw material such as jute and cotton.
So BG Handmade was founded to evolve a new process of using 100% waste jute fiber as raw material to produce handmade paper. In his factory, BG Seetharaman boiled the raw material with caustic soda to separate the cellulose fibers and then bleached it with chemicals to make light-colored paper from cotton pulp. Dark colored paper can be produced from jute without any bleaching.
Various color dyes are used to produce a diverse range of vibrantly colored paper sheets. The paper sheets are coated with starch to strengthen them and make them water resistant. However, these sheets need to be dried in large shaded spaces, since the rainy season hinders the process. In total, 30 workers are currently working in various processes such as:
- Jute shredding and boiling process
- Paper pulping and sheet production
- Sheet drying and cutting
- Production of finished products
The handmade paper production is a painstaking process where manual labor is required at every stage. Around 500 double demi-sized sheets are produced by a team of 10 workers every day. If this process of pulping and sheet making is mechanized, then the production can be automated and much higher output can be generated. Seetharaman is working on a mechanized paper production system that can produce around 3,000 sheets per day, but the irregular power supply in villages is a big hindrance for such rural entrepreneurs.
BG Handmade produces a wide range of paper products such as greeting cards, wedding invitations, paper bags, etc. Handmade papers are embellished with a variety of designs and textures such as crinkling, metallic finish, cloth textures, etc. Mottling of the sheets is also done by sprinkling flower petals, leaves, straw pieces, jute fiber, and other interesting items.
While the majority of production comes from fiber material such as jute and cotton, BG Handmade also uses banana stem to produce banana paper, which is much stronger and has diverse uses. However, there is no production right now since the drying process is much longer for banana paper and it doesn’t have an immediate market in India currently.
There is meager competition in handmade paper production in India, so BG Handmade has carved its own niche in this segment. There are very few handmade paper producers in south India such as Sri Aurobindo Hand Made Paper Factory in Pondicherry. However, large retailers charge an exorbitant commission of around 40-50% on each paper product, which not only harms the producer’s margin, but also hampers the expansion of handmade paper usage among larger masses.
Despite the difficulty in marketing such a niche product, BG Handmade has been able to convince large buyers such as fashion and jewelry retailers to use recycled paper bags instead of polythene bags or printed virgin paper bags. Orders are steadily flowing in now after the government took serious measures to ban plastic carry bags in retail sales. Hope this positive turn will transform this small scale unit into a large scale industry in future!