Author – Chikirsha Prakash
Paper: one of the basic amenities provided to us right from childhood. Right from a humble notebook to wedding invites and greeting cards, to postal stamp and posters, to newspaper and heavy encyclopedia, paper has been such an integral part of our lives. It is so indiscernible today that even problems related to paper production and waste disposal go largely unnoticed.
In order to catch up with population growth, the demand for paper is projected to grow up to 7.8% per annum and the paper industry will have to churn out 22 million tons of paper and paperboards by 2025. Keeping this in mind, the reduction of paper usage seems to be impractical on a large scale. Besides that, paper as a commodity has limited ways to be reused, which leaves us the only option to recycle it.
Although recycling is the only viable option, the main hurdle is the low collection rate of paper waste. Further, the awareness about recycling paper is so low that even the paper that does reach a reprocessing unit is unfit to be recycled because of improper handling or poor segregation. Due to low recovery rates, recycling paper mills face shortage in their supply of raw materials, causing Indian paper mills to heavily rely on imported waste material. In 2011, India had imported around 4 million tons of waste paper from other countries, making a substantial dent in the country’s import bill.
Owing to these grave problems, there is an urgent need to find some form of innovation to tackle this burgeoning paper waste. Jaipur-based entrepreneur Kritika Parwal thought seriously about this issue and conceptualized an interesting new innovation – Plantable Paper. This “Seed-embedded-paper”, which is capable of singularly sprouting into plants, revolutionizes how we consider paper to be an eternal nemesis of trees!
Kritika Parwal struck the idea while pitching creative ideas for marketing brands at the Kellogg School of Management, Illinois, US. She admits that even to her, the idea seemed pretty far-fetched at first thought, but after careful deliberation, she figured that the concept was practical. Kritika returned to her roots in Jaipur and began experimenting with a variety of handmade paper to realize this ambitious dream. She met the brand manager from Kissan, who encouraged her to go ahead with the idea and even proposed a massive campaign that distributed tomato seeds in Mumbai and Delhi. Since her first successful operation in producing the seed paper contained tomato seeds, it gave rise to the name of her company as “Tomato & Co.”
The most commendable feature of this Plantable Paper is that it is completely made out of residual organic waste produced from cotton factories and is free from any wood pulp. Even the dyes used to give the vibrant hues to the paper are organic dyes like Indigo, Cochineal, Weld, and Cutch, making the paper completely safe and environment-friendly. In the paper-making process, first a homogenous pulp is prepared using the cotton shreds, binders, seeds, and resins, which is then flattened out on screens having muslin membranes to manipulate the paper thickness. After the paper is semi-dried, it undergoes a process that stunts the germination of the seeds. Finally, the sheets are further air-dried and molded in shapes based on the product.
These sheets are available in customized colors and different thickness, and orders can be placed for printed sheets as well. The only major drawback is that the order has be placed in bulk. Naturally, this paper would also be much costlier than other machine-made paper or even handmade paper available in the markets, but considering the lower carbon footprint it allows the user to have, it seems like a small trade-off. Maintenance of the plantable paper is also an aspect that requires due consideration, since it needs to be stored in dry and moisture-free conditions and have a shelf-life of about a year.
The recycling procedure to grow plants from the plantable paper is easy. First shred the paper and put the pieces in a pot of soil, then cover it with about half an inch of soil. The pot then needs to be placed in the sun and has to be watered regularly. The saplings start to sprout in 10-15 days. The fruits and vegetables obtained from these plants are perfectly safe for consumption since no chemicals are involved in the process of manufacturing paper. Tomato & Co. has moved past just tomato seeds and has now managed to make paper that contains lavender, chilies, carrot, jasmine, basil, lemon mint, lettuce, marigold, sunflower, wheat, parsley, and orange too.
Kritika now awaits a patent on the nine-step comprehensive process to manufacture this seed-paper. Her company has managed to sell more than 7.5 lakh sheets of seed paper till date. She has worked with big brands like Kissan, Unilever, Mindshare, and TEDx. Previously, Tomato & Co. largely worked with only corporate enterprises and provided customized products as per their needs, but now they have diversified the products that they put for sale. These include calendars, postcards, greeting cards, wedding invites, visiting cards, bookmarks, door hangers, coffee cup sleeves, wristbands, seed coins, and coasters too.
It is nothing less than a miracle to see paper turn into a plant instead of the reverse. The rise of the plantable paper would be one small but a pivotal step towards sustainable living.