The ban on polythene bags and plastic items is now spreading across the country with the government implementing its policies under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, plastic carry bags are still ubiquitous in the marketplace due to their dirt cheap prices and reluctance of shoppers to carry 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 into all the spheres of our lives over the last few decades. There is an urgent need to find cheap and reliable alternatives to plastics and remove them from our environment. Fabric-based bags such as silk, jute, cotton are suitable 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 colored shopping bags are made from virgin paper and printed with chemical-based ink. So we need to find better alternatives. Fortunately, there are voluntary organizations 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 utilizes 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.
Karnataka-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 utilizing their house terrace for production
- Paper bags are sold in a batch of 1,000 bags at around INR6-10 to earn 20% profit
Positive feedback from existing customers in Shivamogga has helped in bringing other retailers through word-of-mouth. Indigenous Innovations has now expanded its market to nearby cities like Davanagere and Mysuru in Karnataka.
Customizable Calico Cotton Bags
Eco-friendly calico bags made from customizable ring-spun cotton is a good alternative to plastic bags that can be considered for multipurpose uses. There are a few cotton bag producers such as Calico Bags, who is an Australian supplier of wholesale cotton bags. Here are the advantages of using this type of eco-friendly bag:
- Superior durability: Ring-spun cotton bags are tough to handle more weight than plastic and paper bags without getting damaged.
- Easy to carry: Cotton bags are easy to carry since they can be folded and kept inside backpacks or handbags. These bags are neat to look at and are washable so you can use them clean the next time.
- Great marketing tool: Business owners may consider giving away eco-friendly cloth bags as promotional gifts or freebies. Cotton bags are attractive and printable, so you can imprint your company brand or logo. Digital transfer prints of images are also possible.
- Saves money: You can save some extra money buying plastic or paper bags that usually don’t last longer than cotton bags. When paper bags get wet, they tend to tear apart, because the paper material loses its integrity. Cotton bags are reusable, washable, and durable.
Anu Life Tetrapak Bags
Can you imagine what these cute looking handbags and totes are made from? These products are made from waste Tetrapak packets and are finished in an attractive set of colors! Anu Life is a self-help group in Bengaluru that handcrafts these bags featuring two compartments, a soft shell, and a double handle strap. The unit was started six years ago when Tineke Otter, a Dutch lady, arrived from the Netherlands to work with people living in the slums of Bengaluru. She started an organization called ‘Happy Kids’ in collaboration with Christ University, which is today transformed into Anu Life and is run by Mary Ann. The group buys waste juice tetra packs such as Appy, Frooti, Real, Tropicana, etc. from Christ University on a monthly basis.
We are on the lookout for more such alternatives to plastic bags. If you know any, please mail us at [email protected]