Giving this supari is harmless

The Times of India, Lucknow

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May 25, 2009

¬†Supari has more to it than being chewed with a ‘paan’. One look at shapely supari plates and bowls puts doubts to rest and one starts to believe that plastic has many possible replacements, given the creativity.

All thanks to mind-and-money combo of two friends that brought the range to existence and use. “After my friend Vidyarajan came up with the idea of these plates, I thought it could be of help in saving environment as it is harmless to nature when disposed”, said Rohit Sharma, who invested capital and took the products to International markets. Companies from Israel and US are among the clientele of Sharma’s company.

But he started off from his native place, Lucknow, believing charity begins at home. It has been about a year and a half since bakers, caterers and eateries have started using these bio-degradable plates. “And gradually the acceptance has started coming”, said the entrepreneur. Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Rudrapur are few other potential markets.

The product is disposable to the extent that when cast off it can break down naturally and assimilate in the soil. There is no harm even if eaten by wandering animals. Though it comes at a price about 3 times more than what plastic and thermocol costs but given the advantages it is worth it. The entire production of 5 lakh 40 thousand pieces per month comes from Kerala as supari trees are found only in southern parts of the country. “But, northern part is the most potential market as there is lesser awareness about bio-degradable products here”, said Sharma. Unbreakable, light in weight and easy to dispose count as the USPs of the range. There could be more companies willing to use it but as the man shared though manufacturing depends on demand there is a limit to which his company can produce, more so because it is made from the bark of a tree. Mostly, the sheath of the bark that dries and is shed off by the tree is used. If not picked up it would convert into manure. “Since we prevent it from adding to the soil, that could be the only damage we had been doing to the environment,” he added.

The bark cannot be sliced out each time and hence, one has to wait to get the covering that comes out as a thin plywood sheet. It has to be kept soaked in water overnight so that it gets soft. It is then dehydrated and drawn into plates and bowls.

While part of the work is done manually, designing involves machines to give smooth finishing. The work is done with the help of tribals in the region. The range is exclusive in the sense there is no other company producing it. “Not in my knowledge and we have patents for 18 of our products,” said Sharma.
Targeting Indian Railways is next in the scheme of things for the man. IRCTC has shown interest in introducing this eco-friendly range of products in trains. “The talks are in full flow,” he added.