Bio-lutions turns agricultural waste into biodegradable packagingSaniya Raza
Using just water and agricultural excess, Bio-lutions is making the world greener one biodegradable carton at a time.
Plastics clog up our oceans, take a million years to decompose, and directly affect our food chain. Basically, they're a threat to our entire ecosystem. On the other hand, we have tonnes of agricultural excess that is burnt, leading to another big problem—adding to the existing unchecked air pollution. The after effects of the two create a sight of terror.
Imagine replacing this plastic with packaging or disposables made of agricultural waste. It suddenly sounds like a solution to two of the biggest problems Mother Earth wouldn't have to deal with anymore.
Bio-lutions GmbH, a revolutionary company that believes in sustainable innovations, does just this. The idea is to create a win-win situation. No more mountains of plastic and cellulose waste that takes forever to decompose, plus the added income for the farmers who would otherwise just burn the excess plant scrap.Their innovation is a patented 'mechanical process' through which agricultural residual fibres are converted into self-binding micro and nano fibrillated natural fibres using only water.
This Germany-based company, founded by architect and industrial designer Eduardo Gordillo in 2012 has set up its first ever pilot project in Bengaluru and is slowly working toward making a huge change in the game of disposables and packaging.
Journey in India
According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India goes through 15,000 tonnes of plastic produced every day, out of which 6,000 tonnes remain uncollected. Also, an estimated 32 million tonnes of agricultural residue is burnt every year, adding to the already alarming problem of air pollution in the country. This makes the Indian market perfect for a product such as this.
The company was set up in January 2017 by three Indian partners: Kurian Mathew, 41, Managing Director; Kurian George, 35; and George Thomas, 35 the directors in collaboration with Bio-lutionsGmbh owning majority share of the company.
Kurian George says, “Although the roots of the company are in Germany, the biggest part we have played is that for the first time in the world, from a research stage we have been able to take the company to a commercial stage.”
An established one-of-a-kind production plant on the outskirts of Bengaluru currently sources agricultural waste from the farmers of the Mandya region. Sugar leaves, pineapple leaves, tomato leaves, banana stems, water hyacinth plants are obtained from working with the farmers’ cooperative in the region, who in turn can earn from what was earlier disregarded, improve their livelihood through varied income, and can contribute to the good cause of cutting down on the use of plastics.
The agricultural excess is then converted into all natural, biodegradable, recyclable, and 100 percent food grade packaging. The end product is being provided to local businesses in Bengaluru where plastic is already banned, filling in the need for sustainable packaging.
Kurian Mathew says, “Localisation is at the heart of the company. We source locally, produce locally, and cater to the local market. We are able to be part of the local waste management system. Given that agriculture is a primary source of income, it is a win-win situation for farmers and us.”
An unparalleled technology
Bio-lutions stands out in terms of its distinctive technology. Kurian George says, “Another research organisation had been working on a particular technology for a different purpose. On Mr Eduardo’s interaction with them, this technology was tweaked wherein now the crop residue is incorporated with this modified technology to produce the products we manufacture today.”
Their unique, first of its kind “upgrading” technology uses only agricultural excess and water in a two-step procedure with zero chemicals and additives unlike any of the traditional technologies that undergo processes involving chemicals, bleaching agents, and additional binders using a great deal of water and energy to convert agricultural fibres to cellulose.
Baby steps towards making an incredible change
Bio-lutions has put into perspective an issue that needs to be addressed right away. With a fast-paced lifestyle like ours, we mindlessly throw away thousands of non-biodegradable disposables every day. This company offers a solution to it all. It puts an end to pollution caused by non-biodegradables, offering products that are so green and recyclable they can be added to home compost and will degrade without any effort. They are also a socially responsible venture. By providing for farmers in terms of profitable ways of disposing waste, adding to their income and generating a backup in times of drought and inconsistent rains, they make them independent.
Presently, Bio-lutions works with the farmer producer organisations (FPOs) under the Government of Karnataka and more importantly with the corporate society called Organic Mandya that works with the farmers in Mandya district, educating them on organic farming. These are the farmers who act as providers of raw materials to the company.
Overcoming challenges in the research stage and issues in adapting to the machinery in the commercial stage, George says, “We are in the process of setting up a second plant by October or November in Mandya district itself. Since we have no benchmark, we are learning as we progress.” Currently, bio-lutions converts one tonne of raw material in a month but with the second plant in place they will be able to upscale and convert six tonnes per day, making a huge advancement. The company has two product lines—
biodegradable tableware for consumers and a biodegradable option over petroleum-based plastic or paper packaging for businesses. They also already have a tie-up with a major online supermarket as well as a food delivery service to provide ethical packaging at competitive market prices.
“Bio-lutions has been voted ‘the world’s bio-based material of the year’, 2017, held recently in Cologne, Germany and has received financial support from DEG, a German Bank, that promotes pioneering investments of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through its upscaling programme This has enabled the company to scale up its production capacity,” says George.
In a wider sense, Eduardo seeks to take the technology across the world and tie up with partners from each country. He says, “Imagine tomato trays made from tomato plants, coffee capsules made from agricultural waste of pitted coffee sherry, or perhaps, cookie packaging made from wheat straw. The possible potential is limitless.”
A world with less pollution and plastic—that is what they have set out to achieve.