Saving the planet began in the kitchen for this couple who founded GreenBUGAthira Nair
Made from newspaper, environment-friendly GreenBUG dustbin liners are replacing plastic bags while providing livelihood to underprivileged women.
At a glance
Founders: Jyoti Pahadsingh, Arun Balachandran
Year founded: 2015
Where it is located: Bengaluru
Problem it solves: Environment-friendly way for waste disposal
We all know the many harmful effects plastic has on our planet. Yet, in one way or another, we end up using plastic every day - especially for purposes like disposing of garbage. Subconsciously, we feel guilty. But what choice do we have?
Bangalore-based Jyoti Pahadsingh has the answer to that question. An economics honours and MBA graduate, she has been a management consultant for startups and MNCs for about 20 years now. A Delhi girl from Orissa, she has been settled in Bangalore for 13 years along with her husband Arun Balachandran, an engineer and MBA graduate from IIM-B.
For the working couple, disposing of the wet waste at home was a problem as plastic was banned. To solve this, Arun started making dustbin liners out of newspaper.
After much trial and error, they zeroed in on a model that was strong, flexible, and could take the shape of any dustbin. They use maida as glue instead of Fevicol and jute threads so that these bags are easily decomposed, unlike the plastic bags which will stay for centuries.
The dustbin liners began as an experiment. Soon, their family and friends also started using them, and the response was always positive. This was in 2015. Neither Arun nor Jyoti had the time to stay home and make the bags. They never considered making a profit from these bags either.
But a friend suggested that if you can handle wet waste with a newspaper bag, it can be scaled up with larger production. She recommended that rural women from her village in Andhra Pradesh, with no other source of income, could be trained to work on this.
For Jyoti and Arun, this was a new beginning.
GreenBUG was selected among 1,700 applicants at a women-entrepreneurship programme sponsored by Goldman Sachs with IIM-B. “Once you are incubated at IIM, you can’t just treat it as a hobby anymore. Till then, a Facebook page was our only online presence. We rarely promoted it outside our social circle. But things changed from then,” Jyoti recollects.
About 60 percent cost of the bag goes into the workforce. But since they did not start the venture planning to make a profit, this was eating into their retail margins, and offline stores were not keen to partner with them. The fact that plastic bags are priced at 50 paise each while each GreenBUG bag costs Rs 5-6 kept the average customer away.
“On wholesale, we could not give more than 15 percent discount; we reached a point where we could not carry on,” Jyoti recounts.
But then their mentor - Town Essentials CEO Amar Krishnamurthy - entered the scene. He helped them reach out to more people in Bangalore by giving samples to customers. “Soon, our reach increased. By then the IIM-B incubation had started and we got a better idea of how to go ahead. We went to organic stores instead of the normal FMCG ones. After two years, we started selling 75 bags for Rs.400 on Amazon,” Jyoti tells YourStory.
Employing and empowering women
Since the design of the dustbin liner was brand new, there was no ready labour force that knew how to make it. For the production of the dustbin liners, Jyoti and Arun had consciously made the choice of providing employment to the less fortunate women, making the venture far more meaningful. But they had to be trained well.
“These women are given the freedom to decide how much time they want to invest in it, how many liners they would produce, where would they produce, and whether they would want to do it alone or form teams with other women,” Jyoti says.
Pumping in about Rs 4 lakh from their own savings, Jyoti and Arun decided to scale up production of the dustbin liners. In 2016, commercialised as GreenBUG – which stands for Bangalore Urban Garbage – bags, Jyoti and Arun started working with women in rural villages in Andhra Pradesh. However, since the men did not support them, these women soon pulled out. The duo started looking around semi-urban clusters in Bangalore and found a strong women workforce in Whitefield, Sarjapur, Kanakapura village, Koramangala, and Jaya Nagar.
It takes 3-5 weeks to train these women, and at least 30 women are working on GreenBUG bags at any given point of time.
A larger cause
Although their social circle warned them of destroying their careers by starting something “that will not make money,” Arun and Jyoti decided to go ahead with GreenBUG as it was about more than just eco-friendly bags – it was giving a dignified livelihood to under-privileged women.
Between Arun and Jyoti, they decided that one would work on the venture full time, and Jyoti did. Her sister-in-law, Sreelatha Menon, helped her design the training process for the women workers.
“It had to be systematically thought through, as even a 1mm difference would reduce the bag size. So, we designed a tool for this, which itself costs Rs 1,400 each. Initially, these women could make 3 or 4 bags per hour with these tools; now they do 25-30 bags per hour,” Jyoti says.
The team finds women workers through NGOs like APSA, Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, Jeevodaya Rehabilitation Centre for Women, and Swabhiman Charitable Trust.
Growing customer base
GreenBUG products are available in select organic stores in Bengaluru. They also sell online, making it available to a larger audience. In December 2017, GreenBUG joined Amazon India’s online selling platform through Amazon’s Saheli store, which features unique items produced locally by women entrepreneurs.
Since then, in addition to Bengaluru, GreenBUG orders have come from 25 places including other metro cities as well as Madurai, Ooty, Salem, Kanchipuram, Agra, Bhopal, Trivandrum, Vasco Da Gama, Jammu, and Ambernath.
GreenBUG claims to have made 100 sales in less than 50 days of the association with Amazon. At least seven companies have directly procured and use GreenBUG liners in their offices. According to Jyoti, they sell about 15,000-20,000 bags every month; more than half of them on Amazon.
In FY2017, GreenBUG made Rs.1.3 lakh in revenue, which doubled by FY0218. In FY2019, they are targeting Rs 5 lakh in revenue.
Jyoti says that 60 percent of the profit goes to the women who work on these bags, and they are given incentives for zero error. “We don’t need donations, but sponsorships are welcome for the tool production,” she ends.