Averting forest fires with tableware made from pine needles
The northern state of Himachal Pradesh is known for its scenic beauty and breathtaking landscapes. If you happen to visit the region, one of the first things that you might observe while wandering around is the sturdy and towering Pinus roxburghii, commonly known as Himalayan Pines across large patches of the forested land.
Unfortunately, when these trees shed their needles during summers, they become highly inflammable and tend to catch fire, thereby causing significant damage to the environment. The practice of burning trash by the local communities living close to the thickets further worsens the fire.
According to a report published by the state forest department, a staggering 1,168 instances of fire were reported in the year 2017-18, affecting an area of around 9,400 hectares.
Intending to prevent such disasters, Delhi-based startup Vasshin Composites is using the needles of these robust tree species to create eco-friendly tableware and products. Founded by Abhinav Talwar and Maithri V in 2019, the environmental engineering startup is not only shielding the natural ecosystem but is also attempting to help consumers to replace plastic in everyday items.
“Though we initially started by producing and selling compostable materials, we diversified into manufacturing bowls, coffee mugs, picnic plates, food trays, and other kitchen items using pine needles. Beginning this week, all the products have been listed on Amazon, as well as on our website,” Abhinav Talwar, Founder of Vasshin Composites, tells SocialStory.
Besides averting forest fires, each purchase of the startup’s tableware accounts for the reduction of carbon dioxide by 95.71 grams, carbon monoxide by 6.52 grams, and nitrous oxide emissions by 0.2 grams.
After completing his electronics and computer science engineering studies, Abhinav went on to work in the area of metallurgy, including desulphurising pig iron and structuring many industry partnerships for the supply of BF coke and rock phosphate.
Maithri, on the other hand, pursued a degree in arts, specialising in history, journalism, and tourism from Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru. However, she gained expertise in the energy sector after working with firms like Pelican Solar and New Energy, as well as Cosmos Renewable Energy.
Abhinav met Maithri met through a few mutual friends, and eventually, decided to nurture their common interest to promote a sustainable and ecologically sound consumer attitude. The duo established Vasshin Composites together by pooling in their personal savings. The startup kicked off its operations with the production of agro compostables and then branched out to other tableware products. At present, the startup is in talks with an investor to obtain further funding.
Since Abhinav was born and brought up in Himachal Pradesh, he was cognizant of the frequent forest fires caused by the heaps of pine needles.
“The rough and thick texture of the pine needles are capable of easily sparking a fire, especially when there are heatwaves. Once they fall to the forest floor, they even hinder the growth of other plants and vegetation. So, the state government was keenly looking at ways to use these needles for commercial purposes. I really wanted to contribute to their effort. That was when I began doing my research,” Abhinav shares.
The first product made from pine needles was headbands which, in turn, were pivoted to make face shields, owing to the rising demand for protective equipment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The circle headbands made by the startup were sold to production companies, who fitted them onto the shields. Vasshin Composites has helped make over one lakh face shields, which have made their way into different hospitals and pharma companies.
Gururaj R, Vice President at Quepreon Biologicals, a biopharma company based in Bengaluru, says,
“Our association with Vasshin Composites has been fruitful. Its bio-degradable face shields were well-received, and has helped us ward off plastic from reaching the landfills.”
Averting forest fires
After the success of the face shields, Vasshin Composites introduced a unique range of tableware and kitchen sets made from the pine needles, where it blends pine needles with polymers, metals, and other minerals to manufacture eco-friendly, anti-microbial tableware.
“We floated the products on ecommerce sites just this week. The team is now planning to step into B2B sales through distributors. Very soon, the products will be available in stores like Big Bazaar and Spencer’s,” says Maithri.
The startup is presently manufacturing the tableware at its production hubs located in Baroda, Bengaluru, and Mysuru. All its processes — right from injection, moulding, thermoforming to packaging — takes place within the facilities.
“The raw material is procured from multiple vendors, but we coordinate with the respective village forest management committees in Himachal to source the pine needles. They generally collect the needles from forests, put them together in the form of compact blocks, and transport the same to us,” adds Abhinav.
While Vasshin’s coffee mug costs about Rs 165, its plates range between Rs 39 and 51, and its food trays, wine glasses, and teacups are priced between Rs 120 and 175.
Abhinav and Maithri are keen on expanding the production capacity in the coming days and thereby, facilitate the prevention of forest fires.
“Forest fires are a huge source of carbon dioxide, and their release affects the biogeochemical cycles, leaving behind disastrous consequences such as climate change and environmental degradation. Therefore, even if we can restrain it to a small extent by converting pine needles into something functional, it will land up benefitting the flora and fauna,” Maithri says.
Edited by Suman Singh
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