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GreenPlast, a Coimbatore-based start-up, is marketing a nontoxic, biodegradable alternative to plastic carry bags. The water-soluble bags and pellets are not only easily dissolved/composted but also sturdy and rainproof. Devoid of plastic, they don’t leave microplastic residue.
In this exclusive interview with India Currents, CEO Kavitha Rajan, tells us about their products, challenges, and the lessons learned.
IC: Tell us about GreenPlast’s biodegradable alternative to plastic carry bags.
KR: In 2013, my father, Veerasami, set out on a journey to find an alternative to plastic bags. For his research, he travelled to countries such as Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China. He was trying to understand the plastic replacement products that are on the market.
What he found surprised him: the technology to make daily-use organic and biodegradable bags is already available in the market. But the primary raw materials for manufacturing these bags are not. This is in an effort to save the plastic industry.
Appa realized that the only way to solve the plastic problem was to make raw materials for plastic substitutes easily accessible. He set up a home lab to research the creation of water-soluble pellets that could be blown into films and made into bags. In late 2020, he installed his first pilot project in Coimbatore.
Our pellets are reformulated in a way that can be used by any film extrusion machine, with no alterations, to make water soluble films/bags. I have also formulated special pellets that can be used to make solid objects that are soluble in water.
Currently, we have the following products:
- Pellets: Shelf life of about two years. GreenPlast pellets come in different colors and can be used to make transparent and colored bags. They can be converted into films using the normal extrusion processes and are available in three variants: cold-water soluble, warm-water soluble, and hot-water soluble.
- Films/Bags: Provide high-solvent resistance and gas-barrier performance. They find use as packaging for agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals, for hygiene purposes, for printing on curved surfaces, and as base material for wigs and embroidery.
- Fabric Bags: Multi-use hot-water-soluble bio bags. Also decompose in soil. They are available in different thicknesses and can be printed upon.
- Injection Moldable, Water Soluble, Solid Object Pellets: Shelf life of about two years. The pellets come in different colors and can be used to make containers for dry products, and paper core plugs. These are soluble in water over a period of one week.
IC: How do you manufacture your products?
KR: Our products are made from water-soluble polymer—PVA, processed starch, vegetable oil derivatives and other non-plastic additives. These products are not toxic to the environment, animals, or plants. Biodegradable and water-soluble, GreenPlastTM pellets are built using our uniquely formulated proprietary formula. They are an excellent replacement for single-use plastic because the bags can be easily dissolved or composted.
When my father started GreenPlast, one of his key challenges was the elasticity and blowing stability. If there was too much starch, the film would not blow well. If there was too much vegetable oil, the oil started oozing out of the film. It took around a year to bring this stability and the balance between starch, oil, and PVA.
Even though there are so many patents for water-soluble film, no single patent talks about the production capacity. Anyone can do something like this at a very small scale in a lab, but it took years for my father to reach the balance to make it production-worthy and economical at the same time.
IC: How did you decide to start GreenPlast?
KR: It was my father who started GreenPlast. After he passed away in 2021, being his only child (my brother had passed away at the age of 23), I had this big question in front of me: Should I continue my career in software, or should I pursue Appa’s dream and take it to the next level? I chose the latter.
The challenge for me then was to face the financial challenges and instil trust in the employees that I could take this company forward. Being a software engineer, taking over a company that was 100% mechanical was a big challenge. I slowly tried to understand the working of the machines, and in two months, I started delivering orders to our Mumbai clients. Our first order was for water-soluble laundry bags to hotels/hospitals.
IC: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
KR: When we claim GreenPlast is a great replacement for plastic, the first thought that comes to the mind of the customer is whether it works like plastic.
Just because this looks like plastic, it need not work like plastic. If it works like 100% plastic at the same cost, then it will have the same properties as plastic. The idea of a replacement is that it must either be compostable, or safely discardable. Hence, these water-soluble bags/films look like plastic, but behave like paper bags when drenched in rain. They become soggy but are fully soluble only in hot water.
IC: What were some of the lessons that you learned?
One of the key lessons I learned is that your passion for an idea should also be economically feasible, businesswise. Also, the fact that financial knowledge is equally important as technical knowledge. India encourages various startups but I still see a blurred vision in bringing an idea into an implementable business. I personally request the government to encourage more ideas and make this space easily accessible by the common man.
KR: We went commercial in August 2021. Since then, we have clients in Kenya, Dubai, and Chile for our pellets. We also have clients in India who take our pellets for manufacturing their own water-soluble pouches and bags. Apart from that, we have clients for our pouches, films, and garment sealing bags.
IC: What are your plans for the future?
KR: The solution for elimination of single-use plastic is to make the availability of the alternatives easily accessible and economically feasible. I am determined to make this possible by setting up a number of pellet-making units across India and abroad.
We have also introduced a formulation of the pellets for solid water-soluble objects. With these we can make traditionally single-use plastic items such as ear-bud sticks, small containers, and garment packing clips. Once used, they can just be easily dissolved in water and discarded. Similarly, our films can be used to make bubble wrap films in the ecommerce industry.
The idea is to think beyond carry bags. Somehow, we all focus only on carry bags when there are other single-use plastic items which can be easily replaced. This will contribute towards a plastic-free environment.