Celebrating Raksha Bandhan sustainably

Indian festivals are a joyous riot of colors, foods, and fineries – a veritable smorgasbord of all things bright, raucous, and beautiful. But these celebrations can also bring with them heightened levels of pollution. In the last several years, India has witnessed a consistent push to make festivals eco-friendly. While the focus has been on the larger-than-life community events, the humble but heart-warming Raksha Bandhan – a festival that celebrates the bond of love and security between siblings, traditionally between brothers and sisters– is getting a green makeover, with plastic-free, plantable rakhis making quite the splash.

Growing a sustainable bond

Green or eco-friendly rakhis are crafted from seed paper, a biodegradable material embedded with plant seeds. They are usually made from recycled and sustainable materials, rather than conventional rakhis made from plastic. 

This image shows two plantable seed paper rakhis on a decorative branch (Image courtesy: Seed Paper India)
Plantable seed paper rakhis. (Image courtesy: Seed Paper India)

“Plastic, polyester, and shimmer paper rakhis either end up at landfills or get burnt, adding to millions of existing tons of garbage. Seed paper rakhis can be planted in the soil, and the seeds embedded in them will germinate, allowing the rakhi to grow into a plant,” explains Roshan Ray, founder of Seed Paper India, a Bengaluru-based company that uses seed paper for all its products like pencils, cards, and gifts.

“Green rakhis are distinctive and carry a meaningful message of sustainability and love,” says Ray. “They make thoughtful gifts that demonstrate care for both the recipient and the environment”.

Cultivating a green ecosystem

Ray observed that post the Covid pandemic, a lot of people have become conscious of the environment, both children and adults alike. “People are choosing to go green and play a small part in making India greener and more sustainable,” he said. 

When Vidya Rao, a Bengaluru-based student was looking for an alternative rakhi for her brother, she stumbled upon the concept of seed rakhis. “It was a great idea to see a plant grow from a rakhi instead of discarding it…the rakhi has so much emotion,” says Rao. Her brother loved it and Rao set out to evangelize about the virtues of sustainable rakhis, managing to convert many of her friends to opt for seed rakhis. 

To keep the green momentum going, Seed Paper India has co-opted its most loyal customers – homemakers, sustainability enthusiasts, non-profits, and artists – into dispersing its rakhis. They not only make seed paper rakhis for the company but also assemble and resell them, with the seeds and instructions from Seed Paper India. The rakhis have tree seeds, herb seeds, vegetable seeds, flowering seeds, and jute and cotton thread.

Price no bar

This image shows a red and yellow bio-degradable rakhi (Image courtesy: Aditi Dubey)
A bio-degradable seed paper rakhi by Admayra (Image courtesy: Aditi Dubey)

Aditi Dubey of Pune, founder of  Admayra, has conducted workshops to teach people to make plantable seed rakhis. “This is an initiative to celebrate all festivals in a sustainable way and we want every home to make their own rakhi,” said Dubey. “I use natural colors like turmeric and beetroot paste, and waste paper to make the seed balls. We use seeds like mustard, fenugreek, and coriander that are easily available in every Indian kitchen,” she said. 

Even though biodegradable rakhis can typically cost more than the regular ones, they are flying off the shelves fast.  Ludhiana-based TanBhuMita sells plantable rakhis made of recycled paper and seeds. It has already picked up an export order for its rakhis, in spite of their higher price tag.  “That makes me feel I am on the right path,” said Amita Gupta, founder of  TanBhuMita.

Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.