Wed, 11 Dec, 2019

EcoTopia: A wiser alternative to plastic, taking us closer to nature

The Bhates do not avail any government subsidy for manufacturing bio-degradable products at Kakoda Industrial Estate at Sanvordem,however, they believe that the involvement in the promotion of plastic-free environment itself is rewarding

02nd December 2019, 02:10 Hrs


EcoTopia was the perfect combination of their vision and objective of making something that would take them closer to ecology, nature and environment. They wanted to offer something that would not only decrease the use of plastic but prove to be a wiser alternative to plastic. Whatever they produce would enhance the income of the farmers and help them sustain. The process would be simple, without using any chemical preservative or coating and easy to dispose of in a bio-degradable way. Producing usable items out of disposable waste was a goal too. What was this product that would match all these conditions?

“The answer was tableware, plates, trays, bowls, spoons made out of dry areca nut leaves which, otherwise go waste. This would generate additional income to farmers from whom we purchase these leaves. The dried areca nut leaves are moulded into tableware which is safe, hygienic, disposable and bio-degradable,” states Mayuri Bhate, who along with her father Ravindra Bhate and brother Mandar Bhate manufacture these products at their unit in South Goa. Both father and son are mechanical engineers and together the Bhates initiated their eco-friendly venture – EcoTopia.

EcoTopia has witnessed a journey, smile Mayuri, a civil engineer by profession with MTech in offshore structures from NIT Calicut (Kerala). It began when Mayuri decided to follow a different path. After working in the corporate sector for the initial three years, she quit and joined her father at his DurWankur Mechanical Works. Her father was into making special-purpose machinery in Goa since 2003. After developing the machine and initiating EcoTopia, Mayuri handles purchase and manufacturing while Mandar looks into sales and marketing within Goa.

EcoTopia joined hands with self-help groups when the Bhates intended to expand into another product – EcoTopia Agrowaste Charcoal. Explaining this concept Mayuri states that the raw material for making this type of charcoal is coconut husk and shells which again is an agro-waste. Following the same principles of not using chemicals in the making of charcoal briquettes, the Bhates have started manufacturing their second product too.

For making regular charcoal wood is burnt. Wood again comes from cutting the trees. Wanting to avoid deforestation, and utilising the agro waste, they make charcoal of coconut shells. The areca nut plate production began in 2017 and coconut shell charcoal in March 2019 by procuring the raw material from the neighbouring states. “Goa is blessed with immense raw material for both our products at EcoTopia and we are trying to develop the system and start procuring from our home state as well. In the case of coconut shells, we are working on buyback policy. The resorts buy smokeless charcoal from us and we get used coconut shells from them. This helps them in waste management and we get our raw material too. It’s a win-win situation for both,” explains Mandar.

With their unit in Kakoda industrial estate at Sanvordem, the Bhates admit that currently, they do not avail any government subsidy for manufacturing bio-degradable products. However, they believe that the involvement in the promotion of plastic-free environment itself is rewarding. With increasing awareness about the environment, the demand for such products is increasing too. People are becoming more and more responsible towards the ecology and environment. “Creating awareness about these products is important. All of us keep saying no to plastic but if not plastic then what? We must offer options and that too environment-friendly, bio-degradable ones. It is important to make people know that there is an alternative to plastic and it is better than plastic,” feels Mandar.

The areca nut plates, being a natural product with no chemicals added to it, there are high chances of fungus formation, especially as the climate in Goa is humid. This may generally take 3-4 months to happen from the date of manufacturing. But if the packing is good the shelf life can be more than six months. “We make 1500-1800 pieces a day,” briefs Mayuri.

The Bhates produce 40 tonnes of eco-friendly charcoal per month. The restaurants in Goa would require approximately 100 kg of charcoal per week. Big resorts have a larger demand. The most effective way to create more demand is educating individuals about the pros of smokeless charcoal.

“Currently we don’t sell our products outside Goa. But yes, after our participation in recent Vibrant Goa summit, we do have some inquiries in the pipeline and we hope to start a business with those parties soon. We are simultaneously working on the system to develop a chain of raw material procurement, manufacturing and supply. We hope to start the procurement from Goa in the near future,” discloses Mandar. The Bhates are looking forward to taking back used areca nut plates and other tableware, to turn them into charcoal.

The Bhates mention of hookah charcoal, which is used in hookah parlours and say that the same can be replaced with their eco-friendly, chemical-free charcoal. Claiming that the charcoal currently used is adulterated with chemicals to boost fast burning and can be very harmful as one directly inhales it, the Bhates feel that the use their eco-friendly, chemical-free hookah charcoal will reduce this risk to a considerable extent.

The Bhates have plans to export their non-chemical tableware and smokeless charcoal and have already sent samples to potential and probable buyers outside India. Vibrant Goa offered them a platform to display their products before the international market but also guided to be ready for the market. Being a small and new company, this boost proved to be crucial and important for them. The brain behind Vibrant Goa, Dr Jagat Shah regularly mentored them. This helped in approaching the right country with the right kind of packaging. Mandar and Mayuri are also thankful to team Vibrant Goa, including Dr Jagat Shah, Arman Banklay, Rajkumar Kamat and others for opening the doors of opportunities for small entrepreneurs like them along with hundreds of others in Goa.

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