Paper alternative to plastic bottles inspired by ancient technologies
7 min read

Paper alternative to plastic bottles inspired by ancient technologies

Paper alternative to plastic bottles inspired by ancient technologies


Meet Samiksha Ganeriwal, the brain behind a new sustainable Indian start-up, Kagzi Bottles, developing an innovative 100% compostable paper bottle.

Since 2018, Samiksha has, undertaking extensive research and development, transformed a “far-fetched” idea into a viable, eco-friendly product that can be used as an alternative to plastic packaging for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).

In speaking to Samiksha, CoRepo gained a unique insight into the motivations, challenges, and ideas driving grassroots social entrepreneurs to confront issues such as sustainability in India and beyond.


India a nation on the rise

India, a nation of just under 1.4 billion people, has experienced staggering growth in the twenty-first century. According to the World Bank, between 2010 and 2019, India’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.66%.

As India’s economy and population have grown, so has the issue of sustainability, especially surrounding plastic waste. In 2019, it was estimated that India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually.

Much of this waste has found itself polluting waterways, streets, and roadsides. As a Centre for Science and Environment report estimated, 79% of plastic produced globally enters our land, water and environment as waste or our bodies through the food chain.

Like many countries, India’s waste management system has buckled under the pressure, struggling to recycle and process this waste in a sustainable and environmentally beneficial manner.

However, entrepreneurs like Samiksha, through her company Kagzi Bottles based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, are looking to turn the tide on this plastic pollution.

For Samiksha, starting Kagzi Bottles was about finding a simple, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to plastic. “I would keep reading about the sustainable options that were available,” Samiksha told us, however, they’d all “require more work when they needed to be disposed of.” This problem made her think, “It shouldn’t be so difficult”, there has to be a “simpler solution to packaging,” she informed CoRepo.

As it has developed and “urbanised”, India has become in Samiksha’s eyes, more influenced by the “Western world”, exacerbating the need for single-use plastics that are both convenient and cheap.

Ancestral Roots

Whilst India has looked to the future, Samiksha found her inspiration looking retrospectively at India’s past. For Samiksha, India’s “heritage and history” has been built upon the use of “sustainable products.” She sees an exciting trend that “people are going back to” in India.

Sustainability has become a significant driver in changing consumer attitudes and behaviours towards products. Samiksha reiterated these changes have significantly impacted the disposable, or single-use, sector.

An example of this is adopting products made from “bagasse” - a fibrous matter which, as a by-product of sugar cane, can be used to manufacture a range of consumer goods.

Samiksha explained that there had been a shift of between “65 and 70% towards bagasse products”, with consumers moving away from less sustainable alternatives. This has fuelled the growth in companies like Dinearth , Papco and EcoSave offering bagasse-derived products.

Similarly, terracotta, a clay-based porous substance, was used in a “huge way in India”. From it being used historically to make glasses, plates, and utensils to pots in Rajasthan and terracotta horses in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the material application of terracotta has persisted in India. This persistence has come from its adaptability as a lightweight, long-life, and durable material. Like many sustainable products, terracotta’s strength lies in its simplicity.

Recently, over 7,000 railway stations across India moved away from plastic-lined paper cups, reverting to terracotta cups, known as kulhads, to serve tea to passengers. Initiatives like this, along with Samiksha’s admission that food cooked in terracotta pots, “actually tastes better”, has reinstated the utility of historical materials like terracotta.

From wooden eating utensils to banana leaf plates and terracotta goods, Indian consumers are becoming more and more “conscious” of their sustainable ancestral roots.

Samiksha, inspired by the sustainability of the materials as part of India’s historical heritage, developed Kagzi Bottles. As she summarised, “In India, we have solutions, our history clearly defines it, we just need to go back and adapt to it.”

Kagzi Bottles a biodegradable, cost-effective solution

When asked about companies’ adoption of a more sustainable circular economic model in India, Samiksha explained that companies are aware, but “the options are unknown… people don’t know where to shift and how to shift and how much it’s going to cost them.” This has been a fundamental limitation in the adoption of circularity and reflects a common theme across many countries globally.

Within India, a lack of alternatives to plastic has thwarted efforts to reduce plastic waste. “There’s no 100% option” on the market, and alternatives typically contain a “plastic lining”.

The solution, Samiksha believes, is the development of a 100% biodegradable, water-resistant, paper-based Kagzi Bottle (pictured below).

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Kagzi Bottles’ 100% biodegradable product

Kagzi Bottles, Samiksha explained, uses “wastepaper from cartons, newspapers and other industrial waste” to create a pulp. This pulp is then pressed and coated with a proprietary waterproofing solution into the final decomposable bottle. The waterproofing solution is plant-based and inspired by banana leaves; however, the company patented this specific technology. The bottle is currently secured with a cork, which fits into the neck of the bottle.

Samiksha, beyond the basic design and attributes of the bottle, has been able to produce a product cheaper than its plastic counterpart. Referencing the company that they tested the product with, she explained, “they normally buy plastic bottles (used for shampoo/conditioner) … for somewhere between 25 to 36 (£0.24 and 0.35) rupees in India, our bottles price between 19 and 22 rupees (£0.18 and £0.21)”. As Kagzi Bottles continue to upscale, prices will continue to become cheaper and cheaper, offering a competitive advantage in a well-established market.

Given that most plastic waste ends up in landfills or the environment, Samiksha is confident that her bottle, which biodegrades in 12 weeks within a domestic setting, will eliminate plastic waste. As government regulations in India continue to clamp down on waste, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi banning single-use plastics by 2022, demand will continue to grow for products like Samiksha’s Kagzi Bottle.

The successful development of India’s first fully biodegradable paper bottle has led to “inquiries” from the “US, UK, Africa, and Russia,” to name but a few. Samiksha explained: “I’ve had such amazing responses to the bottle, and people from all walks of life have come forward to help me.” Given the core message of increasing sustainability and reducing the adverse effects of plastic waste, Kagzi Bottles would be willing to offer licences for the bottle to those who may want to “manufacture it” outside of India.

Samiksha also has plans to develop refillable pouches using the same technology in the future.

Challenges

While top-down pressure has forced companies to think about sustainability within India itself, Samiksha explained, the “government is struggling with” implementing sweeping bans on plastic because of a lack of alternative options.

Like many countries debating regulatory approaches, for India, it is very much a balancing act in deciding when and how to implement policies that may have a significant disruptive impact on specific industries.

For Samiksha, while she is happy with the product itself, she explained, “every day we find new things and new challenges with the bottles that we have to overcome.” One of the issues she has confronted is the capping of the bottle; for “FMCG companies, their distribution network is such, and their transportation is so rigid, that they need completely sealed bottles.” This problem has led her “to go round and round and round” with the bottle. However, she is confident that they’re close to making a breakthrough in their capping system design.

Furthermore, Samiksha explained that some of the processes within India are more challenging than abroad in terms of facilities, funding, and production. As she said, “we don’t have the [same] resources.” This fact emphasizes the need to gain “more authentic results” and certification to validate the product’s composability. Yet, Samiksha felt confident that she’d soon be able to use a third party to conduct a “composability test”, the question was figuring out, “who does that here”.

Given the staggering demand that Samiksha has received, developing Kagzi Bottles at scale will continue to be an essential part of her company’s development. Whilst, increasing scale is not something that concerns Samiksha, ensuring she finds “the right… funds to take this project forward” is critical for her to elevate Kagzi Bottles to the heights she so strongly envisions.

Summary

Samiksha’s entrepreneurial spirit, with a keen focus on sustainability, reflects a broader trend in India which has seen staggering growth in new firms in the formal sector, increasing by 12.2% between 2014 and 2018. As seen in figure 1, this growth has ranked India third, by country, in the number of new firms created according to the World Bank.

As Samiksha explained, “there’s a huge shift in entrepreneurship in India, most of it towards sustainability”. Embracing this growth in sustainably-minded entrepreneurship will be key in developing sustainable practices, behaviours, and regulations within India over the next decade.

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Figure 1: Growth in new firms over time in India

For Samiksha, it is crucial that society is discouraged from taking our planet and plastic for granted. Whilst she “doesn’t want to replace plastic bottles”, Samiksha, like a growing number of social entrepreneurs, is offering a sustainable, cost-effective solution that emphasizes circularity and the issues surrounding the exploitation of scarce resources.

In creating Kagzi Bottles, Samiksha has faced many challenges, concerns, and hurdles. However, driven by a can-do attitude and a core mission to better communities, countries, and regions, Samiksha reflects a growing entrepreneurial spirit concerned with the betterment of society.

While there are still many concerns and questions to be addressed within the increasingly dynamic landscape of sustainable packaging, Kagzi Bottles offers a glimpse into a potentially sustainable solution.

As Samiksha reflected, if “we put our minds together, I’m sure we can change how we use plastic.” Messages like these are vital in developing collaborative, systemic, and sustainable solutions which address local, regional, and global problems.