Sustainable solutions for plastic problems


February 23, 2007

Karan Billimoria and Earthsoul’s replacement products for plastics claim to consume less fossil fuels and emit low greenhouse gases.

At a time when the issue of global warming is attracting the attention of big businesses all over the world, some small initiatives are charting the course ahead in India. In one such initiative, Mumbai-based Earthsoul India is manufacturing natural biopolymer or biodegradable plastic products.

Earthsoul India is India’s first and only internationally certified company of 100 percent biodegradable and compostable biopolymer products, claims 45-year-old founder and CEO Perses Bilimoria.

The company started manufacture in 2005 and offers a range of products comprising carry bags, food wrappers, domestic and commercial bin-liners and organic mulch films made from environment friendly biopolymer.

The products are made from Mater-Bi, which is a new generation of starch material derived from corn, wheat and potatoes. Mater-Bi has been developed and commercialised by Europe’s largest manufacturer of biopolymer, Novamont SPA.

Says Bilimoria, “The production of Mater-bi consumes one-fifth of fossil fuels compared to conventional plastics. The Greenhouse Gas emissions are one-fourth.”

It means cutting down not only on the consumption of non-renewable resources like petroleum, natural gas and coal, but also on emission of carbon dioxide, he elaborates.

At the same time while conventional petroleum based plastics are low on recycling and high on soil and air pollution, biopolymers degrade in an environment friendly manner, in turn also leading to better waste management.

Says the Zoroastrian businessman, “My vision is to create a corporate identity which respects nature, is genuinely sustainable and above all leaves behind an enduring legacy for our future generations.”

It was not easy to begin, though. “Initially, everyone thought the concept was too grandiose and not a viable business proposition for India.” He adds, “Even my associates at Novamont SPA thought I was embarking on an extremely difficult project.”

But he was undeterred. “I was passionate and committed. From day one I knew that it would be a daunting task, though.”

In fact, the concept’s genesis can be traced back to family’s Cobra Beer business. He is regional director of India operations in the business spearheaded by more famous cousin Karan.

He says, “At Cobra Beer we strive to make sure all our waste disposal systems are effective and no byproduct, even effluent, is let unutilised.”

Of course, Earthsoul products are a different generation altogether. As of now only hospitality businesses, organic farmers and retails outlets are regular clients.

It’s a tad costlier for small retailers to switch over to his products, though. A regular size bag costs about Rs 4 and can carry goods of up to 6 kg.

Says the commerce graduate turned green businessman, “Cost, is a relative term. I believe you cannot put a value tag on the environment. However I understand that for businesses bottomline is critical. This is unfortunate!”

Keeping the business reality in view, he is banking on high volumes based on the current conventional plastic consumption. At present, India consumes around 5 million tonnes of plastic products. This is expected to rise to 12.5 million tonnes by 2010, he says.

He adds, “So, the potential is enormous. However, I think it would take at least another five years to become a viable alternative to fossil based polymers.”

At the same time, he points out, large-scale production of the product doesn’t eat into the plastic industry and workers’ livelihood. He says, “They are safe and sound as ever before because our products are and can be produced on the same conventional plastic machines.”

He emphasises, “We should not be seen as a threat to industry. In fact I believe that we have a sustainable and renewable solution at our doorstep for plastic waste which is abusing the environment and causing plastics to be termed as generally bad.”