A battle against plastic

Updated: Dec 05, 2014, 08:48 IST | Anu Prabhakar |

Siblings Yash and Sachi Maniar offer products made out of sugarcane fibre as an alternative to plastic through their project, Shunya Alternatives

The high point of our talk with Yash Maniar comes right in the middle, when the conversation veers towards toothbrushes. “The dentist asks us to change our toothbrush once in three months,” points out Yash, while trying to explain the mind-boggling amount of waste that human beings produce. “So that is four toothbrushes per person, every year. Multiply that with the number of people who do this,” he adds, thus effectively making his point.

Yash and Sachi Maniar

A plastic wasteland
The 24-year-old entrepreneur is co-founder of Shunya Alternatives which, true to its name, offers products made out of biodegradable material such as sugarcane fibre, which poses no harm to the environment.

The Vile Parle resident runs the initiative with his sister Sachi who, in her capacity as a filmmaker, had visited Mumbai’s landfills for projects. “I visited the Deonar landfills, where an entire slum lives at the footsteps of this garbage mountain range. As soon as you step out of Govandi station, you can feel the temperature rise and smell the stink. I saw kids play on that ground, which is littered with open needles, hospital and hotel waste, electronic waste and so on. The life expectancy of those living in Deonar is half of that of a regular urban city dweller’s,”  points out Sachi.

The tipping point came when least expected — when the duo was served a donut at a popular eatery. The object of their consternation was the styrofoam plate on which the donut was served. “That was when Sachi and I finally decided to act and do something,” recalls Yash.

products by Shunya Alternatives

Alternatives to plastic
After brief associations with the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and Eco-centric (a company that works on e-waste management), Yash won a place in a US-based fellowship programme run by The Do School, where he presented the business idea for Shunya in February. The school continues to mentor the project, which also bagged a grant by The Pollination Project (which offers seed grants) last month. Finally, after months of planning, the company got registered in August and its website went live early last month.

“We wanted to introduce the concept of using alternatives to plastic that were easy to use, cheaper and good-looking,” explains Sachi.

Through trial and error, the brother-sister team experimented with various raw materials before zeroing in on sugarcane fibre. “We experimented with palm leaves but they are more expensive and the risk of it developing fungus was very high. Currently, we offer plates, salad plates, dessert plates, drinking straws, 180ml and 240 ml bowls and clamshells,” explains Yash.

The products (sold in a pack of 50 pieces), which cost R2.5 to R11 per piece, are heat resistant and outsourced from north India. The duo’s future plans include experimenting with other raw materials such as bamboo and wheat straw.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb as waste disposal is a huge issue in Mumbai. As reports have already suggested that there will be a 15 per cent increase in plastic consumption, we need to seriously think about this issue,” cautions Sachi.

Waste matter

According to their website, Shunyaalternatives.com, 15277 tonnes of waste per day is plastic waste and 6289 tonnes from this are neither collected, nor recycled. Other reports are equally disheartening. According to a 2013 report by apex body Plastindia Foundation, plastics and polymer consumption is growing at an average rate of 10 per cent and is expected to touch 16.5 million tonnes by 2016.

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