The machine upcycles rice bran, red chilli stalks, tamarind seeds and peanut shells to create inventive, eco-friendly food containers
Recently, a video of a man showcasing products made from rice bran went viral. In the video, posted on Twitter by Supriya Sahu, Principal Secretary of Environment Climate Change & Forests of Tamil Nadu, the man holds up eco-friendly food containers, cups and glasses. She wrote, “Food containers made out of rice bran are leak proof, affordable, disposable and earth friendly. Hotels, restaurants, food joints, it’s time for you to stop using banned plastic packaging in Tamil Nadu and switch to sustainable eco alternatives #meendummanjappai #Manjapai.”
Later, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor retweeted and urged the Government to scale up production of such eco-friendly alternatives for daily use. “Madam visited our stall at an exhibition in Chennai organised by the Tamil Nadu Government to promote the Meendum Manjappai campaign. After she shared the video, I have been getting a number of calls. People are eager to know more,” says Kalyan Kumar, the man in the video. So far a millet exporter from Trichy has approached him to repurpose 12 tonnes of millet waste, a farmer from Panruti connected to find ways to upcycle rice straws, and several coir farmers from the Pollachi belt near Coimbatore have asked for ways to utilise coir waste.
Reduce, recycle and reuse
Kalyan’s modest machinery unit, SPS Kalyan Machine Designers, located at Mathampallayam, 25 kilometres from Coimbatore, has been getting a steady stream of visitors ever since the video went viral. “Any chakkai (organic waste) can be upcycled using the multi-biodegradable machine that we make here,” says Kalyan, holding up a tray made from banana fibre. Along with rice bran and areca leaf plates stacked on his table, there are air-tight food boxes made using saw dust from teak wood. Tea cups made from discarded red chilli stalks also vie for attention. “This can be used to serve hot beverages like soups,” he adds.
Kalyan says the machine can recycle as many as 15 raw materials, including rice bran, rice husk, rice straw, wheat bran, and nine types of non-poisonous wood powder, tamarind seeds, and peanut shells. “Even vegetable waste like skin of stick tubers (kuchi kelangu), banana tree, and discarded banana branches can become raw material,” he explains.
Over the last two years, he has supplied machines across Tamil Nadu as well as Sri Lanka, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. One of his latest machines will soon be dispatched to a customer in Belgium to repurpose beer waste into wine glasses and tea cups. “The ratio is 700 grams of organic waste to 300 grams of food grade solution, which I provide (he has patented this), to make the end product. Name any organic waste, I can give you a ready solution,” he says with an air of confidence.
While initially they made machines that relied on a single raw material, for example areca leaves, to make plates and spoons, later he experimented with saw dust and rice bran, which are available across all seasons in South India. “Used rice bran tea cups can be easily converted into animal food or manure,” says Kalyan, adding that anyone can make a profit of up to ₹30,000 per month as the machines can be scaled up to make 2,000 cups (in 60 ml to 120 ml sizes) per day. The cost starts from ₹4 lakh and can go up to ₹40 lakhs.
Caring for the environment is the key, reiterates Kalyan who also tapped into the demand for eco-friendly air tight-food containers during the pandemic. “If we have to cut down on use of paper and plastic cups, we have to constantly innovate. For tea cups, we can also provide a bottom guard to paste seeds and it can be used for mass dispersal of seeds for green drives. Cups made with rice bran and coir can be used for packaging glass items, especially for export markets.”
Kalyan advocates recycling waste. “A used paper cup stays the same for three years. But the bio-degradable products degrade within eight hours of contact with water. At meetings with tea shop owners we learnt that they prefer paper and plastic cups because of easy availability. An eco-friendly alternative like a rice bran cup (in which the beverage stays warm for up to 45 minutes!) can enter that space only with awareness and mass production,” he says, adding, “It is very encouraging when people come forward and buy such innovations. It gives us hope.”
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