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As India is gearing up to celebrate its 73rd Independence Day on 15 August, 2019, the demand of the tri-colour flag has skyrocketed. There is nothing wrong in celebrating the spirit of patriotism and freedom but, the discarded plastic flags narrates a different story.
To have a better understanding on the rising plastic pollution in India, Boldsky got in touch with Roshan Ray, a Bengaluru-based startup, Seed Paper India
that is striving to take the Independence Day celebrations to a whole new level by producing eco-friendly seed paper flags.
How Seed Paper India Works?
Seed paper is a handmade and biodegradable type of paper that is embedded with different kinds of plant seeds. The seeds sprout when the paper is planted in soil and grow into saplings.
On asking what prompted Rohan to start this unique initiative, he tells us, "I had the idea in 2014, when I was about to get married. There were too many wedding cards. What do you do with the wedding cards? You just discard them. That's when I realised we can do something like embedding seeds in handmade paper. Because, handmade paper is such a product that does not use any chemical in its production. I used different types of seeds, explored different types of seeds and that's how, seed paper started."
Recalling the challenges he faced during the initial days of seed paper production, he said, "When we started the production, we faced a lot of uncertainties. We did not want to use any hybrid seeds. We only wanted to use organic seeds, because the hybrid seeds were so expensive, they were coming in 50 paisa or Rs. 1 per seed."
It was also necessary to keep affordability of the products in mind. "If you are going to make an eco-friendly product, you can not increase the rate. You got to keep it reasonable so that people actually can buy it. When we are making something unique and eco-friendly like this, it should be available for the general public."
Apart from seed paper, this startup has also produced seed balls, seed pencils and seed pens as well. However, it started expanding in 2017 when Ray came up with the idea of producing seed paper flags to counter the rising pollution in India and across the globe.
"When I did a research on the Independence day 3 years back, I realised the amount of plastic waste generated due to plastic flags after the events get over on the Independence Day. The plastic flags either go to the landfill, or get burnt, which further adds to the rising pollution levels in this country."
The idea, however, was not instantly welcomed by everyone. Customers, especially the corporates were doubtful about how well it would work. "It was a very unique idea at that time. People were quite apprehensive about it. Local printers came to us and told us to stop printing flags, because their business was getting affected because of us. Printing handmade paper was a little bit challenging at that time," he says."As long as you are passionate about what you are doing and you are aware that you will be changing the whole system."
Ray further explained that "there have been two kinds of flags, plastic flags and cloth flags. As the plastic flags are cheap, people do not opt for the cloth flags and their demands are also diminishing with time." We are trying to change and reverse engineer the whole process. This is a very small thing that we are doing, but we are trying to make a change. The change will take time, but it will surely happen, he adds.
What's Special This Independence Day?
This Independence Day, they are going to supply around five to six lakhs of seed paper flags all over the world, including places like California, Dubai, Oman and Sharjah. "We are the first country to do this", he exclaimed proudly. "I hope those countries also take a clue from India and start making seed paper flags."
The Seed Paper India team currently comprises of 15 diligent workers from different backgrounds. They recently tied up with Antharbhaava Foundation, a social organisation that expertises in working with the specially abled people.
The foundation is helping in packaging of the flags. Ray explained how proud he feels of the work they are doing. "The team comprises of 10 to 12 mentally and physically challenged people. They have done the packaging of all the Indian flags."
It is not only the flags that are eco-friendly, the packaging also keeps up with the moto of Seed Papar India. "The packaging is plastic free too. We are using printed butter paper and plastic tapes, instead of plastic tape."
"I got a call from a judge from Telegana, who appreciated our efforts." Ray explained feedback like this motivate him to work harder towards his goal of completely eliminating plastic from our surroundings. The aim is to "re-engineer the whole process and go back to our roots".
"We started off with the vision of helping a billion people by 2020. Though we started off in a small manner, I hope I can achieve my goal."
They have started producing eco-friendly seed Ganesha idols for the Ganesha Chaturthi as well. "The idol comes with a jute pot. You just need to add water in that and plant will grow."
Their initiatives are not only spreading awareness about plastic pollution and its negative impacts, but also are inspiring people to adopt eco-friendly ways of celebrating festivals.
"Go celebrate, enjoy yourselves and use less plastic." he signs off.