From refuse to reuse: Removing plastic from the table


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Aug 21, 2023

From refuse to reuse: Removing plastic from the table

by Samaya Chauhan | 25 May 2023 | Climate change, Contests, Educators' Catalog,

by Samaya Chauhan | 25 May 2023 | Climate change, Contests, Educators' Catalog, Environment, Youth Voices

Yash Pakka founder Ved Krishna. Photo courtesy of Ved Krishna.

Do you know that every time you dine at Haldiram's or sip a cup of tea from Chai Point or grab your favourite burger at McDonald's, you leave the planet cleaner and better?

Those plates and spoons, and the packaging they use, are not ordinary ones. They are the ones with a soul, creating a regenerative biosphere and ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

Marketed under the brand name Chuk, these biodegradable cutlery and packaging are manufactured from sugarcane waste by Yash Pakka.

The endeavour is a brainchild of its founder, Ved Krishna, who after completing a master's degree at Arizona State University in biomimicry — the study of nature to solve human problems — and finding himself in charge of a failed business, took a rather natural sojourn and found success through waste products.

The story dates back some years ago, when Ved Krishna, in a moment of epiphany, realised the enormous damage that packaging material was causing the planet.

Ved Krishna saw that more and more people bought food packaged in plastics, opting for home deliveries and shopping online, both of which implied increased usage of plastic material. Multilayered food packaging which we use everyday like potato chip wrappers, chocolate wrappers, styrofoam and carry bags stood out as major culprits.

Thus was born Yash Pakka and its first brand of sustainable, compostable tableware, Chukk.

Bharti Jain, senior editor of The Times of India, wrote that while Ved Krishna inherited the company's predecessor, Yash Papers, he chose to challenge the status quo and diversified into a field that would make the planet cleaner and plastic-free.

"The locally available sugarcane waste is put to good use for manufacturing eco-friendly and biodegradable food packaging and tableware," Jain said. "The innovation shows how Ved Krishna's pro-environment outlook was combined with sharp business acumen to make a positive change on the ground and promote sustainability."

The more Ved Krishna looked inwards, the more he realised that his true calling was to leave the Earth a cleaner place, and that a business could become a vehicle for that change.

"Observe nature and you will see that its building blocks are very simple — made entirely of cellulose, amino acids and minerals," Ved Krishna said. "So the aim was to create packaging material made out of mainly cellulose."

With an aim to create a final product that was biodegradable enough to put back into nature, the company created biodegradable packaging and tableware from sugarcane waste.

Also in the pipeline are two patented products that include a multi-layered flexible packaging coated with bioplastics and another one created using calcium carbonate waste blended with bioplastics.

Today, the company boasts of a presence in more than 40 countries, and works in collaboration with over 40 partners and more than 16,000 shareholders.

Yash Pakka now manufactures food carry materials, moulded food service ware and flexible packaging and speciality papers (like greaseproof, glassine, release base, parchment, tissues etc.) from wet agricultural waste pulp, mainly sugarcane waste.

Made of 100% agri-residue, all these products go back to earth. In the very first year of its inception, Yash Pakka re-routed 4,000 tonnes of agri-waste into new products.

Their manufacturing processes are also environmentally friendly as they use 100% self-generated bio mass energy. In the last few years, water consumption of their production plants has been reduced from 110 to 30 cubic litres, and electricity usage has been brought down from 1400 units to nine units for producing a tonne of material.

Apart from this, as a company Yash Pakka is on a continuous afforestation drive.

"Even when we give a gift, we make sure it is sustainable," Ved Krishna said. "We also support a lot of local businesses which work in tandem with nature so that we create the least carbon footprint."

This comes as a classic shift from the usual ‘eco-friendly’ to a more viable ‘regenerative’ approach, something Ved Krishna has his firm belief in. For Ved Krishna, ‘eco-friendly’ is a misnomer, because as soon as there is industry, you will create heat and dust.

Listen to any environmentalist and they can go on endlessly about how humans are harming the planet. Ved Krishna, however, begs to differ.

"We have really no power to harm the Earth, as it has a regenerative quality and that is what makes it special," he said. "We are harming ourselves and slowly self-annihilating. The faster we realise this, the better it will be. Every small gesture, every little step in this direction counts. From changing the way we think to replacing the manner in which we eat, everything matters."

As for Yash Pakka, the company is looking at building the world's largest factory for compostable packaging in Central America. That, for sure, is much more than just a small step. Every single plastic bottle or bag refused by us, every waste reused by us, may well be a drop in the ocean, but then, it is these drops that cause a ripple effect.

Jain said that for the young readers, Krishna's success story is a lesson that just wanting a cleaner earth is not enough.

"You have to get your hands dirty to wipe out plastic waste from the planet, the profits being a bonus," Jain said. "Interestingly, a good product will always find its way to the consumers — be it through intermediaries like McDonald's, Halidiram's or Chai Point or directly through e-commerce websites like Amazon, where even I have sourced ‘Chuk’ plates and cutlery from."

Samaya Chauhan is a high school student from India, studying at Amity International School, Pushp Vihar, New Delhi. She started writing at her school's student-run newspaper, The Global Times, from a very young age and developed a disposition towards expression on an array of subjects. Her writings entail everything from humorous takes on routine affairs to comprehensive perspectives on issues that matter. An ardent debater and Model United Nations participant, she ardently advocates for women's rights and sustainable development and takes keen interest in public policy. She has also been consistently working towards promoting a zero-bullying environment through several social awareness activities. She has a penchant for dancing, singing and playing the piano.

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