Samanvi Bhograj from Bengaluru, is the founder director of Visfortec Private Limited – a company that manufactures 100% biodegradable tableware products. Bhograj is a third-generation entrepreneur, who grew up seeing her grandfather and father B Raghavendra Rao’s steel forging business, and was inspired to create a business of sustainable eco-friendly products. Consequently, after finishing her education – Electrical Engineering from the MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology and MBA in Finance from Marshall University in USA, she started her own venture at the age of 25.
Today, the company makes eco-friendly tableware and is south India’s first and only manufacturing unit for products made from plant fiber.
After her academics, she focused on exploring alternatives to plastic. “Unfortunately, plastics have become an integral component of modern life. Most of our household trash contains plastics. Often, this garbage along with plastic, is disposed of by burning and this adds poisonous gases into the air. There is no accurate measure of how long plastics take, to degrade. When left in the soil it reduces its fertility. Nevertheless, we continue to use plastics, without understanding its lifecycle.
“We are all sitting on a plastic time bomb,” Bhograj cautions.
Plant fiber as a replacement for plastic products
After research, she realised that single-use plastic products, were widely used in the food and hospitality industry. “This is something that every person is directly associated with. We eat and drink out of plastic containers. Disposable plastic ware is not good for health and it also ends up in the landfill as non-degradable waste,” she points out. As an alternative to plastic packaging, Bhograj initially started working with PLA-based (polylactic acid-based) plastic.
“However, the issue with these bioplastics, was its disposal. They need to be industrially composted, to degrade and India has few such facilities. Thus, I decided to create a product made from natural plant fiber or agricultural waste (bamboo or sugarcane fiber), to replace disposable plastics for food packaging,” explains the social entrepreneur.
Bhograj funded her venture by taking a loan and started making her products from 2011. Visfortec’s non-toxic and one-time use food packaging products are made from plant fiber and degrade in about 90-120 days.
The product range includes compostable food containers, biodegradable food packaging products like plates, bowls and trays and tableware like spoons, forks and knives, biodegradable biryani boxes, as well as jute shopping bags and eco-friendly lunch boxes. The products are also water and oil resistant and are freezer safe and microwave friendly.
Cost and awareness remain the biggest obstacles to replacing plastic
The initial challenge, was to educate people about the ill effects of plastics and suggest suitable alternatives, she recalls.
“Our second-biggest challenge, is the cost of these products, as they are priced higher than traditional plastics and consumers are reluctant to spend more. However, over the years, the consumption and awareness about biodegradable tableware has slowly increased. Government subsidies could help us to further reduce costs and reach a wider market,” feels Bhograj.
Visfortec’s future plans
Her team mostly comprises of women, as she aims to empower women from the rural areas. Apart from manufacturing tableware, she also trains women from rural areas to make paper, cloth and jute bags and connects them to the urban markets. “We are planning to add water/juice cups and containers and are also exploring eco-friendly packaging solutions for various industries – from electronics and toys, to textile. Any product that is packed using thermocol or plastic, can easily be replaced with bagasse or even recycled cardboard packaging,” says Bhograj. At an individual level, she says it is important to reduce the use of plastic. Always carry shopping bags and drinking water bottles from home and consume natural foods rather than packed food, she advises.