From cutlery to carry bags, plastic has a dominating presence in all walks of life. And almost 50% of the plastics we produce, are single use and take between 500-1,000 years to degrade.
India alone generates over 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste per annum. While the world uses one million plastic bags per minute, the annual average comes up to over 500 billion plastic bags. And only a meagre 5% of the plastics we produce are recovered to be reused or recycled.
“I knew I had to come back to India and do something sustainable for my country,” says Cibhi Selven, the founder of Regeno, who is helping solve the environment-threatening plastic problem in Tamil Nadu.
Cibhi who originally hails from Tiruppur near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, recalls the lessons he learnt as a young schoolboy in Ooty.
“You remember how teachers taught us to keep our environment clean by not littering and controlling plastic pollution by the three R model, Reduce, Reuse & Recycle? They all remained theoretical concepts in my head, since growing up I hardly saw anybody follow it in their everyday lives,” he confesses to The Better India.
But when a young Cibhi, alumni of Chennai’s Loyola College, moved to the United States to complete his Masters in Finance, his entire perspective on sustainable practices changed. Cibhi spent over four years in America, studying and later working in the operations department of an auto parts manufacturing firm.
His stay in the country exposed him to the prominent culture of using biodegradable or compostable bags to avoid plastic usage. All the practices that were once only concepts in his school textbooks were finally reflecting as part of the everyday lives of people.
“I kept observing how people shopped and consumed things and started comparing it to how we do things in India. This shed light on the disparity that exists in what we study and what we practically do in our very own country. And while I thought creating social awareness is a difficult task, giving people an alternative solution to an existing problem is equally important.
“It was at the time I thought to myself, ‘What if we bring the technology of biodegradable or compostable bags to India?’” recalls Cibhi.
And that’s how the idea of Regeno came about. While the young entrepreneur started his research during his stay in the US, he came to India to make it a reality in December 2016.
He spent over a year doing groundwork and even shared staff with his father’s textile company in Tiruppur during the initial days. Regeno as an official company was only incorporated six months ago. But the success it has seen in these months is commendable.
Speaking about the challenges of starting an eco-friendly venture, Cibhi says, “I underestimated the market. It all seemed easy and feasible while I was in the US, but once I returned and started working on the ground, I realised how difficult it was.”
Raising awareness was one of the major issues, confesses Cibhi. Many people till date in India are unaware of how dreadful, and threatening plastic can be. While reusable and recyclable plastic doesn’t pose as much of a threat to the environment, single-use plastics make up 35 percent of the plastic consumption, says Cibhi.
The second roadblock that he faced was the cost of production.
“Plastic is any day a cheaper option compared to any biodegradable option that exists – be it bags, plates, cups, plastic is always cheaper. So, we had to work around the strategy to get people to avoid plastic and switch to a biodegradable, eco-friendly option instead,” he says.
Regeno biodegradable or compostable bags are made out of wastes of maize, vegetables and paper. These bags once disposed of degrade in three-month’ time based on the fertility of the soil without causing any damage to it. Besides, these biobags burn like paper and turn into ash. They can also melt in hot water.
“Since our bags are biodegradable, I suggest that you utilize them as garbage bin bags, after regular use. Most of us don’t realise that using plastic bags to throw waste, not only increases the manual labour of segregation but also its costs, that citizens themselves pay in the long run,” says Cibhi.
The cost of manufacturing a biobag varies based on size, dimension and thickness but is usually 50% more than plastic. But it is still cheaper than most paper or cotton bags. Their costs are comparable to non-woven bags.
Cibhi also takes this chance to emphasise the threat that non-woven bags pose to the environment. Passed off as cloth bags by most consumers due to its texture, these bags are made of 60% plastic. Its environmental repercussions are worse than plastic.
“When the cotton part of these non-woven bags biodegrades, the tiny plastic particles remain and eventually enter the ocean. Fishes in the sea eat them which are in turn consumed by humans later. The toxic components that enter our system increase the probability of cancer,” he says.
And though many people want to make the eco-friendly switch from plastic to biobags, many back down once Cibhi gets into the cost details.
“So, the cost is a big issue. But I am trying my best to scale it down. The cost will only come down when the demand increases and to make that possible, more and more people have to adopt it. Even mobile phone were priced at one lakh when they were launched 20 years go. But today with the penetration, you can buy cell phones for Rs 500. So, there’s still a long way to go,” he says.
And while the biobags industry is new to the country, Cibhi believes it has a lot of scope.
“As the consumption increases and the cost decreases, one day we’ll be able to hopefully replace all of the plastic with biodegradable options. I see that happening very soon,” he says.
As Tamil Nadu banned the use of plastic bags with less than 40 microns, Sibi introduced Regeno bio bags in collaboration with Coimbatore’s municipal corporation to give people an alternative solution. The introduction of Regeno biobags made Coimbatore the second city in South India to have biobags after Bengaluru.
In his final message to people, Cibhi says, “Please don’t buy what you don’t need, thinking buying things in bulk will be cost effective. Remember each time we over-consume; we are depleting our resources, most of which are non-renewable. Single-use plastic is the worst threat to the environment today, avoid using it and switch to eco-friendly options.”
If Cibhi’s story inspired you, get in touch with him at:
Phone : +91 94433 03331
Or visit http://www.regeno.in/index.html