Last year, when the heavy monsoon rains had ravaged Kerala, two retired agricultural scientists were following the ground reports closely, and were stunned at the scenes unfolding before them.
RD Iyer and his wife, Rohini have been residents of the state since 2007. After their retirement, they moved to Kollam from Tamil Nadu and established Navasakti, an NGO that works towards agricultural betterment and farmer empowerment.
Through Navasakti, the couple shares their professional expertise, and distribute seeds and saplings to farmers.
During the floods, the couple saw first-hand what irreversible damage plastic can do.
“As the water had entered homes, shops and open fields, it had released the plastic stuck in various nooks and crannies. It was choking the streets and creating obstacles for the rescue boats,” shares Iyer with The Better India.
Having worked closely with farmers for about 12 years, the couple knew how terribly they were affected by the floods. With the images of the plastic floating and choking the streets of Kerala fresh in their minds, they decided to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfills, and do something for the benefit of the farmers.
Since Navasakti distributes saplings and seeds to farmers regularly, they know how much single-use plastic goes into their plantation. In their capacity as agro-scientists, they decided to tap into this overlooked plastic menace.
“As retired agricultural scientists, we were brainstorming on ways of making the plant pots eco-friendly. The pots are extremely useful for the farmers to transport saplings from nurseries and from farm to farm. Plastic pots are an obvious menace, but we realised that earthen and cement pots too, come with their shortcomings,” 75-year-old Rohini tells The Better India.
“When the clay is baked to make the pots, it loses its natural properties. It is still eco-friendly, no doubt, but it doesn’t become a part of the soil. The same is true for cement pots. We were introduced to cork pots too, but they don’t last beyond a year,” she adds.
There was one option that they hadn’t tried out yet—rubber.
Made from natural materials and used extensively by several industries, rubber seemed like a promising material to make biodegradable plant pots.
It was beyond their capacity to experiment with its material or design, so they decided to approach the Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) in Kottayam, Kerala.
“We were told that the entire project would cost us over Rs 1 lakh. We had the amount saved from our pension, and we gave it to the institute. The rubber pots were ready in eight months. Each one weighs about 750 gm—and approximately 15% of it is made from virgin rubber and the rest from recycled tyres,” Rohini explains.
The pots, which are conical in shape, come in two sizes—you can choose between an 8-inch and 10-inch pot. A pack of two is priced at Rs 340 and the couple claims to have already sold 1500 numbers since they started making them in June 2018.
Rohini further tells us that the pots are unique as compared to other options in the market, as they last for 8-9 years, can be recycled and are extremely easy to handle. They don’t break, nor do they impact the environment adversely.
RD Iyer informs TBI that they wish to reach out to more people so that they can gather feedback and suggestions to make any improvements to the design if required.
“Plastic has eroded our grounds, and although we see it lying on the ground every day, phenomenal events like last year’s floods that show us the magnitude of the problem,” the 84-year-old tells us.
“We have dedicated our careers to agricultural research and our retirement years to help farmers around Kerala. Through small initiatives like these, we want to ensure that the impact is seeping to the rural and urban areas. Even something as small as a plant pot can help reduce plastic and reduce rubber from ending up in landfills. So far, we have helped over a hundred farmers by giving them green chilli, brinjal and tomato saplings in these pots.”
If you wish to buy the rubber pots, click on this link.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)