Agricultural entrepreneur Yogesh Shinde is trying to reduce the use of plastic by manufacturing and promoting bamboo products through his venture Bamboo India.
“I always ask people one question: how long has it been since you thought about your toothbrush?” says Yogesh Shinde.“Yes, a toothbrush! It’s such a small product amidst the plethora of personal care products that we use. Let me share some facts about the toothbrush that are certain to make you want to take your toothbrush seriously.”
And he goes on to explain what he means with some statistics.
Pic above: Yogesh Shinde, Founder of Bamboo India
“Plastic toothbrushes are the secind largest plastic waste generated after plastic bags. Just in India, more than 150 million plastic toothbrushes are thrown into the garbage every month. Every part of the toothbrush – the handle, as well as the bristles – is made from petroleum-based plastic, which does not biodegrade for thousands of years. So, all the plastic toothbrushes made since 1938, when they were made for the first time, still exist somewhere on this planet.”
Yogesh is an agricultural entrepreneur who started Bamboo India, a company that makes bamboo-based eco-friendly products. The company has engaged farmers from the village Velhe, near Pune in Maharashtra, to manufacture products like toothbrushes, speakers, clothing pegs, desk organizers, utility stands and sky lanterns from bamboo. Although the company has informally been active for over two years now, Bamboo India set up their official online store only recently, in June 2016. Since then, the company has completed over 2,000 orders and has had a turnover of over Rs. 50 lakh, according to Yogesh.
“It’s still a very nascent company, but we have made a good start. 2,000 orders don’t exactly equate to 2000 products sold. For example, one of our clients was the company ToothBox based in Hyderabad. They had ordered 3,000 toothbrushes from us and that was just one order,” he says.
Born and brought up in an urban middle class family in Pune, Yogesh had no connection to agriculture. After completing his Masters from the University of Pune, he joined the IT industry and became settled in the comfortable lifestyle of an IT professional. The change happened when he travelled to Europe and stayed at different places in the continent over a span of four years. During his stay, he came across a very different picture of farmers – independent, financially well-off and happy. He had never witnessed farmers like this in his own country.
“I came back to India eventually, but that wonder remained rooted in my mind. I remember feeling that something needed to be done for our farmers after I had seen that farmers could be rich and happy. Eventually, I bought a farm house near Velhe. As I started spending more time at the farm house, I started getting to know the local farmers, made acquaintances with them and came to understand their problems,” says Yogesh.
Day by day, Yogesh became more sure about what he wanted to do.
In pic: Different products by Bamboo India.
After thorough research, and advice from Hemant Bedekar, a Pune-based septuagenarian who conducts research on bamboo, Yogesh came to the conclusion that making bamboo products could be the best entrepreneurial option for the farmers in the villages of Velhe, Bhor, Panshet, and Mulshi, all adjacent to Pune.
He then quit his job as the Assistant VP of Barclays Bank, gathered 10 farmers from the village of Velhe and set up a small manufacturing unit in his farm house. Initially, everything was trial and error. Yogesh himself learned how to make the products and taught the farmers personally. He then started selling these products to his friends, family members, and acquaintances.
Word-of-mouth sales meant he was soon getting orders from friends-of-friends and friends-of-acquaintances.
In pic: Bamboo toothbrushes in the making.
At present, Yogesh has a lot of plans for the expansion of Bamboo India. He has 40 new products in the pipeline and plans to engage over 100 farmer families in the business by the end of 2017. Although the company has seen a profitable beginning, there’s still the major hurdle of cost effectiveness.
“It is true that more people are becoming aware and are asking for alternatives. But the fact remains that there’s a huge difference in the prices of plastic products and bamboo products. While a bamboo toothbrush costs Rs. 100, a plastic toothbrush can cost as low as Rs. 20. Many toothpaste companies give free toothbrushes nowadays. Naturally, it’s hard to compete with that kind of pricing,” says Yogesh.
Though there are hurdles, Yogesh is optimistic about the future. He is currently trying to collaborate with partners from the corporate field as well as the government. The entrepreneur believes that bamboo is the product of the future and is looking forward to that future.
“Bamboo is a strong, environment-friendly, sustainable and renewable material. There’s so much that we can do with bamboo. This is just the beginning. My mission is to help reduce plastic waste in the world. The more bamboo products I sell, the less there’s plastic waste. So our pledge is to reduce one million kilogrammes of plastic waste from being generated in the world by the end of 2017. I know it sounds ambitious but my team and I are hopeful, as well as determined,” he concludes.