Thermacol’s shock absorbance properties, lightweight texture, and versatility have rendered it a popular item. But it has devastating impacts on the planet.
Studies indicate that the burning of thermocol releases toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, as well as about 90 different hazardous chemicals.
Arpit Dhupar, a 30-year-old engineer from Delhi, is attempting to change this reality with a new biodegradable material that he has innovated as part of his venture Dharaksha Ecosystems.
Launched in 2019, the Faridabad-based initiative produces biodegradable packaging material out of crop stubble waste.
This addresses two issues — pollution hazards in Northern India resulting from the burning of stubble, and increasing amounts of dumped thermocol in landfills.
In 2019, during a sabbatical from work, Dhupar travelled through the remote villages of Punjab and Haryana to understand why stubble burning was such an evil.
Through interactions with the locals, he arrived at the conclusion that farmers want the stubble cleared off as quickly as possible from their lands, as it serves no purpose to them.
Owing to high moisture content, the stubble cannot be used as fuel.
Dhupar came up with the idea of having baler machines compress and stack the stubble and keep it aside so that it would not be a nuisance to the farmers.
He decided to use mushrooms to degrade the stubble and noticed that the mycelium grew on the waste in a way that it rendered strength to the structure.
“This wasn’t a waste material but could be a usable one. Through bio fabrication, we could use the stubble waste to create a material similar to thermocol, but one that was biodegradable.”
Elaborating on their process, he says that once the stubble is brought to the factory, it is sterilised, after which they add the mushroom culture.
“The mycelium grows, forming a sort of interlocked structure that holds the material in place. This makes it strong, so no resin needs to be added. The mix is then put into the oven, where the mushrooms are neutralised.”
The resulting material is flame-proof, can also tolerate high moisture conditions, is anti-static and has superior cushioning capabilities.
Each piece of the material produced, says Dhupar, “prevents 250 tonnes of thermocol from going into landfills”.
The startup has procured over 250 tonnes of paddy stubble from 100 acres of farmland in Punjab and Haryana, and has clocked a turnover of Rs 25 lakh in the last year.