Perfect decomposition: This Goa startup’s alternative to plastic wrappers is made of corn starch

Plastic alternatives have increasingly gained focus in recent years, amid reduced use of the products made by the polluting material

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Sunday 21 August 2022

Sachin Gangadharan, co-founder, LaFabrica CraftA small shampoo sachet is, by definition, a single-use plastic. Usually torn and used within a month of its purchase, it is quickly discarded and often ends up choking landfills and polluting the nearby environment. However, imagine if this sachet could instead decompose with no harm to the environment in just three months.

This is what is promised by LaFabrica Craft Pvt Ltd, a company based in Margao, Goa that designs eco-friendly products for common plastic packaging items. The company has recently developed fully biodegradable shampoo sachets and chutney packets using a natural biopolymer.

This is a material derived from organic substances such as corn and tapioca starch, seaweed and casein (a cow milk protein).

“We use corn and tapioca starch as this is easily available, along with some other additives to make a polymer called polybutylene adipate terephthalate or PBAT,” Sachin Gangadharan, a co-founder of the company, said.

“From this, we have made a material called Phimer that degrades in 90 days, unlike other PBAT items in the market that can take twice as long,” he claimed.

LaFabrica has partnered with Phitons Bioengineering, a Bengaluru-based biotechnology company, to make Phimer.

“Most biopolymers are imported from other countries and can be expensive. Hence, we wanted to offer a homegrown solution that is affordable,” Sonja Coates, co-founder and director of LaFabrica, said.

Plastic alternatives have increasingly gained focus in recent years, amid reduced use of the products made by the polluting material. These alternatives include bamboo, banana fibre, coconut husk and paper or cardboard.

LaFabrica has also designed such products, for instance, a paper beverage container that can be used for food delivery or takeaway orders. The container comes with a lid that interlocks on its own, eliminating the need for plastic tape to secure it.

“The container is lined with a thin biopolymer film made of polylactic acid or PLA that is derived from corn starch biopolymer and is widely available,”  Gangadharan said. He has also made wallets that interlock in the same way. Both products are planned for launch soon.

An architect by training, Gangadharan’s first products were biodegradable paper carry bags and pouches. “I had always been curious about how a paper can be designed to help achieve better use. I started experimenting with and redesigning paper bags to enable them to carry more weight,” he said.

LaFabrica’s bags, which have been patented for their design, can carry up to 20 kg of weight. The company tries to keep prices competitive, Gangadharan said; for instance, the pouches are priced at Rs 2.2 each.

Sumehr Gwalani, a Goa-based entrepreneur who runs a shrimp delivery startup, has been sourcing packing pouches from LaFabrica for more than a year. “The company was able to modify the order according to our needs. We found it to be completely biodegradable and our customers appreciate it,” he said. The company plans to keep experimenting with more products, Gangadharan said.

This was first published in the 16-31 August, 2022 edition of Down To Earth

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