sanitary pad incinerator plastic plate making machine:Biodegradable plates and bowls made from areca palm spathes are making a big splash

sanitary pad incinerator plastic plate making machine:Biodegradable plates and bowls made from areca palm spathes are making a big splash

  Dinner plates and sweet bowls of various sizes are lined up, ready for collection at the entrance of J Santhosh Mary’s home in the village of Valadi, 18 km from Tiruchi. A large number of them will be picked up by caterers in the neighbouring towns and cities; another batch will be dispatched to clients in Germany and Canada.

  The vessels are made from spathes of the areca palm (
paaku in Tamil), and are completely biodegradable, which has boosted their marketability in view of the recent ban on single-use disposable plastic products in Tamil Nadu.

  “When I started out in 2009, it was very difficult to get buyers, because plastic was everywhere. Shopkeepers would object to my pricing plates at ₹2, as disposable plastic ware was always much cheaper,” says Santhosh Mary, who employs 6 people to run her home-based cottage industry JS Enterprises.

  “The ban has created a new demand, especially in the mass catering sector. In fact, there are days when it’s not possible to meet everyone’s orders.”

  Upgrading technology

  Santhosh Mary sources the spathes, a sheath that encases the flower cluster of the areca and falls off naturally, from agents, buying 3,000 to 5,000 pieces according to the demand. “A spathe can be used to make around three 12-inch dinner plates. While Indian clients are not very particular about the colour, the plates going abroad have to be made out of white spathes. Our agents fan out across areca farms in Thuraiyur, Thammampatti and Namakkal and beyond. Most of the spathes for foreign orders come from Salem district,” she says.

  Investing in two semi-hydraulic electrical units manufactured in Coimbatore became the turning point in her business. “While I used to get just 200 plates out of a manual machine, and a lot of leg pain, because it was so tough to operate, suddenly, I was making up to 1000 in a day, minus the physical discomfort!” she says.

  Today, Santhosh Mary operates her business with 20 machines, and turns out over 3,000 plates per day. “When we started out, each machine used to cost ₹3.5 lakhs. This has reduced to ₹2.8 lakhs as more people are getting into plate production. But the machines for export orders cost up to ₹7 lakhs, because their dies are different,” she says.

  Going abroad

  Santhosh Mary decided to look for export orders as her plates began to get a steady clientele locally. “Rather than going it alone, I felt it was better to let a professional agent handle the marketing for export,” she says. “I decided to invest in new machines three years ago for the foreign orders only after I was convinced that there was an assured demand for the areca flatware.”

  She has engaged the services of a company based in Coimbatore for her exports and regional marketing.

  Unexpected bonus

  With wholesale prices now fixed at around ₹3.80 to ₹4 per 12-inch plate (for a pack of 1,000), Santhosh Mary should technically be celebrating a boom period. But even this has been a conditional success for the 20-odd areca spathe plate industry players in and around Tiruchi, she says. “Though we wanted to raise our price only by 20 paise after the plastics ban in January, we are being undercut by a glut of cheaper plates from Karnataka,” she rues. “Areca farmers have already increased the spathe prices, so our raw material is getting costlier.”

  The supply of spathes has to be managed as well, since it is available only during the first six months of the year.

  Even so, there have been some unexpected bonuses. “Earlier, only temples were buying our small bowls (called
donnai ) to serve
prasadam . After the plastics ban, wedding and function organisers have been snapping up our
donnais to be used instead of plastic bowls,” says Santhosh Mary.

  Temple festivals in the area are her busiest times. Every year, she processes large orders, from 2000 to 10,000 plates per day exclusively for religious occasions.

  Now diversifying into paper bag production, Santhosh Mary is hopeful of finding a market for that as well. “We have to relearn the importance of using eco-friendly products in our daily life,” she says.

sanitary pad incinerator plastic plate making machine:Biodegradable plates and bowls made from areca palm spathes are making a big splash