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  • Kasturi Goswami

Sustainability That Emerges Out Of Stimulating Indulgence: The Areca Palm Leaf Use In Product Design

For Indians, no traditional social event is complete without the complimentary Paan. Most of us have grown up watching our grandparents chew on the occasional paan and supari. The iconic movie, Padosan’s Kishore Kumar’s character or Amitabh Bachchan's Khaike Paan Banaras Wala song is incomplete without the paan. Besides the recreational stimulating indulgence of the betel nut i.e. supari (the seed of the Areca Palm), another part of the tree plays a vital role. The answer is hidden within its leaves. With the advent of mankind into the awakening sustainability consciousness, Indians have managed to fish out disposable yet visually appealing and bio-degradable items made out of the leaves of the Areca Palm.

Pic: Areca Palm Trees

Pic: Dry Areca Palm Leaves

India has Areca Palms growing in Karnataka, Assam, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and parts of Tripura. According to a 2021 project report, India has around 4 lakh hectares of Areca Palm cultivation, out of which 5400 million Areca leaves are shredded and treated as agro-waste. The leaves are quite useful for villagers to mark out boundaries between plots - a cheaper alternative to building walls. Thus, these leaves are sturdy and could be a perfect alternative to plastics, polymer, and styrofoam packaging and manufacturing.

areca leaf_cutlery
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An opportunist would thus, easily figure out the true value and potential of venturing into the Areca leaves market and establishing a low-cost, sustainable and successful business. PAPLA is one such venture. Kerala’s Devakumar Narayan and Saranya have successfully converted their dream to start an eco-friendly business into reality.

We always had this plan to start a venture of our own but were unsure about what it would be. So we started brainstorming to find ideas that match our interests. One thing we were sure about was that it should be a business with a good cause and social responsibility. ~ Saranya, as quoted by The Better India.

The PAPLA team sources in Areca leaves from Kasargod and Karnataka to transform them into efficient products, mostly tablewares. Food events demand disposable tablewares, and PAPLA is an efficient front to supply that demand: plastic-free, compostable, and fully biodegradable solutions.

Packaging is another demand that needs a sustainable front. Food packaging is an absolute setback in this field. The swift food delivery system is fueled by the presence of giants such as Swiggy, Zomato, Food Panda, Faasos, Uber Eats, etc. Thus, the a never-ending chain of supply for plastic containers. Though the shift to paper containers is visible, the change is not at its hundred per cent capacity. Inspired by the need for a sustainable solution and the Indian lunch ‘Dabba’ (steel food carrier), product designer Srishti Garg has innovatively created the ‘Dip-In Tiffin’.

The point of making this design with areca leaf bowls was for it to be disposable and eco-friendly. It would be a great fit for travellers as they would not have to then deal with the intricacies of time and space to take it back home for reusing it. ~ Srishti, as quoted by The Better India

Intending to eliminate single-use plastic containers from restaurants, Srishti came up with the idea for her student project. She decided to opt for the disposable Areca leaf bowls, retained together by a paper structure. Her first trial involved an easy on the go South Indian breakfast meal including Idli, Vada, and Appam. The items she considered are light and a paper knot is easier and cheaper. However, she agrees that liquid and other heavier items would need a more detailed structural design. Considering the bio-degradable aspect of the product, it takes around 90-100 days to decompose.

Final Product [Pic Credit: The Better India]

Srishti's project is a step toward a more economic, safe, and sustainable solution to plastic use in the food packaging industry. Alternatives to paper are additional benefits to the ecological solutions innovated. Thus, proper product planning combinations are vital for designing solutions for effective packaging, and in this case, the product packs usage even as waste.


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