Express News Service

Bio entrepreneur Arpit Dhupar lives in Delhi. Sometime in 2019, a year before the clouds of Covid-19 spread its wings, he was watching his three-year-old nephew paint a cityscape. To his shock, the skies were grey, instead of blue. The young artist was merely translating on paper what he is used to—the ugly reality of Delhi, engulfed in smoke caused by pollution and stubble burning in Punjab. This got 30-year-old Dhupar thinking. The search for an alternate solution to ecowaste led him to launch Dharaksha Ecosolutions in partnership with his college mate Anand Bodh in 2020.

The deep-tech material startup converts crop residue into biodegradable packaging. “We wish to replace thermocol with our eco-friendly material,” says Dhupar. “The lack of a better alternative to get rid of eco waste is forcing farmers to burn it as they ready their fields for the next harvest,” he explains. Consequently, copious fumes belching up to the skies are a common sight in the agricultural belt in the Indo-Gangetic plains.

boxes used to package goods

“Earlier we thought of growing mushrooms in paddy straw, and exporting them. But this was during the pandemic, and fungus can be a possible disease carrier,” shares 31-year-old Bodh. The two partners worked on a viable solution in proprietary bio-technology where they make use of mycelium—the roots of a mushroom—to decompose paddy straw, which is then transformed into packaging boxes. “Mushrooms thrive in moisture, and their rapid growth binds the decomposed stubble together,” Dhupar elaborates. The material is oven-dried. The hydrophobic layer that develops on top does not absorb moisture, making the packaging material ideal for humid environments. The firm manufactures 30,000 pieces a month in a 15,000-sqft facility in Faridabad.

But the high price of the product inhibits a scale-up. “The cost is five times that of thermocol. Besides, thermocol is quicker to make. The growth of the mushrooms cannot be expedited to less than seven days—they will become cancerous. Thankfully, some corporate houses are placing orders with us,” Bodh says, adding that Dharaksha is in the process of discussions on development and commercialisation with V-guard, Dabur, Pernod Ricard, Nestle. “The boxes can carry anything between 250 g and 15 kg. We are working on developing stronger versions. We are also mulling setting up a plant in Rishikesh, and another one down south,” they say. There can be clean smoke with a fire, that much is certain.

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