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Schoolgirl's biopot will make you ditch plastic

By Sushil Rao | Aug 23, 2022

Srija’s Solution Is Now Ready To Be Churned Out In Factories

When you ask A Srija what prompted her to make biodegradable pots to grow saplings in, she goes back to one morning when she was working with plants in her village school in Telangana.

The day started on a note of hope. But within minutes, Srija was seething. She noticed a sapling in a black plastic bag. She looked around. There were several such plastic bags.

Srija, all of 14, rushed to her headmaster, Augustien, who is also the mathematics teacher in the school in Jogulamba Gadwal district. “The plastic bags cause damage. They are not biodegradable. This cannot be allowed to happen to the environment,” she told her teacher. Augustien listened to her patiently.

Srija’s concern was valid, and a solution had to be found. From this moment, Srija and her school headmaster became a team.

“I am environmentally conscious myself, so it was no surprise to me that my student chose to vent her feelings on such an important thing that she had noticed. That set me thinking too. It was indeed a problem and this could not be allowed to happen. But more importantly, a solution had to be found instead of complaining about the problem,” Augustien recalled telling her in March 2020.

Srija, a student in the Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS) is now an entrepreneur who makes biopots with groundnut shells so that people don’t need to plant saplings in plastic bags. Once the biopot idea took shape, things moved rather quickly, Srija said.

Sujai Karampuri, the chief executive officer of T-Works in Telangana government’s IT E&C department, who had worked on the biopot idea, said: “This was an idea that we wanted to deliver on. It had to be scaled up. Srija’s idea was something that had the potential to completely alter the way saplings are moved and planted. It could help us completely get rid of plastic.”

An entire team of engineers got to work at the T-Works office. Srija and Augustien paid several visits to the office to discuss with the engineers the mix that had to be used for making the pot. “We modified the paste several times using different naturally available resources,” Srija said. “The ingredients and the ratio of the mix were important so that the biopot could serve the purpose it was meant to,” Karampuri said.

Twenty-one months after Srija burst into her headmaster’s office, she has a ready solution. Srija has applied for a patent for the ingredients’ mix she has used. A firm has also been registered under the name Srija Green Galaxy and she will formally be its CEO when she attains the requisite age. T-Works has made a prototype for a machine that can manufacture up to 10,000 pots a month.

Srija’s innovation prompted interest in the industry. GE Appliances came forward to fund the cost of the biopress and additional equipment required for setting up a manufacturing unit for Srija.

“My family used to think I was merely playing when I was making some planters with my bare hands. They have now realised the importance of what I have done because of the scale to which it has gone.”

Her parents have a small piece of land on which they cultivate cotton. Srija and Augustien were convinced that she had come up with an innovation with great potential. A CSIR award for her innovation came as a huge encouragement. But more was to come.

“Each polythene bag which is used by nurseries to raise saplings weighs 13gm to 20gm. For the crore of saplings that are raised, imagine the plastic used. With the biopots, there will be no need to use plastic at all,” Augustien explained.

The machinery too can be produced in large numbers to wherever manufacturing units can be set up. Srija made it clear that the manufacturing unit would not be set up in her village, Chintalakunta.

“A manufacturing unit should be easily accessible to people to come and buy the biopots and transport them from there. So, I want it set up either in the district headquarters Gadwal or at the mandal headquarters at Ketidoddi,” Srija said.

She sounded like an entrepreneur. If others are willing to set up a unit, ‘Srija Green Galaxy’ will provide them with the liquid paste for a nominal price to make biopots. Now, that’s a green idea set to bear sweet fruit.

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