Aesthetic and eco-friendly
Eco-friendly products are becoming popular and cutlery made of areca nut sheaths are catching on in a big way in the city.
PAPER CUPS and plates are passé. Similar articles made of plastic did hit off in a big way, but growing awareness about environmental pollution and ecological preservation saw them losing their premier position as the favoured items on the shopping carts of travellers or those out to throw a party.
Now, cups, plates and bowls made of areca nut tree sheath (paaku mattai) have caught the fancy of many who want to go in for serving paraphernalia that are durable, environment-friendly and easy on the pocket.
Although moulding the stiff palm sheath is not very easy and the wastage is high, there are quite a few home-based industries which have taken to manufacturing these products using indigenous machines.
There is not much of a profit to be made, but the consumer demand is encouraging, manufacturers say. Most departmental stores in the city stock these items and the rate at which they are disappearing off the shelves justifies the manufacture of these items from a material, which was cast aside as waste not very long ago.
A visit to the Malligaai Leaf Cup Cottage Industry at Thudiyalur is a lesson in ingenuity. Stiff sheaths softened in water and cleaned go through machines, each holding a specific dye, where heat is used to lend them shape. Plates, side plates, trays, soup bowls and serving bowls come hot off the machines, before they are left to cool and packed into bundles.
The proprietor, K Malligaa, says she started manufacturing the products to put to use the waste generated from her family's areca nut farm at Mettupalayam. Now, her enterprise has grown enough to warrant purchases from outside.
What it has earned her is tremendous goodwill as the manufacturer of eco-friendly products. And, it all started off at a college camp in 1986 when her friend tried her hand at moulding a cup in the hand press used to make sevai (string hoppers).
Malligaa says the first six months after start-up were difficult as marketing proved tough in the face of competition from plastic. The ban on low-quality plastic pushed up the prices of the material, making leaf cups a viable option. And, the upper middle class and elite liked to make a statement by using these cups, she says.
Retaining the quality of the product calls for good planning and proper storage facilities. The raw material is available only for about four to five months, and so must be preserved for use through the year. Any fungal growth on the material will result in its being rejected both by local and foreign buyers.
Nature also has a role to play in this enterprise. Unless it rains, the sheaths do not grow big. Smaller sheaths result in more wastage and the sheen does not come through. Her foreign clients are mostly from European countries. Though it was difficult making an entry into the foreign market, things got easier once awareness about the product was created, she says. But the stringent norms applicable to agricultural by-products make the job tougher, Malligaa says.
Her products are available in leading departmental stores in the city.
SUBHA J RAO
Send this article to Friends by