A Cutlery Revolution to Fight Climate Change

Kochi-based entrepreneur, Vinayakumar Balakrishnan takes a small step in the battle against climate change by creating ‘edible’, eco-friendly cutlery to replace single-use plastic.  By Naomi Mathew

Single use plastics (SUP) have always harmed the earth. But due to a lack of effective and economic alternatives, they remain the most convenient. As the world realises the inevitable disasters that await us unless we fight for the environment, many countries have banned the use of single use plastic. But there is still a need for convenient, economic, and efficient solutions.

With a goal to provide eco-friendly and economic replacement for the current disposable plastic utensils on the market, Vinayakumar Balakrishnan, a Kochi based entrepreneur, founded the company Thooshan, an eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable tableware manufacturer from Kerala. The name is derived from thooshanila or banana leaf used to serve traditional Kerala sadya.

“Our mission is to start a cutlery revolution. Millions of single-use cutleries end up in landfills every year after being used once. Through our initiative, we hope to put an end to this behaviour and increase public awareness”, says Vinayakumar Balakrishnan, founder of Thooshan.

On 17 August 2021, after more than three years of intensive research and product development, Thooshan soft launched commercial production of their sustainable range of cutlery in a fully automated robotic plant in Angamaly, Kochi, Kerala. National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology – Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (NIIST-CSIR), Govt. of India, Trivandrum is their technology partner. The project has been incubated at IIT Kanpur, Kerala Agricultural University and Indigram Labs. They are the second company in the world to use this technology; first in India.

Balakrishnan was offered the position of CEO of an insurance company yet he opted to do his part to save the planet and create a sustainable business.  “Fulfilling a social responsibility through this brand gives me a level of satisfaction that no other corporate job can provide. This is my little part to save our dying planet,” he says.

Thooshan makes a range of plates, bowls, spoons, and straws made from wheat bran and other natural ingredients coated with natural binders making them completely biodegradable in 30 days and even partially edible. Their dishware is microwave friendly with high water retention capacity, has a long shelf life of over one year and is fungus and bacteria resistant.  Once the products are used and discarded, they either decompose into organic manure for the plants or can be used as cattle feed, fish feed, or poultry feed. The company hopes to expand their signature cutlery range to include forks, knifes, spoons, cups and take away container boxes soon.

“The products have all the capability to take over from plastic as it is affordable, edible, microwave friendly and biodegradable. Our endeavour is to accelerate research on other biodegradable products to ensure a sustainable earth, for future generations,” says Vinayakumar Balakrishnan, founder of Thooshan.

The process to identify the base material for the products itself required a lot of research. Agricultural waste products were considered, like rice bran, wheat bran, corn waste and badam shells since they are available in plenty and would otherwise go to waste. Rice bran has inherent oil content, which without ample removal would become stale, reducing the product’s shelf life. Corn waste was then considered which showed instant success in Karnataka where there is large corn production. But due to the decentralised milling process of wheat and their abundance of production in India, wheat husk (bran) is available in plenty across the country. Since wheat husks are considered agricultural waste, acquiring them from farmers further generates an additional source of income for them. This proved to be the most viable raw material for the products. Once wheat bran was identified, it took further research and experimentation to identify the perfect formula to ensure each product met all the desirable qualities. Minute changes in temperature, pressure, quantity, tonnage, material proportions, etc. affects this formula.

Thooshan has already won many accolades, including the prestigious United Nations, UNDP “Green Innovation Fund” award instituted by Kerala Start-up Mission and Haritha Kerala Mission, 2021, National winner from Kerala for RAFFTAR ABI for innovation in Agricultural products, Govt of India, 2021 as well as the Idea and Start-up grant instituted by Kerala Start Up mission.

Images Courtesy Thooshan