Push for going green
February 10 2016 11:19 PM
DRIVEN: Ashwat Hegde looks at one of his range of bioplastic bags. Photo by Anand Holla

By Anand Holla

For a nation that has one of the world’s highest rates of waste production per capita and a recycling apparatus that’s still in its infancy, Qatar’s plastic problem appears to be an overwhelming obstacle in its desire to achieve environmental harmony.
But then, a journey of a thousand miles, in the words of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, begins with a single step.
Under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment, Green Corporation is all set to launch the Go Green Qatar — Say Not to Plastic campaign at The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa on February 27, which is a day after Qatar celebrates its National Environment Day.
Emphasising the need to switch to using eco-friendly carry bags instead of plastic bags, the initiative will provide around 150,000 eco-friendly compostable and reusable carry bags to the residents of Qatar, via malls, supermarkets, universities, apartments, and the airport. Expected to attend the event are directors and CEOs of various companies, professors, representatives of NGOs, and a long line of dignitaries.

SUPPORT: Hegde with Abdullah Mohamed al-Kuwari, Director, Environment Education and Awareness Department, Ministry of Environment.

SUPPORT: Hegde with Abdullah Mohamed al-Kuwari, Director, Environment Education and Awareness Department, Ministry of Environment.
Barely seven months since he has moved to Doha, Ashwat Hegde, the founder and CEO of Green Corporation — an India-based manufacturer and exporter of eco-friendly packaging solutions — has high hopes for this large-scale campaign. “Qatar is the only country in the GCC that has set going green as a priority, as it places environmental care as one of the four agendas of Qatar National Vision 2030. I studied about its plans and I got a great response from the government and also the private sector here,” Hegde says.
Distributing free biodegradable grocery bags made of cornstarch — it decomposes after around four months and leaves no chemical traces behind — is only the first step of an uphill climb. “Our main intention is to introduce alternatives to plastic and spread awareness so as to turn Qatar greener. I want people to change their mindset about the use of bags,” he says.

ON-SITE: Hegde at the factory in India where he gets his special line of green bags made.

There’s sufficient reason for Hegde’s optimism — these products have met with heartening response elsewhere. His Green Corporation — based in Mangalore in South India — as a venture partner of Green Diamz, has been manufacturing and distributing compostable carry bags, trash bags, grocery rolls, milk pouches, suit covers, hotel kits, you name it, under the brand name of True Green to various metropolitan cities in India and also in Europe. “We can make anything out of bioplastic that is possible in plastic,” Hegde says.
Hegde, all of 23, started out in this field four years ago.  “I was in Class 12 when I had to submit a project for an assignment,” he recalls, “The project I worked on was Scope for Eco-friendly Products in European Countries. Since I had come across self-help groups who would make plates from fallen areca palm tree leaves, I focused my project on areca leaf plates.”
This brush with eco-friendly products caught Hegde’s fancy and soon enough, he was scouring through the web to know more. “I learnt that these alternatives are very popular in Europe,” says the young entrepreneur, who is a Business Management graduate, and is now pursuing a diploma in Corporate Marketing from the UK’s Cambridge Marketing College on the side, “I began getting these plates manufactured in a factory in Mangalore and with the help of a middleman in Chennai in South India, I started sending them to Chennai and then began exporting them to Europe.”
Meanwhile, sensing the potential of plastarch materials (PSM) or bioplastic, Hegde teamed up with Green Diamz, who had their factory in Ahmedabad in West India, and began rolling out bioplastic or cornstarch bags by the thousands. Bioplastic products thoroughly biodegrade in compost, water or soil, without either leaving any harmful chemical traces behind or emitting toxic fumes upon being burnt. In sharp contrast, plastic bags need hundreds of years to break down and a huge number of them are discarded in the garbage instead of being recycled.
“As I began building my client base, I figured that the Indian market isn’t yet ready for this. But still, we tried. When I began supplying these Green Diamz bioplastic carry bags to Goa as part of Go Green Goa campaign, I received massive support from people and tourists. But it was hard to sustain as plastic bags quickly entered the chain,” Hegde says.
Upon being told about the vast potential steeped in the Gulf market, Hegde tried reaching out with his cornstarch products in Abu Dhabi. “But it was difficult to find my way around there,” he says, “Compared to other GCC countries, Qatar is a terrific market and very stable. Moreover, the Environment Ministry here is very active as they conduct a lot of awareness activities. Before I met them, I studied about the Qatar market and met some retail giants and supermarkets here. Then, I showed them my products and they seemed happy.”
Made from corn starch and a “secret” organic formula mix, these bioplastic bags boast of a huge corporate client base such as Reliance Trends, Walmart, and Big Bazaar, back in India, says Hegde. “In Qatar, too, there are many top brands that have expressed their willingness to switch to biodegradable and compostable products, but are awaiting approval from their higher-ups. They, too, feel the need to go green,” he says.
Compared to plastic, bioplastic is slightly expensive. “But it has better density and offers greater carrying capacity,” Hegde reasons, “For instance, 20 microns of bioplastic is equal of 40 microns of regular plastic. If there are 100 plastic bags in a kilo, there will be around 130 bioplastic bags of better quality and greater strength in a kilo. That way, we can compete with plastic bags in terms of cost. In any case, bioplastic is a value-added product and hence will cost slightly more.”
Currently, the cost of the Go Green Qatar campaign, which involves the distribution of around 150,000 free, bioplastic carry bags to Qatar’s residents, is pegged at QR300,000. However, Go Green Qatar is a long, sustained campaign, and hence they now are not concerned with recovering the costs, Hegde says.
“The initiative will have us visiting schools, colleges, malls, multinational companies, so that we educate people about the need to switch to alternatives to plastic and also distribute these bags,” Hegde says, “Along this journey, we have some good company. Joury Tours and Travels, Doha, for instance, will be supporting us with the distribution. Qatar-UAE Exchange, and Sharaf DG are giving us a helping hand as well.”
Qatar’s waste production per capita is around 1.6kg to 1.8kg a day, with every day witnessing a pile up of around 7,000 tonnes of waste, 30 percent of which is generated by households. “There are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the world’s oceans, killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year. Hundreds of camels and wildlife of Qatar die each year from ingesting plastic bags left behind in the desert,” Hegde says, “We must act, and act now.”
If things fall in place, Hegde plans to start a bioplastic manufacturing unit in Qatar and turn Qatar into a sort of “manufacturing hub”. He says, “There’s a tremendous demand for these products in Europe. We can turn Qatar into a manufacturing and exporting hub, and send the products to Gulf countries and to European countries. Qatar’s products will certainly work out cheaper for European countries.”
While at it, Hegde has a simple vision for how far he wants his fleet of cornstarch carry bags to go. “During the 2022 World Cup, I want to see each and every supermarket of Qatar using these products,” he says.

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