TS Shankker started his career as a channel media controller, but being an environment enthusiast, Shankker had the dream to abate pollution caused by non-degradable plastic bags. Non-degradable bags take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
Even though recycling is considered the best solution, plastics cannot be recycled more than 2-3 times causing the plastic to remain in the world. As this majorly contributes to environmental pollution, environmentalists do not consider recycling plastic bags as the ideal solution to reduce pollution.
While biodegradable bags are curbing the manufacturing of plastic bags to a great extent, most bags do not live up to their claims of being 100% biodegradable.
The situation shows a gap between the manufacturing of biodegradable bags that are partially compostable and the production of bags that are completely biodegradable in soil. To make a difference in the production of truly biodegradable bags, Shankker decided to launch a business, Biotec Bags India, to manufacture fully biodegradable bags.
He says, "I always wanted to be an entrepreneur as well as do something for the environment. Biotec Bags is the best match to fulfil my dream."
It took the company five years of research, tests and clinical trials prior to beginning commercial production of plastic bags that are 100% biodegradable. There have been many process methodologies, inventions and claims about the availability of starch/cellulose/polylactic acid/polybutylene succinate-based compositions with polyethylene to make biodegradable plastic. According to Biotec Bags, none of the available compositions have been able to breakdown the polymer matrix effectively while making the polyethylene parent polymer macromolecules completely biodegradable in soil. Only the additives that cling to the polyethylene chain, such as starch, cellulose, polylactic acid or polyethylene succinate, undergo microbial activity, leaving polyethylene behind to pollute the ecosystem.
While deciding to take a different approach towards achieving complete biodegradation of plastic films, Biotec Bags explored the possibility of an enzyme and bacteria based substrate to penetrate the polyethylene chain structure effectively. After theoretically concluding that polyethylene can undergo a change in its chemical structure with the enzyme, the company successfully narrowed down the enzyme, protein and bacteria. The compounds are mainly drawn from natural resources and medicinal plants to make the process non-hazardous and nontoxic.
Clinical trials and tests of Biotec Bags initially revealed that the polyethylene film undergoes a definite change under certain environmental conditions. Furthermore, the enzyme–bacteria composition enabled polyethylene films to withstand the biodegradable norms, as specified by the global governing bodies. It took more than five years for the company to reach a stage where it can safely label its plastic bags as 100% biodegradable.
With this innovative composition, Biotec Bags started with a single film extruder and a single printing machine and has grown by almost 100% every year since it was founded.
Today, the company has a registered office, a manufacturing unit in Chennai with 20 employees and customers all across India. The company has diversified, producing specific end-use bags such as carry bags, garbage bags, nursery bags, packaging rolls, sheets, covers and envelopes. BIOTEC BAGS® are unique biodegradable plastic bags with qualities such as strength, long shelf life and affordability.
UNIDO ICAMT extended its support to Biotec Bags in areas, such as energy saving, intellectual property, machinery revamp, lean manufacturing and new marketing forays. With this support, Shankker is confident the company will continually achieve a healthy growth rate.
UNIDO ICAMT’s intervention and Shankker’s innovations have contributed towards improving the outlook of the company. Recalling his earlier days when he started the business, Shankker says, "We failed to sell even 100kg of Biotec Bags for many months after starting out. However, a hotel chain named Sangeetha Restaurant understood our technology and became our first customer. Today, we have a huge customer base including names such as KFC." The company’s current turnover in 2012-13 was about ` 36 million.
The company has also received the Green Chariot Silver Award for Environment Protection and was one of the finalists for the National Award for Technology Innovations in Petrochemicals and Downstream Plastic Processing Industry.
Biotec Bags targets an extensive growth in turnover over the next four to five years. In the near future, Biotec Bags plans to lower the cost and offer biodegradable plastic at an affordable rate, aiming at a price that would be approximately 50% more than that of virgin plastic.
Protecting the ecosystem continues to be the most rewarding experience for Shankker. "Nowadays, I see many people and businesses investing extra efforts to save nature. The fact that many people are becoming aware about the environment is a reward in itself. Having both the technology-driven industry and the common user believe in our efforts of making ‘real’ biodegradable plastic will be the best reward we can ask for," says the green entrepreneur with confidence.