Bengaluru Startup Converts Fallen Coconut Leaves Into Straws & Empowers Women
Coconuts are considered to be one of nature’s most versatile gifts. While every part of the tree usually finds some purpose including the husk and outer shell, the leaves are discarded as waste.
“After the midribs, that hold the coconut leaves, are used to make brooms, the leaves are discarded as agricultural waste. At some farms they are burnt as stubble,” says Manigandan Kumarappan, the founder of Bengaluru-based Evlogia Eco Care.
He noticed this issue while managing a business named Tenco that sold tender coconut water to people living in urban areas. However, seeing the amount of pollution being caused he was motivated to find a purpose for the leaves.
Collecting fallen leaves
While managing Tenco, many customers requested Manigandan to provide straws along with the tender coconut. But he did not choose plastic straws as they were not sustainable.
“Another option was paper straws, but they get soggy too soon,” says Manigandan.
That is when he came across a news article about fallen coconut leaves being converted into disposable straws. For the next few months, he spoke to experts and researched to understand the technology and process. With help from his in-house engineering team, he even had the technology replicated.
In 2018, along with his wife Radha Kannan, Manigandan launched Evlogia Eco Care and began manufacturing straws. The coconut leaves were sourced from four different farms located in Tamilnadu, cleaned, and sent to the manufacturing unit in Bengaluru.
“The leaves are collected and cleaned at the farms by women employed in local Self Help Groups (SHGs). First, they wash the leaves under running water and leave them to dry under the sun for a few days,” says Manigandan.
How are the straws made?
The straw-making process begins by deep cleaning the leaves using a pressure-heating mechanism.
“In this process, leaves are heated at 120 degrees celsius using steam to make them soft and easy to roll. Then using a sewing machine-like tool, the warm leaves are rolled into straws and allowed to cool down. Finally, they are cut into desired sizes, using a cutter,” says Manigandan, adding that he named his product Koko Leafy Straws.
When they were tested for quality, the straws stayed intact in hot beverages for half an hour and up to six hours in cold beverages. Currently, they are made in sizes ranging between four to 12 inches, and their price varies between Rs 1.5 to Rs 3.
To give back to society, Manigandan decided to hire women from nearby villages to work in his manufacturing unit. Today, from preparing the raw material to packaging the final product, the work is entirely done by 15 women.
Manigandan says, “First, three women were hired, trained to use the machinery, and given full-time jobs. Soon, after finding the work environment satisfactory more women volunteered to join the unit.”
Earlier these women were working as daily wage labourers, domestic help, or as labourers in construction sites. Today they are happy to have found a safe work environment where they have flexible work timings, and the freedom to bring their children to the office.
The manufacturing unit produces up to 2,50,000 straws every month which is distributed in India, the UK, the USA, Canada, and several other countries. A few months ago, Manigandan also launched two new products - coconut fiber scrubbers and one-time use slippers made from banana stems.
If you wish to know more you can reach out to Manigandan at firstname.lastname@example.org