With almost every state in the country enacting a plastics ban, its time for Startups to step up and provide the alternatives that will help make the shift from plastics manageable. We profile one such firm, Astu Eco today.
Straightaway on meeting them, Anitha Shankar and Tejshree Madhu, the two co-founders at Astu eco, strike you as a very good fit for each other. The two, who have been running Bengaluru-based Astu Eco since February 2017, are very focused on their ultimate goal. To ‘impact’ a 100 million Indians when it comes to sustainable living, through their products, messages, or even social good activities. Anitha is the hard running, hands-on entrepreneur, focused on design and troubleshooting. Tejshree is the calm but careful hand, worrying about marketing, strategy and overall growth. The firm, which gets almost all its products made through contract manufacturing, focuses on design and development, a job that is much more complicated than it sounded at first. For that, the two have the versatility of their adversary, plastic to blame. ” We are not really anti-plastic. It’s been a revolutionary product, and will continue to be very important for some time to come”, says Anitha. Tejshree adds that ” what we are looking to achieve is replacing plastic where it has the maximum chances of causing damage to the environment, especially in everyday use, as our waste collection and management systems remain abysmal”.
“There is a reason plastic is so ubiquitous, it’s because it is so versatile. When designing and developing a replacement, for every one of its qualities, be it durability, water resistance, flexibility etc, we have to identify a separate input to bring that to our replacement product. At the end of the day, we have to ensure that the replacement does a damn good job of whatever function the plastic version was performing, otherwise, it won’t get accepted”.
That explains the limited portfolio of about 20 odd products currently, from plates to cutlery, to shopping bags and straws. Each developed painstakingly and taken to market after strenuous testing, at their lab they have ambitiously named the Good Earth Astu Research Centre (GEAR). Thus, the products they have created use raw materials as varied as Areca Leaves, paper, coconut shells, cotton cloth, and even a little steel!
Both Anitha and Tejshree are clear that the battle ahead is long and hard. And not a problem that can be solved just by throwing marketing money at it. They are cautious about building scale, which would mean having their own manufacturing set up, lest it stifles the flexibility and innovation that they value so much. Thus, while the firm, on the one hand, offers a portfolio of eco-friendly products that help to replace a little plastic from your lives, they have also pledged to plant a 1000 trees for every 100,000 units they sell. They are also happy to visit schools to push out the message to a generation that will actually have to live with the consequences tomorrow.
When asked to list the ‘ultimate’ ambition they have in terms of a product, besides the 100 million targets for influencing Indians, Anitha talks about developing a product that will replace plastic packaging, at scale. “Packaging is easily one of the biggest contributors to the mess that we see around us, and it would be amazing to find a better, eco-friendly solution for that”. They add a warning for existing options being considered, such as corn starch-based packaging. ” We were also excited initially about cornstarch, but realised it is not really as good as it seems, simply because to be composted the packaging needs to be taken to special industrial setups to be broken down again, an option we don’t see happening anytime soon in India or most of the developing world, for that matter”.
For the two founders and their six-member team, even though barely over 2 years old, the journey has already taught them vital lessons. From the value of PR (they have witnessed a sales spike every time mainstream media covered them), to the tough world that is the recovery of overdue payments from the trade, it’s been a journey that they feel has prepared them well for the big challenge of growth in the future. After all, the world is a market, starting with the big one at home!
Currently selling through their own website, besides Amazon and offline tie-ups like Organic World, we certainly hope that Astu Eco, and many more of its ilk, grow fast enough to make the transition to reduced plastic that much easier for everyone.