Young Eco-Warrior Innovates Award-Winning Biodegradable Flower Pots
Eco alternatives to plastic are becoming increasingly popular in almost every aspect of our lives and gardening is no exception. There are various alternatives to plastic pots available, made from a range of materials including wood, stone, metal, and terracotta. Plus, there are products made from recycled plastic, helping to keep it out of landfill. Biodegradable pots are perfect for starting your seedlings.
Plastic was invented in the 1960s and since then it has been a game-changer today around 500 million plastic plant pots and seed trays are sold every year. As in so many cases, recycling is not the solution to dealing with garden plastic. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 8% of it was recycled, a disturbing figure when you consider the agency says it can take 100 to 400 years for plastic to break down in a landfill.
In addition to reusing and recycling plastic products, gardeners can try environmentally friendly pots. Plants in biodegradable containers are gradually appearing on garden center shelves as growers turn to sustainable pots.
Nurturing young minds
Every year the students of the Zilla Parishad High School in Chintalkunta, Gadwal district, Telangana, participate in an annual sapling planting drive. Even on their birthdays, the students are encouraged to plant a tree.
These seedlings are planted around the school and are usually grown in plastic bags.
In March 2020, Srija A, a class 9 student of the school was digging the soil to plant a sapling but to her shock and dismay, she found a plastic bag after having dug a few feet underground.
Speaking of the non-eco-friendly nature of plastics, Srija says, “I immediately realized this was from one of the earlier sapling drives. I did not want this to continue every year so I started to think of a sustainable solution to raise seedlings.”
After a few months of research, the 14-year-old innovated a biodegradable planter made from groundnut shell pulp. Here’s how she got her entire school to stop using plastics for tree-plantation drives.
Groundnut cultivation is prevalent in the Gadwal district and young Srija, who was well aware of the shells being referred to as agro-waste, knew exactly what she needed to do next.
First, she understood the process of making agro-waste. She learnt about how the shells are usually ground into a powder and used as an energy source or made into a pulp and used as manure.
Then by taking help from her mentor and Math teacher, Augustien P, she learnt that the shells are rich in phosphorus and calcium. Further, since groundnuts grow on the uppermost layer of the soil, they can retain water and disintegrate slowly.
By the end of April, Srija decided to put her theory to the test.
Making biodegradable pots
By procuring shells from a nearby mill, Srija managed to make a prototype of the planter. She ground them in a mixer at home, added water to make them into a pulp, and molded it onto a water bottle to form the shape of a cup.
Her first attempt proved to be unsuccessful. The planter was too fragile and needed a strong binding agent. So she decided to approach her mentor for help. Professor Augustien helped Srija make the planter into a sturdy one by adding some “extra natural ingredients”, without disclosing the details.
To test its sturdiness, once the planter was dry, Srija added some soil and planted a neem sapling into it. She buried it underground at her school and monitored it regularly to determine how long it would take to disintegrate. She watered the sapling regularly and noticed that it was growing slowly. Further, according to her calculations, the planter took less than 20 days to disintegrate completely.
What’s more? It does not leave behind any harmful chemicals.
In September 2020, for coming up with such a sustainable solution that can eliminate the use of plastic, Srija was awarded a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Innovation award, under the innovation by school students category.
Subsequently, her idea was also validated by the T-Works, Telangana who offered a prototype design for machinery that can help Srija increase production capacity. They have developed a device named Bio Press to make the planters.
Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.
© Renalysis Consultants Pvt Ltd