For many families living in rural communities, zero waste and the idea of waste not, want not is not a trend or new concept but rather a time-tested way of life.
For the Raviraj Nayak family this is certainly the case. Step onto their property deep within the jungle-filled mountains of India’s rural village of Yelneer, a village named after its 7 waterfalls, and you’ll find an oasis: a nearly self-sustaining property, with all its power and drinking water (yes, drinking water!) supplied by local waterfalls, cows for dairy, plants and vegetables for medicine and meals, and most strikingly, swaying rows of areca palm trees.
The areca palm is popular in southern Asia. It produces a certain berry, commonly known as beetlenut, which is folded into areca nut leaves and chewed similar to tobacco.
The chewing of this plant is a cultural practice that dates back thousands of years. For the Raviraj Nayak family, and many families in the surrounding region, this crop is interwoven into their history and livelihood—many of the palms on the Sashithota Farm were planted 120 years ago when the land was acquired.
Not only does the areca berry provide income for this family and many others in the community, its husks are used as valuable ground covering, protecting roads and enriching compost and soil in the region. There is however one byproduct of the plant that has yet to be used to its fullest potential: the palm leaf.
When dried, the palm leaves themselves are an incredibly sturdy, yet malleable material—perfect for forming into 100% biodegradable palm leaf plates. These plates are perfect for those moments when reusable wares aren’t possible or practical—in India, think street vendors and large events.
These plates are already on the market, and for this small community in Yelneer and the surrounding villages, eco-leaf plate production is too good of an opportunity to miss out on. Not only does plate production lead to the use of every part of the plant, it would also translate into jobs for the local women and of course would lessen the need and use for plastics.
The missing pieces to this operation are the plate presses. Low in power use but high in production, users place leaves into the moulds, which are then pressed with a weight to create a practical, aesthetically pleasing 100% biodegradable plate, made from ‘waste’.
I recently visited this community and would love to see them reach their goal of using their resources effectively. Organizers are currently setting up a GoFundMe campaign to raise resources for enough plate presses for the community. By donating funds for these processes, it helps create jobs for local women while stamping out plastics and paper plate production—no better combo! For more information or if you’d like to get involved early on the project, please reach out.
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