What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Back in 2016, Delhi and surrounding regions were severely affected by SMOG. The situation was termed as the ‘Great Delhi SMOG’. The air quality index (AQI) during that time exceeded 500. This case was termed as a Severe Air Pollution Episode (SAPE). A prominent reason for this episode was found out to be the burning of crop residues by the farmers of the neighboring states of Punjab & Haryana. I wanted to help solve this problem as I wished to bring some positive change in our country.

Initially to understand the situation, I visited numerous villages all over the country. For 6-8 months, it was all about interacting with farmers and observing the entire process of harvesting and preparing the field for the next sowing, and I learnt two very important things: First, farmers had a time window of 15-20 days before the next sowing season. Second, the machines to remove residue stubble were too expensive for them.

Therefore, as a viable solution, I thought of utilizing this crop waste to make packaging products and furniture boards. This would solve two problems at once! First, the crop waste could serve as the raw material for eco-friendly packaging products and engineered boards. Second, the use of eco-friendly packaging products also means that less plastic products would be utilized. We approached a few farmers from the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to source different types of crop residues to develop a novel process to pulverize and process the waste to paper-pulp. 

Tell us more about the technology.

Currently, we offer two products namely, pulp-paper & engineered boards. The processing for both the products is done using our proprietary integrated pulp refining technology which is environmentally friendly and does not discharge any toxic effluent. The paper made from this process is of high quality and can be molded as it retains its form, shape, and strength. So, this paper can be molded into a variety of products such as paper cups, cardboard boxes, beer holders, etc.

In case of engineered boards, conventionally they are made using formaldehyde as the adhesive agent. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Finding a good adhesive was a challenging task, one which I & my team dedicated ourselves to. We developed a proprietary adhesive which is environmentally friendly and which has suitable properties. 

We have innovated in creating formaldehyde-free crop-residue-based engineered boards which are durable and moisture resistant. 

How are you doing today, in terms of the impact of your work?

SMOG in Delhi has become a regular occurrence during the post-harvest season as stubble burning continues. Fortunately, more and more farmers are becoming aware of the impact of stubble burning. Craste provides a sustainable alternative to burning the crop waste. Once the farmers see the value in their waste, they are less likely to burn the stubble.

Till date, we have successfully prevented 730 Kgs of CO2 emissions, by utilizing stubble from around 500 Kgs of crop waste to make eco-friendly products. For example, buying one of our particle boards (4 x 8 ft) would save 30 kgs of carbon di-oxide emissions that would have released if the crop waste had been burned. 

We get the crop waste from various states across India. We incentivize farmers to give us the crop waste which we collect from their doorstep. This not only save farmer’s time and energy, but also offers them value out of waste. The gross income of many poor farmers was increased by 40% per acre as a result of our initiative.

We also recently collaborated with another fellow startup – Padcare to create certificates out of pad paper. We took it up as a R&D project, researched on the material so that the overall strength improves and also for its feasibility for home printing. 

How was Craste’s journey funded?

Fellowships and Grants
1. BIRAC Social Innovation Immersion Program (SIIP)
2. BIRAC Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG)
3. DST NIDHI EIR Fellowship

What do you think were the key reasons for the success of CRASTE?

I am very passionate about social causes, and it is this fire within me that keeps me going and gives me the courage to face any challenge that comes my way. Another personal attribute that has been critical in my entrepreneurial journey is patience. There are and will be many things which will be beyond your control, and hence being patient and keeping up with our efforts to steadily grow the enterprise is important. Finally, team building and creating a good work culture is necessary because you cannot do everything by yourself. That is why having a good team to help you achieve your vision is key for the success of any startup.