Green paper firm struggles against cheaper choices

Green paper firm struggles against cheaper choices

Shunning everything toxic, a factory in Yeshwanthpur is proud of its ecofriendliness. And it is staring at an uncertain future

Kavya with a machine she designed.

Kavya Madappa’s paper company is one of the country’s most ecologically sensitive enterprises. And it is under loss.

Bluecat Papers, her hand-made paper company, rages against the cutting of trees to make paper.

“I do not want to keep making handmade paper. I do that only because there is no machinery, anywhere in the world, to make sustainable paper on a large scale,” she says.

The mainstream paper industry runs on heavy-duty equipment that can produce 50 lakh sheets at a go, while she can make just 5,000.

“The big companies cut 60,000 trees in one shot. They told me these trees are not trees because they were planted only to be felled. That is bullshit,” she says, apologising for her language.

She started out on about an acre—leased in Yeshwanthpur two years ago for Rs 3.5 lakh a month. She installed rare machines and machines of her own invention, and trained workers from scratch. A fish and a dog are the only 24X7 residents of the factory.

The three major components of mainstream paper-making are tree pulp, chemicals and water. Kavya’s work is geared to drop all things toxic from this triad.

In her model, trees are replaced by sustainable material ranging from coffee husk to t-shirt waste. She has done away completely with harmful chemicals.

Since no chemicals are used, water goes through an effluent treatment plant and comes out clear. It can be reused. The toughest part is that she has to rely on her own research and development, and through trial and error.

“There were no machines to do one of the jobs. So, I decided to make one myself. We had to keep trying to get it right. It cost me an arm and a leg — about Rs 4.5 lakh. Now that I know how it works, if I were to build it again, it would cost me just Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000,” she says.

Kavya’s factory opens up to a pond she had built, and filled with different species of fish. Blackie, a tortured stray she has adopted, hangs out there. He is still traumatised, and Kavya is the only human he trusts.

Kavya’s office is filled with books, ranging from Agatha Christie to Ayn Rand to a massive three-volume edition of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.

During the course of this interview, a terrified employee told her he had spotted a snake in the compound. The snake lay coiled among rocks, aware of the human gaze but unflinching, its scales glistening in the sunlight.

“Leave it alone. Don’t kill it or beat it. It will go away on its own. It’s a part of everything,” Kavya said. The employee gaped at her in bewilderment before walking away.

For Kavya, the good old days are before 1780, when paper was made only from cotton and plant fibre. “But there wasn’t enough cotton and fibre to meet the demand for paper. Everything changed when they realised paper could be made out of trees. Machines were built to make paper out of trees,” she says. She believes not all is lost. “There’s enough sustainable waste to make a clean industry, so it’s time to build new machines,” she says.

A big paper machine that uses sustainable material costs Rs 10-15 crore. Without one, she can’t make paper cheap enough to compete with big industry.

And while customers like her paper, they are not ready to shell anything extra to be kind to the planet. One man told her straight on the face, “I don’t care about the environment. Let’s talk price.”

“Paper comes so cheap that you don’t have to think about where it comes from. People would be talking more about the environment if paper prices were higher,” she says.

Kavya is resolved not to cut corners: “We can’t stop doing a good thing just because only a few people like it,” she says.

What she makes

Bluecat products include sheets of paper, notebooks, book jackets, lamps, wrapping paper, wedding cards, postcards and gift boxes.

How prices compare

While making an A4 sheet of paper using Kavya’s method would cost about 6 to 7 times as much as the mainstream way, it costs the customer a couple of rupees more.