Paper That Gives Back

By TheHindu on 10 May 2016 | read
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Jaipur-based Tomato & Co’s seed paper concept lets you plant paper and watch it grow into the vegetables and fruits you love

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Plantable paper sounds like a do-it-yourself (DIY) activity straight out of the social bookmarking site, Pinterest. And as with most DIY activities on that site, plantable paper sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster. But, thankfully, it’s not that.

Seed paper, as it’s also known, is handmade paper embedded with seeds that can germinate and sprout when sown. Jaipur-based Tomato & Co. does just that and till date has sold 7.5 lakh sheets of seed paper. Try and imagine coffee cup sleeves that grow into herbs, door tags that transform into carrots or greeting cards into fragrant lemons.

It all started when Kritika Parwal was studying in the U.S. and had to think of an out-of-the-box marketing solution for one of her classes. As she was from Jaipur, she knew of a lot of handmade paper manufacturers, and so she pitched the idea of seed paper, theoretically. “It worked. I received an amazing response from my professors and classmates,” she laughs, over the phone. After graduation, Kritika wanted to start something of her own, and was thinking on the lines of a social-sustainable business. “I was at a party and happened to meet a brand manager from Kissan and I told him about my idea. The next morning, he called and asked me to do this for them. I spent about 15 days at Sanganer (Rajasthan), going back and forth over the process, procuring little samples and experimenting with them. Eventually, a few plants grew and we’ve worked out a nine-step process that will be patented soon,” she adds.

Their first seed paper contained tomato seeds. No surprise then that the company has been named after that. Soon, Unilever placed an order for three lakh pieces. Kritika’s team has also been part of Kissan’s innovative ad campaign, where the ketchup giant distributed tomato seeds in Mumbai and Delhi through sachets stuck to the morning newspaper. “That’s when we realised that there’s a huge market for something like this. Imagine events that use a large amount of wristbands, nametags and other paper-based products that are only thrown out in the end. That’s where plantable paper comes in — these products can be recycled to grow into something useful,” Kritika says.

Kritika manages to simplify the paper-making process: the organic pulp (got from shredding paper and soaking it in water) is placed on screens and flattened out, dried under the sun, rolled a few times and then calendered or smoothened out. Some of the challenges, she explains, are avoiding chemicals that go into the binding process, procuring organic paper and finding an alternative to calendaring, as it tends to destroy seeds. 

She admits that it took them a long time to understand the business model and the costing method to make this viable — all their seeds are sourced from Jaipur, the colours used are organic dyes such as indigo, saffron etc. and the paper density (calculated in gsm) varies depending on the clients’ requirements. “Our pricing is all over the place; we are a little expensive,” Kritika says, adding that they’re a “double bottomline” organisation — one that looks at profit and also at the number of seeds that have been sown.

Apart from calendars, wedding invites, post cards, coffee cup sleeves, bookmarks, coasters and more, Tomato & Co also plans to sell greeting cards soon. If you still haven’t found an excuse to grow your own batch of tomatoes, it’s time you gifted yourself one — in the form of a bookmark, perhaps.

For details, look up tomatoandco.in

 

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