Piles of papers and paper products are adding more to the landfill waste day by day. Human consumption of such products cannot be reduced abruptly despite its adverse effects. However, this disposal of papers can be turned into a way to save the environment by creating a safe alternative for these discarded ones. One of the most impactful remedies is to use seed paper. It is a biodegradable handmade paper, which is made from recycled paper and embedded with different plant seeds. Shalbrikkho- a startup working with biodegradable and recycled products came up with its project 'Bonkagoj' to promote such plantable seed papers in Bangladesh.
From discarded papers to seed papers
While working with renewable energy solutions as well as biodegradable and recycled products, Shalbrikkho has always been careful about using minimum papers or better alternatives for their work purposes. "The idea of recycling used papers just struck us when we were making visiting cards for Shalbrikkho. As we continued to work on this, we thought of embedding seeds in these papers to make them eco-friendly. And the result was our Bonkagoj", said Mahbub Sumon, the founder of this organisation. It took around 2 years to complete their experiments and launch this product, officially in December 2019.
The procedure of making Bonkagoj is similar to that of traditional handmade paper. But as seeds are embedded in these papers, some unconventional methods are also introduced to complete the whole procedure. For Bonkagoj, they collect and shred waste papers and then soak the paper scraps until it gets mushy. Converting this mush into a pulp through some steps, they make the papers in a particular size by using the pulp and different seeds. The process to make the seed paper from the prepared pulp takes around 22 hours. Due to its complicated methods and limited capacity, the team of Bonkagoj can make 50 seed papers per day for now.
Most of the pieces of machinery for the whole procedure are customised by Mahbub Sumon and his team according to their convenience. However, primary steps such as cutting and shredding papers are done in conventional ways. This particular type of production contains 16 to 17 types of seeds of different vegetables and flowers. While choosing the seeds to embed in these green papers, they keep two important things in mind. One, these seeds should easily be able to help in organic farming for sustainable agriculture. And two, ensuring that birds get enough food from the plants that grow from these seed papers.
How plantable seed paper works
When the Bonkagoj is discarded and it comes in contact with damp soil and a suitable atmosphere, the seeds get activated and the seed paper starts to germinate within a few days. You can see sprouts coming out directly from the seed paper. But due to the seasonal changes and air masses, it may differ which seed bombs work. While discarding a Bonkagoj or seed paper, it is better to throw it out after tearing it into pieces on some damp soil. If you are fond of plants and want to do something for nature, this is a good way to grow them in your balcony tubs or garden using these papers. However, this Bonkagoj has an expiry date which is very unlikely for normal papers. The reason is the seeds in Bonkaj have an average germination rate of 35% to 38% only for one year. After that the germination rate begins to fall, reducing the chances of the seed paper working.
Bonkagoj is thicker and pricier than any normal paper. However, they are now making a thinner version of this paper for writing purposes. An A4 size Bonkagoj weighing 70 to 100 GSM costs 20 Taka and a 15"x 8.5" Bonkagoj weighing 250 to 300 GSM costs 130 Taka. Prices mostly depend on their size and weight. Production of Bonkagoj notebooks is already underway. Sumon shared that Bonkagoj's price can be reduced in case they get the opportunity to produce them on a large scale. But the demand for such seed paper is very limited, much like their resources. "We are indebted to nature for every moment of our life. And if we are able to save this nature in any way, it'll be our pleasure. We are hopeful to be more efficient in producing such seed papers with a cheaper price and better quality overcoming the financial and other constraints that we are facing right now", said Sumon.