Until the last decade, environment-friendly and sustainability were not a deciding factor in our purchase.
But after seeing the adverse effects of non-biodegradable wastes on the environment, consumers have started choosing earth-friendly products for every aspect of their life.
The single-use disposable plastic is not only a problem in the land, but also pollutes the oceans and creates problems in the marine ecosystem. Also, see the effects of improper disposal of plastics in the environment.
Consumers choose areca leaf plates as an earth-friendly alternative over the disposable plastic food plate. People prefer areca palm leaf plates for serving food in temple gatherings, parties, and picnics, mainly because of its simplicity.
The best thing about areca leaf plates is that you don’t have to cut the trees to source the raw material. The farmers in the areca farms collect the areca sheaths and send it to the aggregator(popularly known as leaf merchant).
Areca plate manufacturer then approaches these merchants to source the areca sheaths in bulk quantities.
This article gives you a glimpse of how the areca plates manufacturing. Here I will walk you through the areca plates manufacturing process right from sourcing raw material to plate making.
Before we dive into the areca plate manufacturing process, let’s see about the areca palm tree from which we get the raw material.
The areca palm tree(Scientific Name: Areca Catechu) shed the sheath, which is the primary raw material used in the areca plates manufacturing process.
The sheath connects the leaf part and the stem of the areca tree. These sheaths were once considered an agro-waste; and were thrown away or burned by the areca farmers.
A single areca tree sheds only 5 to 6 sheaths per year.
Farmers cultivate areca palm trees mainly for the betel nuts(aka areca nut) that these trees produce.
The Areca palm tree produces the berry fruit, which is fibrous outside and contains the betel nut inside.
After extracting betel nuts from the fruit, it is sun-dried for at least 60 days. As a result, the betel nut becomes hard and turns dark brown.
Chewing betel nut, along with betel leaves, is a tradition in India and is believed to be in practice at least 1000 ago. Few people chew the combination of areca nuts, betel leaves together with Tobacco.
People consume areca nut without drying too. Supari manufacturers use areca nut for manufacturing supari.
India is the leading producer of areca nuts and has the most significant number of areca palm trees cultivated area.
Countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam also produces areca nuts.
The areca nut palm tree grows in high rainfall areas. It requires a temperature level ranging from 14–36 degrees Celsius.
There are eight different varieties of Arecanut palm trees cultivated in India for the betel nuts.
The variety has to be selected based on the geographical area of cultivation.
According to the data from Dasd (Directorate of Arecanut and Spices Development), the areca palm tree cultivated area was 5,18,710 hectares in the year 2018.
The total yield for the same year was 901.78 tonnes. Karnataka has a large number of areca palm tree cultivation(2,79,460 hectares) among other Indian states.
Also, the state contributes a large percent of betel nuts to the Indian market.
In recent years the areca sheaths have gained significant importance and have obtained commercial value.
Farmers collect the sheaths, separate the sheath from the leaf, and send it to the areca leaf merchant.
The areca leaf merchant dries the sheaths to remove the moisture in it. To avoid molds/fungus on the sheaths, they ensure it is adequately dried.
Because of this reason, there is a shortage of raw material in the rainy season.
Sheaths are then tied in bundles of 25 and sent to the areca leaf plates manufacturer.
In the factory, workers will soak the areca sheaths in the freshwater for 20 minutes.
Using a soft brush, they then gently scrub the sheath to remove dust and the sand particles.
The next step is to drain the water in the sheath. After draining the water, the sheath is pressed in the areca leaf plate making machine.
The arecanut plate making machine(a.k.a pakku mattai machine in Tamil) is the only machine you’ll need to make the palm leaf plates.
This leaf plate making machine consists of two pressing heads— upper and lower. The upper head is fixed to an upper channel while the lower pressing head moves up and down.
Both the pressing heads contain a heating coil inside. When you turn on the device, it heats the pressing head, and the heat is controlled by a thermostat.
Depending on the size of the areca leaf plate, you can set the temperature in the pressing head. The smaller the size of the plate, the lower the temperature, and vice versa.
For example, for a 6-inch square plate, we set to 60 and 50 degrees Celcius for the upper and lower pressing heads respectively. Simultaneously, for a 10″ square areca plate, we put 80 and 70 degrees Celcius for upper and bottom heads.
The temperature setting will vary, and it also depends on the age of the heating coil and the die.
We then place the areca sheath between the hot pressing heads and tightly press them against each other, and thus the sheaths get the shape of the plate.
The pressing head also contains cutting blades in the edges which cuts the plate out from the sheath.
Remember that NO chemical or any synthetic binders/adhesives are used in the areca plates manufacturing process.
The contents of the plates are as it is what they were in the Areca sheath. The plate does not release any of its constituents to the food, whether hot or cold.
After pressing the sheath into plates, the remain portions in the sheath are considered agro-waste waste. This waste sheath can be shredded into powder and can be used as animal fodder.
Otherwise, you can also use it as one of the input material in the vermicomposting unit.
After pressing the areca sheath into a plate, the next step is to grade the palm leaf plates manually.
After grading, the palm plates’ edges are sanded to give a smooth and beautiful finish, followed by cleaning on the plate surface.
This process removes all the dirt and dust from the plates.
Plates are left to dry, and before packing, it is ensured that it is free of moisture.
We then cure the plates using UV light— this curing process helps to inhibit the mold and microbe growth on the plate surface.
Next, these Areca palm leaf plates reach the packing section where we pack them in shrinkwrap or gunny bag, then label in, and send it to our customers.
From the 37th GST Council meeting held on 20th September, at Goa Govt has made the GST rate for Plates and cups made up of leaves/ flowers/bark as Nil.
This applies to Areca leaf plates and siali plates. This rate reduction has boosted the areca plate making business.
Palm leaf plates hs code: 46021990
Rathi co-founded CrozBorder Exports in the year 2017 and deals with manufacturing, consolidating and supplying eco-friendly products(Areca plates) to global customers.