Until the end of the last decade, environment-friendly and sustainability were not a deciding factor in our purchases. But now we’ve started realizing the devastating effects of plastic products and day-by-day becoming more environmentally conscious.
People thinking has changed in consumption. They want to keep up our earth free from plastic pollutants. So, they want to make a more eco-friendly choice over unsustainable options. Ecofriendly disposable plates are easy to handle and dispose of after use.
Though there are many eco-friendly products, this article will focus more on the areca palm leaf plates manufacturing process.
Eco plates are available in the following materials in the market.
Most of the people prefer areca palm leaf plates for serving foods in temple gatherings, parties, and picnicns, mainly because of its simplicity. They are easy to produce by the manufacturer and easily affordable for consumers, compared to the other types of eco-friendly disposable plates. And the best part is that, for raw materials, you don’t have to cut the trees. Palm leaf products manufacturers source the areca sheaths in bulk quantities from the farmers.
Areca palm tree (Scientific Name: Areca Catechu) grows only in the tropical climate areas. Farmers cultivate Areca palm tree mainly for the betel nuts(aka areca nut) that these trees produce.
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 chewing of areca nuts with the betel leaf is a tradition in India ad is believed to be in practice at least from 1000 ago.
Some chew the combination of areca nuts, betel leaves(said to have medicinal benefits when used alone) along with Tobacco flakes. The harvested betelnut has fibrous husk in the outer layer.
After removing the fibrous covering, the nut is usually sun-dried for 45 -60 days. The nut becomes hard and turns dark brown after drying. People consume areca nut without drying too.
Supari manufacturers use areca nut for manufacturing supari.
In India, the Arecanut palm tree grows only in high rainfall areas and 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.
For Coastal areas, they recommend “Sreevardhana” variety. It grows tall and produces round areca nuts.
According to the data from Dasd (Directorate of Arecanut and Spices Development) areca palm tree has been total cultivated area was 5,18,710 hectare in 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 bet,el nuts to the Indian market.
One areca palm tree sheds five to six leaves in a year. These leaves were considered an agro-waste and simply thrown away or burned.
But now the sheaths have gained significant importance in the areca leaf plates business. After trimming the leaf from the sheath, the sheath gets into areca leaf plates manufacturing. The leaf goes to the composting. You can get upto 3000 areca sheaths from one acre of areca palm tree.
Farmers collect the sheaths, bundles them and sends it to areca leaf plates manufactures near by. The primary step in the manufacturing unit is to assort the sheaths and clean them thoroughly.
The sheaths are soaked in the fresh water for 20 minutes. A soft brush is used to scrub away dust and the sand particles in the sheath. Then the sheaths are allowed to drain the water and taken for pressing with little amount of moisture in it.
The plate making unit consists of upper and bottom pressing heads. These pressing heads contains electric coil inside and this coil heats up the pressing heads. The temperature for the pressing heads are set based on the size of the plates.
Smaller the size of the plates, lower the temparature. For example, a 6-inch square plate pressing unit will be set to 60 and 50 degree celcius for the upper and bottom pressing heads respectively, while a 10″ square will need 80 and 70 degree celcius for upper and bottom heads. This will vary for different machine.
The areca sheath is put between these pressing heads and tightly pressed and thus the sheaths get the shape of the plate. The pressing head also contains cutting blades in the edges which cuts out the plate from the sheath.
The important fact to note here is, there is NO chemical or any synthetic binders used in the manufacturing process.
The contents of the plates are as it is what they were in the Areca sheath. So, it doesn’t release any of its constituents to the food, whether it is hot or cold.
After pressing the sheath into plates, the remain portions in the sheath are considered agro-waste waste. Units that produce vermicompost take these leftover areca palm sheaths and compost it into vermicompost.
After pressing the areca sheath into a plate, factories employ labor to grade the palm leaf plates manually. After grading, the edges of the palm leaf dishes are sanded to give a smooth and beautiful finish, followed by scrubbing.
This process removes all the spots of dirt and sand dust from the plates. A small level of moisture is enough for the molds to grow on the plates.
So, before packing the plates, it has to be completely dry, free from moist and cured using ultraviolet rays and will prevent the molds and microbes from building up on the plate.
Then the Areca palm leaf plates are usually packed using shrink wrap and sent to the customers.
37th GST council meeting held on 20th September, at Goa, decided to Nil the GST for Plates and cups made up of leaves/ flowers/bark. Until then 5% GST was charged for areca leaf plates. So, this will definitely boost the consumption and benefits the customers.
Palm leaf plates hs code: 46021990
Naresh Kumar started CrozBorder Exports in the year 2017 and deals with manufacturing, consolidating and supplying eco-friendly products to global customers. Amidst various projects, he takes time to write and create awareness about a sustainable environment. He is also an active fundraiser for environmental activities. Low input organic farming, Rainwater harvesting, Eco-friendly and sustainable homes, solar cooking, and biogas are some of his other key areas of interest.