'The Green Journey - Rhea Singhal'
It is said that to bring a change, someone has to make the first move; so is the case with Rhea Singhal, the Founder and CEO of Ecoware, India’s first and largest sustainable food packaging company. The company uses the waste of locally sourced agricultural crops and converts it into disposable tableware and packaging for use in food services, medical care and industrial packaging. Ecoware products are 100% natural, biodegradable and compostable.
Ecoware provides a sustainable and affordable alternative to plastic and foam disposables that have collectively caused untold damage to the environment and adversely impacted human health.
Agricultural residue in India has mostly been treated as a waste product. It is often burnt - either by large industries for captive energy generation or by farmers out in the open to clear land for cultivation. The unregulated profligacy of the latter contributes to severe deterioration of air quality in major north India cities in the autumn. Extensive research was carried out in this area, and it was ascertained that certain agricultural fibrous residue such as sugarcane biogases could be applied to moulded products such as tableware.
Rhea Singhal’s journey started from educating the retailers, businesses and consumers of plastic about the harmful effects of plastic.
From then to now, Ecoware has come to be demanded from Kashmir to Kerala.
Ecoware started production in 2010 and has an online and offline presence. Today, with two production units, 100 employees and an annual turnover of Rs. 10 crores, it has footfalls in India, U.A.E., Australia and Canada.
At the initial stage, Singhal found an urgent need to reduce the burden of littered/discarded plastics and, at the same time, provide safe and healthy food packaging. She looked for biodegradable disposable products, similar to what she used when she lived abroad and realised that there was a gap in the market. After much research, she produced a product that is durable and caters to the various cuisines.
The solution she had in mind involved using plant biomass to create disposable tableware that is strong, water resistant, and aesthetic.
This way, people get the chance to eat safely and not harm the environment.
Citing an incident, Rhea said, “My mother has had cancer twice; also, having worked in Oncology, I have an understanding on how plastics are harmful for health, and we can see the everyday damage it’s doing to the environment. After arriving in Delhi, I noticed how people were talking about the health and safety of food but ignoring the packaging from which they were eating that very same food. For me, all benefits of a healthy meal can easily be negated if the serving dish has not been cleaned properly, is re-used, or contains chemical additives that are harmful for human consumption.”
As a woman entrepreneur and mother of two young kids, Rhea is extremely passionate about increasing the profile of women in the organised workforce. What particularly motivates her is providing a livelihood to rural or semi-rural women who traditionally have been restricted to the job of homemakers. At Ecoware, they train and skill women in roles as diverse as machine operators to quality control inspectors to electricians. Women become empowered when they are financially independent; therefore, just for this very purpose, Singhal opened bank accounts in the name of women so that they can choose to spend the money they earn however they want to - on themselves or their children.
Her journey has also been a challenging one. Some of these were:
• One of the biggest challenges faced by her was creating awareness about the need for an environmentally friendly product - starting with educating young students about environmental awareness to enlightening distributors enough to incentivise them to look at her product over traditionally accepted plastic products.
• Being taken seriously by the male dominated business industry was another challenge for her.
• Convincing everyone that Ecoware is the future because we have to change our way of life to reduce our own risk as well as protect the environment.
Ecoware’s products have made a mark by being USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) certified bio-based. By choosing a bio-based product - labelled, USDA Certified Bio-based Product - the consumer can be assured that the USDA and the American Federal Government stand behind the accuracy of the percent of bio-based ingredients as stated on the label.
The astonishing journey of Rhea Singhal is not milk and roses, but is surely full of achievements which include receiving an honour at the annual World Economic Forum for her dynamic innovation - the “Ecoware” products based on health and environment.
Rhea had started on her own but, over the years,
both her family and company have grown. Her husband, too, quit his job and joined Ecoware and is now the COO of the company. About working with her husband, she says, “We’re both in the loop concerning what’s going on in each other’s departments, but we don’t step in and manage each other’s teams unless the other person is out of town or otherwise unavailable. We share a strong work ethic and are focused on the same finish line. We make it a point to talk about work only during office hours and try not to bring work home so that the kids have our undivided attention when we’re at home with them.”
Rhea’s approach of creating Ecoware products has been taken to places across the globe with an immense amount of success.
Rhea’s success can be seen in both the private as well as government sector. She has had a great response in the private sector; her customers include Chaayos, Haldirams, Lite Bite Foods, various cinema chains and many more. Her biggest achievement in the government sector has been to persuade the Indian Railways, the largest food service operator in India, to switch to biodegradables.
Rhea is working with a vision to make Ecoware a household brand synonymous with safe food packaging, similar to what Dettol means to hygiene or Google means to search online, as well as make it a one-stop shop for all biodegradable disposable packaging.
With so many green food start ups coming up, Ecoware seems to be a better option for sustainable development. The time has come that everyone across the globe supports this green journey and makes the environment a better place to live in.
Corporate Head – CSR* Jindal Stainless Limited