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Corn starch bags, cutlery a hot pick for restaurants

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PUNE: Restaurateurs in the city are increasingly opting for bags and cutlery made of corn starch to meet their take-away and delivery orders in the wake of the plastic ban imposed by the state government.
“The corn starch bags look and feel just like the ones made of plastic. Paper containers are also slowly foraying into the market. Most restaurants are going for these bags even as they are comparatively expensive,” said Ganesh Shetty, president of the Pune Restaurants and Hoteliers Association.

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“We are, however, facing problems in packing liquid items such as sambar or various gravy. We have, as a result, seen a 20-25% drop in terms of delivery and parcel orders. The restaurant associations have requested the government to allow recyclable plastic of over 50 micron,” he added.

As most restaurants are still clearing the old stock of plastics, the sale of biodegradable cutlery is yet to pick up. “We are getting a lot of enquiries for cutlery and bags made of corn starch or paper straws. But these enquiries are not reflecting in sales as yet. We have got only about five-six orders for these products as yet,” stated Soberpreet Mehar of Satguru Market Makers, a wholesaler.

On the availability of corn starch cutlery in the market, Mehar said, “Plates, bowls, forks and spoons made of corn starch are already in the market. These items are biodegradable and also look more elegant. The only problem is that these products are at least 25% more expensive than the plastic or thermocol variants.”

Thakkar Industries owner Pramod Thakkar said, “The demand for the corn starch bags is high, especially from restaurants. But our main business has been plastic and we are against the ban on it. We have so far distributed samples of the corn starch bags free of cost to some restaurants, but are not actively selling those.”

A factor behind the huge demand for the corn starch bags is inadequate raw material. “For example, if we have a demand for one lakh bags, we have raw material to make only 25,000 units. Once the bags get more popular and more players enter the market, we may see a reduction in prices,” he said.

On the containers for gravy and other liquid food items, Viessta Papers owner Hinendra Surana said, We are trying to look for alternatives to plastic for packaging gravy items. We will be happy if plastic can be replaced by a material better than paper. Increased consumption of paper bags will lead to more felling of trees.”

The state cabinet had on March 15 approved the environment department’s proposal to ban plastic carry bags and certain other items in Maharashtra. The highlight of the ban was that both manufacturers and users will be penalized. The punishment is a fine ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000 and a jail term of three months.

The local bodies in the state, including the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, have time till April 24 to draw up a plan for effective implementation of the ban on plastic items within their jurisdiction, failing which they will face action.

The Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018, also stated that consumers have time till April 24 to hand over their banned plastic products to authorized recyclers or local bodies to avoid fines.

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