Act before it’s too late – an interview with Founder of Earth Soul India, Mr. Perses Bilimoria

He calls himself a philanthropist who was always inclined towards bringing about social reforms in the country – it is this vision that has led to the foundation of two very innovative environment friendly groups – The Society of Biochar Initiatives and Earth Soul India. Ek Titli catches up with the man behind these – Mr. Perses Bilimoria.

James Lovelock and Perses Bilimoria
James Lovelock and Perses Bilimoria
“I realized that 99.9% of living organisms are already headed towards extinction and there is a constant battle for the survival of civilizations. Hence it is very important for nature and man to be in harmony,” expresses Mr. Bilimoria.

The growing human race is an ever increasing burden on the Earth’s resources. The result of this is rising carbon emissions leading to global warming. The most recent example of the environmental mess we have landed ourselves is the flash flood in Leh. These environmental aberrations and signs of impending ones have propelled him to take up the cause himself. Earth Soul India is outcome of these concerns, an organisation which deals in “Compostable” biopolymers that are made from renewable natural resources such as non-edible vegetable oils and starch. Mr. Bilimoria explains that “Our product completes the cradle to cradle approach that is from birth to rebirth, it is part of nature.”

According to him, these compostable biopolymers can be used to make a variety of items like Wet Waste Compost Bags, Plant Seed Bags, Cling Wraps, Food Wrappers, Fruit Trays, Plant Sapling pots, Commercial Bin Liners, Cutlery, Nursery Plant Plots and so one. The USP of these products is that they are biodegradable, recyclable and compostable.

On enquiring so as to why these products haven’t gained a lot of popularity, Mr. Bilimoria says, “These products have a shelf life of 12-15 months after which they become one with the soil. The only problem with such bio-degradable products is that they are one and a half times expensive as compared to polythene bags which are readily available and hence picked by consumers who have no choice but to go for it!” He further states that the consumers are often kept in the dark about the availability of these options as the vested interests in the plastic market tend to lobby against them. “If bio-diesel could get a boost by the Government’s support, why not compostable products?” he questions.

At present there are three major companies that deal in the production of biopolymers – Kargill (USA), Novamont (Italy) and DASS (Germany) apart from a couple of companies in France. Only these companies deal in biopolymer production that has to be imported by India.

He calls for speedy action and a supportive stance from the Government in terms of removing excise duty and nullifying the sales tax. It is only through the Governments’ policies that the prices of a regular polythene bag and a compostable bio-degradable bag will be comparable, thereby encouraging the healthy practice of biodegradable products which are fit for the environment as opposed to polythene bags that are a nightmare for the soil and water bodies.

The problem with Polythene usage
Fossil fuels follow a cradle to death approach and are non-renewable. At the rate at which we are consuming them, it is quite clear that the dependence on fossil fuels has to be curbed.

Comparing a jute bag to compostable bag, he explains that a jute bag that will go on for 5-6 months will cost Rs. 26 and a similar compostable bag will cost Rs. 10 but will last two months. A consumer needs to be smart enough to go the eco-friendly way and not fall into the vicious cycle of cheap non-environment friendly products.

As part of Ministry of Environment and Forest, Mr. Bilimoria has been working on the process of re-drafting the ban on polythene. He says that by mid – September, India will see a ban on the use of polythene bags. However the catch is that it would be subjective per state and not enforceable by the Centre.

He sees a solution in joint efforts by the Government and the industry – through public-private partnerships to work towards environment friendly initiative. Though this may seem like a far cry from the present, he sounds hopeful when he shares his present workable solution wherein talks are on with the Retailers Association in India. If successful, Mr. Bilimoria is hopeful that the biodegradable products will be easily available to the public.

His second venture
The Society of Biochar Initiatives or TSBI is a regional body of IBI, Washington. Explaining Biochar, he says, “Biochar has been practised in India for years, but in a very crude, unsustainable form. New and modern technology allows biochar to be produced as a product of the pyrolisis process (combustion with no oxygen). The production of biochar has both syngas and bio fuel as by products, which could be used by the farming communities to cater to their shortfalls and need, of both, as a cooking medium and fuel. Biochar is also a good tool for carbon sequestration.”

Biochar has multiple uses from a soil amendment to a cleaning medium, fuel briquetes, and urinal disinfection medium and so on. Sustainable biochar is a powerfully simple tool to fight global warming. This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and discourage deforestation. It is one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable and quickly scalable. The mission of TSBI is to promote and encourage the development of Biochar Systems that follow the Cradle to Grave sustainability guidelines.

When asked about his other pursuits, he replies, “My work is to purely educate us humans to prepare for a hot, unstable and eventually destructive and unsustainable earth.” He claims that government support is this direction has been very little or none at all.

His meeting with independent research scientist, James Lovelock, has inspired him to become a strong provocateur of the Gaian hypothesis, according to which Gaia is defined as “a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.” The initial hypothesis was that the biomass modifies the conditions on the planet to make conditions on the planet more hospitable.
His take away from that meeting is “We human beings are “stupid” and think we can fix almost everything and anything.”

Mr. Bilimoria feels that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the United Nations), findings and figures are inappropriate. “We are living in a heat age due to which the temperatures are soaring; glacial ice is melting resulting in increased sea levels. Only authentic agencies like NASA reports, Oceanographic institutes and reference papers of research provide real facts,” he affirms. He also suggested a book “The Revenge of Gaia – The Final Warning” by Dr. James Lovelock for an in-depth into the environment crisis.
On asking about his struggles to popularise biodegradable plastic and Biochar initiatives, he fumes, “The obstacles are abound and overwhelming and unless you are passionate, these obstacles are sure to run you over! The first obstacle is that the government is not proactive on either of the two initiatives, or if they are, it is half hearted and half baked! Corruption is prevalent at all levels of governance and the passion for people to look at initiatives, ONLY as a source of monetary gain.”

When it comes to social entrepreneurs like him, he suggested, “Patience, enormous resilience and holding power, courage of conviction are quintessential. Apart from this, a realisation that we are on “the path not taken” is needed. Hence there will be no room for short cuts, easy gains, but a huge amount of satisfaction from unknown quarters.”

His message to the readers is “Simple lives are always in harmony with nature, so live simple and thus, eco-friendly.”

Author: Richa Taneja
Richa is currently pursuing her Masters in Mass Communications and enjoys travelling, reading, writing, dancing and music and aspires to make films on social and development issues.

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