How this Pune-based startup recycles crop residues into packaging materials, particle board


India’s propensity for agriculture means that the country produces a large amount of agricultural waste. An NITI Aayog report citing MNRE data indicates that approximately 500 million tonnes of agricultural residues are produced each year; NCBI data shows that approximately 92 million tonnes of crop residues are burned.

Stubble burning is a huge problem, especially in northern India, and causes enormous environmental damage. Duo of siblings Shubham Singh and Himansha Singh aim to solve this problem with Craste, a harvest waste management startup based in Pune.

Founded in 2018, Crete buys crop residues from farmers and recycles them to make packaging materials and engineered panels for furniture. The startup is operated under the company name FUMA Labs Private Limited.

The startup reuses crop waste in molded packaging, paper products, packaging and particle board, and is also helping farmers generate additional income.

Shubham Singh and Himansha Singh, co-founders, Craste [Image Credit: Craste]

In the beginning

After earning an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, Shubham worked in a company but wanted to pursue the path of entrepreneurship. He went on to obtain a postgraduate degree and also completed an entrepreneurship course at Imperial College London.

“One day I was sitting in the Imperial College library and reading the newspaper which declared Delhi one of the most polluted cities in the world and the stubble burning problem. Some of my research at the time was already related to biomass, so I wondered if something could be done with crop waste instead of burning it, ”says Shubham.

Further research into crop residue and the problem of burning revealed that the machines for cleaning the residue were expensive and manual cleaning was time consuming. That is why the farmers resorted to burning stubble.

While working on this problem, Shubham also discovered that India is one of the biggest importers of timber. This led to new thinking, and he conceptualized recycling crop waste to make engineered planks that could be used to make furniture.

Crete buys agricultural waste from farmers at Rs 6 per kg and recycles it to manufacture packaging materials and engineering panels for furniture. Engineered particle board is free from formaldehyde, a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in pressed wood products that is harmful to human health.

The startup is also building packaging solutions from crop residues. “We have developed a patent pending technology, Fumasolv, to extract a material called lignin from crop residues in order to develop packaging solutions. We provide customized packaging solutions to our customers, ”he adds.

Illustration: YS Design

Business model

Craste operates on the B2B model and sells its boxes and packaging materials to companies. She also works in research and development to create tailor-made packaging solutions for her customers.

While the Venture Center-incubated startup declined to divulge customer details, it revealed it was working with Anheuser-Busch (global and Indian teams) and Stanley Black & Decker to develop custom packaging solutions.

[Image Credit: Craste]

Craste has received several grants such as BIRAC SOCH Award, Biotech Ignition Grant (BIRAC) and AB InBev Grant, among others. Last year he received the Millennium Alliance Award. It also received funding from Stanley Techstars Accelerator.

“We recently got another grant from the central government under the RAFTAAR program where our partner is the Punjab Agricultural Unit, Ludhiana, to set up a pilot unit. To date, we have received approximately $ 250,000 in grants, ”he said.

According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the Indian particle board market was valued at over $ 720 million in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 11.5% from 2021 to 2026.

Notable players such as CenturyPly, Green Land Particle Board and Archidply Industries Limited are among those working in the particle board market.

Speaking of future plans, the co-founder says the startup is seeks to raise funds by the end of the year. He adds that part of it will be used to set up an R&D center to accelerate its research on products that can be made from agricultural waste.

“In the long term – in the next five years – we want to grow our business using the franchise model. We will also be looking at global expansion as we have registered interest from Africa, Europe and the United States, ”said Shubham.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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