Nemophilist. Green Warrior. Tree-free Paper Fairy. Sustainable Design Junkie. Entrepreneur Extraordinaire.
Dreaming of a Green Green World
As we drift in to the Bluecat Paper factory (we say drift, as that is indeed what a tour of the space feels like – whimsical, floaty, nature-kissed) our eyes soak in a serene waterbody surrounded by lush green anthropodiums, bouncy silverados, spiky bromeliads, drooping rushes, skinny equisetums, sprightly lilies, tall slender palm trees, green leafy colocasia and bold birds of paradise striking a pose in tropical red-orange hues, wooed by a shock of moist hostas.
Sunlight creeps in past the red patio chairs, as wispy long-stalked papyruses peek in through the windows overlooking the meeting room. As the story unfurls, we discover that every single reed and plant in the Bluecat Paper campus was thoughtfully handpicked by Kavya herself, transforming the factory precincts into a veritable mini forest in less than five years. All of a sudden, it seems as though the papyruses were there for a reason – serving poetic justice – nodding their heads in the breeze, singing odes in praise of the history of paper making.
We sit transfixed through the next hour as Kavya unravels startling truths on the art of paper making. Nearly 40% of the trees we have around us today are cut for paper – quite an expensive proposition for Planet Earth! It is a popular misconception that trees are possibly the sole raw material source for paper making. On the contrary, pretty much anything that contains 68% cellulose can be turned to pulp, and in turn, paper.
The Art of Tree-free Paper
At Bluecat Paper, not a single tree is cut or utilized in any form whatsoever throughout the entire manufacturing and process cycle. Instead, the gorgeous line-up of 100% tree-free paper is fashioned out of secondary industrial wastes – including cotton and textile rags, discarded coffee, corn husks and mulberry sticks, flax, linen, lemon grass and banana fibre – reducing a hefty load off our rivers and landfills where these wastes are typically dumped!
What’s more, there are 100% recycling, up-cycling and eco-conservation measures weaved in all the way from the sourcing of the raw material and heating, to the making and drying of the pulp, to the final conversion to paper and designer end products that Bluecat customers have come to love over the years.
Truth or Dare
Traditional paper factories waste tons of water during the manufacturing process – nearly 3 to 4 lakh litres of water per batch of paper made – while Bluecat adopts thoughtful alternative measures to ensure that not a single drop of water is wasted. Interestingly, water is required for only one very small part of the entire process cycle, in order to spread the pulp and form a sheet, and yet, with over 80 to 120 chemicals used in traditional treatment processes, the water turns dense and black. This in turn leads to tons of fresh water being used and wasted to make the paper white enough to meet standard industry requirements. To put things in perspective, a single A4 sheet of traditionally manufactured paper can waste up to an average of up to 12 litres of water! What is more unfortunate is that when the chemically treated paper eventually returns to earth and decomposes, it starts releasing dangerous toxins like methane.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Bluecat handmade paper is 100% tree-free, naturally dyed and chemical free, and therefore, the amount of water utilized in the entire process is far far lesser. Further, an in-house Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) recycles even the minimal quantity of water that is used, ensuring an absolutely zero-wastage production cycle! This results in a massive saving of nearly 75,000 litres of water every day should one compare the daily consumption to a traditional paper factory of the same size.
Interestingly, going by an average, Bluecat Paper’s water bill for an entire month of factory operation works out to a mere 600 rupees! The boiler is heated using repurposed husks from a nearby plant. Almost all Bluecat Paper products can also be returned after use to the factory, where they will be completely re-used and re-engineered in a new avatar.
Two sides to a story
Until the 1790s, paper is said to have been exclusively made from cotton rags, but slowly, as resources ran dry, manufacturers turned to trees for pulp. Several conventional paper makers contend that they are FSSAI credited, or that the trees they chop down are from exclusively custom grown forests meant for industry use, or that for every tree cut they guarantee that a new one is planted!
While this may seem like a fairly convincing argument, Kavya clarifies, it is indeed not a fair, justifiable alternative – an average tree has to grow up to nearly 3CFT in width before it is deemed fit to be cut for paper manufacture – which means that an entire ecosystem of living creatures – from squirrels to birds to earthworms – are adversely affected every time a tree is cut – and on an average, over 35,000 hectares of trees are wiped down at a time by conventional paper manufacturers!
‘If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ probes a wise old philosophical Zen inquiry.
Replacing a chopped tree is not just about planting a sapling, reminds Kavya, you need to water it, nurture it and monitor its growth for at least the first 3 to 5 years; so all this argument of planting a sapling for every tree cut down does not really hold ground on its own.
Coming from a habitual mini-forest-maker (a die-hard nemophilist who grew up loving trees in the hillsides of Madikeri) who has successfully created evergreen sanctuaries from scratch in sparse, barren landscapes wherever her entrepreneurial ventures have taken her – be it at their signature Amanvana Spa Resort in Coorg, where every single tree around the River Cauvery was planned and planted by Kavya and team; or currently at the Bluecat Paper factory premises in Peenya, Bangalore – this is indeed a thought every paper and nature lover should ponder upon.
Slowly. Sweetly. Sustainably.
While switching to zero waste paper making is in fact simple, nature-friendly and soul satisfying with fascinating end results, it is not fully supported every step of the way by sophisticated machinery, as is the case with conventional paper mills that are widespread across the country. Some of the processes require hands-on human intervention and custom-built machinery as none of the industrial machines available in the market today are designed to save water or minimize wastage.
As it is currently, handmade paper making is a sweeter slower painstaking process, given that the raw materials are sorted and segregated by hand, a fair part of the machinery is semi-automated or rudimentary (every single frame of pulp for instance is manually maneuvered and monitored), and every sheet of paper is hung up by hand and sundried.
It could take up to 35 minutes to lovingly hand-make a Bluecat Paper bag, while a conventional industry production based out of a traditional paper mill can churn out nearly 3000 bags in the same time. Few of the machines are in fact custom-crafted to Bluecat’s exclusive specifications by design engineers specifically brought down to help the team innovate zero-waste methodologies.
And yet, going tree-free and zero-waste is not an insurmountable challenge. Should the conversion to sustainable tree-free paper manufacturing garner more support in the coming years, with investments in machinery, R&D and regulatory support from the government, and other industrial players and authorities, Kavya foresees a beautiful, safer, sustainable future for all of us; a secure home for all living creatures big and small; more trees; less wastage of water and other natural resources, and a greener, happier planet.
The next time you stock up on new stationary, order a student notebook, custom print a party invite or feel like a nifty room makeover, browse through Blue Cat Paper’s eclectic array of handmade paper products on Unfactory and be rest assured you will feel spoilt for choice.
Who says ethical is boring?
Looking for quirky-fun sustainable solutions that do not compromise on creativity? Discover a whole host of 100% recycled, upcycled, earth friendly products that reduce our collective carbon foot print … lampshades, bags, bowls, designer stationary, tissue box holders, folders, hand-stitched notebooks, artist pads, diaries, planners, directories, invitation cards, fairy light pin-ups, wrapping, journaling and creative décor and gifting ideas.
In the mood for fine paper?
How about a dash of silken mulberry, artsy coffee, textured cotton, durable corn, subdued lemongrass or non-bleed flax, if you please? Go on, indulge. Lose yourself in Bluecat Paper’s awe-inspiring world of handmade exotica – 100% tree-free paperware – sustainably sourced, tastefully designed, elegantly hued, dreamy to the touch and ethical to the core.