Rewriting the Narrative on Plastics

IVLP alumna Pratibha Bharathi quit her job as a techie to create ecofriendly alternatives to single-use plastic.

By Krittika Sharma

July 2023

Rewriting the Narrative on Plastics 

Pratibha Bharathi (second from right) on a field visit during her IVLP exchange program to the United States. (Photograph by World Kentucky/Courtesy Flickr)

India currently generates around 3.4 million tons of plastic waste. Most of this waste ends up in local landfills or aquatic dumps. Hyderabad-based start-up Nature’s Bio Plastic, founded by Pratibha Bharathi, offers a simple alternative, one that has the qualities of plastic but is not as harmful to the environment—bioplastics. These are made of nature-derived components like corn or cassava starch, which give them tenacity and sturdiness to replace plastic. Bioplastics are biodegradable, have a long shelf life, and are environment-friendly. Nature’s Bio Plastic produces items that can be used in daily life, as greener alternatives.

In 2023, Pratibha participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. She also participated in U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad’s workshops for Women Entrepreneurs in the Green Economy.

A story of determination

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Pratibha was a software engineer. “I wanted to start a business of my own, which could be innovative and provide job opportunities,” she says. “After working for 13-and-a-half years in multinational companies, I felt it was time to quit and do something for myself.”

Pratibha says she was inspired by her father, also an entrepreneur. “My father used to make decisions independently. He was the soul of his enterprise,” she says. “His individuality and leadership inspired me.”

The determination to start a business took Pratibha through tons of research to develop expertise. She taught herself molecular biology by researching and consulting with scientists at the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad to prepare for her role as the founder of Nature’s Bio Plastic.

Pratibha experimented with starch sources like sweet potatoes and tapioca but found these bags had a shorter shelf life. “The early products would start degrading within 20 to 30 days. They were not market-ready,” she explains.

Eventually, Pratibha connected with a junior scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to develop the current formulation. “Now, our product, which is a blend of polylactic acid and polybutylene adipate co-terephthalate, starts degrading in 90 days to 180 days.” They are also compostable.

Nature’s Bio Plastic specializes in carry bags, dustbin liners, shoe covers and head caps. “Recently, we created a prototype of disposable water bottles,” she says.

The start-up has certifications from the Central Pollution Control Board and CIPET: Institute of Plastics Technology in Kochi.

The IVLP experience

Pratibha describes her IVLP experience as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I have seen how entrepreneurship and small business work in India. Through the IVLP, I got the opportunity to see how entrepreneurs and small businesses function in the bioplastics sector in the United States,” she says. Pratibha also met several women entrepreneurs from the sustainability sector. However, what struck her was the support entrepreneurs and small businesses get to start operations, allowing them to focus on partnerships and networking.

Pratibha has a clear view of what she wants to do next. “I want to mentor women entrepreneurs looking for support, knowledge and financial backing,” she says. “Every entrepreneur needs a mentor to tell them how to navigate policies, certifications and finance. I want to help women looking for guidance, especially when planning to start a business.”

Giving others a leg up

As a woman entrepreneur, Pratibha feels strongly about helping other women business owners avoid the mistakes she made. And her advice is to research thoroughly to gain the necessary knowledge on their subject. “We need to be thorough on the pros and cons of the product that we are planning to come up with,” she says.

“Before starting the business, while ideating, have a strong understanding of your particular product, and evaluate how feasible it would be for you in the future—up to five to 10 years,” she adds. Pratibha also advises business owners to keep an alternative in mind if the initial product doesn’t take off. “We don’t easily step back. Every woman has leadership qualities. That leadership quality, with some background work, can help entrepreneurs find success more easily.”

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