As human beings, it is inherently our nature to neglect events that appear not to affect us directly. In stark contrast to this human norm, nature deals with things a lot differently.
Nature and its ecosystems are all interconnected and interdependent. A catastrophe in one will trigger a domino effect that tips off every other ecosystem.
Therefore, the blindfold that we, mankind, have put on our eyes to 'un-see' the worrying effects of climate change on our environment, will one day spell doom for us.
In fact, to our surprise, plastic pollution today is no longer the threat that affects animals or oceans only. It is now one that threatens the health and livelihood of all humans.
Whether it is the story of vets in India extracting 71kgs of plastic and other garbage from a stray cow, or the one about scientists in the Pacific finding harmful levels of microplastics inside fishes, it is clear how dire the situation is.
At such a worrying point in history, while the world waits for the developed nations to find a solution to avert this impending catastrophe, three Bangladeshi youngsters have vowed to put an end to plastic pollution with EcoVia and its biodegradable plastic.
The journey begins
It all began in January 2018, when Rashik Hassan, Riasat Zaman, and Ashfaqul Azam realised they shared similar concerns regarding plastic pollution and were determined to do something about it.
They quickly deduced that plastic is merely the tip of the iceberg and that the core problem was not plastic but its non-disposability. This deduction would go on to form the underlying idea behind EcoVia.
Rashik Hasan, co-founder of EcoVia, recollected, "A plastic packaging could take as long as 450 years to decompose. So, we were adamant about finding an alternative eco-friendly raw material which would allow us to ensure decomposition in months or even years".
In the early months, the team faced scathing setbacks as it tried to use fish scales to make bioplastic.
They realised that the cost of sourcing fish scales was very high and such a product would eventually fail to obtain product-market fit.
They were eventually forced to drop the idea, but the vision to solve the problem remained.
At the time, Riasat, a textile engineer, whose area of research was pre-consumer apparel wastages, proposed the idea of using cotton-based garments wastages to make cellulose-based bioplastic.
Since pre-consumer apparel waste has an efficient supply chain locally, and is available in abundance, given the size of our RMG industry, it would serve as a feasible raw material.
The product was innovative and potentially a market-fit. The grit had finally paid off, and the journey of EcoVia officially began.
Finding the business perspective
In early 2020, EcoVia started its journey as a manufacturer of biodegradable plastic.
When talking about the early days Rashik Hassan noted, "We were elated when we first found the idea of using apparel waste. We immediately knew this would give us a huge cost-benefit in the market. But we soon realised that ideation was only one part of the challenge, funding the businesses was another challenge altogether."
He added, "Despite all the challenges, we had faith in our product. While regular plastic takes 450 years to decompose, EcoVia's products decompose in 150 days, not years! This was revolutionary, and an apt response to the global climate challenge we are facing today."
Non-disposability is not the only problem of plastic. Each kilogram of plastic produces six kilograms of carbon which contributes massively to climate change.
In contrast to this, biodegradable plastic takes a lot less time to decompose, hence they do not harm the ecological balance.
This is precisely why EcoVia's biodegradable plastics have the potential to avert this crisis.
In comparison to regular plastic, each kilogram of EcoVia's bioplastic product saves (instead of contributing) 5.5 kilogram of carbon footprint, and the products decompose in an astonishing 150 days.
Evidently, EcoVia had remarkable potential, but it still struggled to secure the required funding to get the operations started.
To raise funds, the founders participated in multiple local and international entrepreneurial competitions.
To their surprise, investors and others alike also whole-heartedly appreciated the concept of EcoVia.
Accolades pour in
Among EcoVia's victories in many competitions, two stand out in particular. EcoVia was one of the winners of the highly esteemed Climate Launchpad, 2020 (South Asian Regional Final).
They are also the winners of the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, 2020, organised by BYLC.
EcoVia is currently a part of BYLC Venture's accelerator programme. Together they are collaborating to turn the big dream into reality.
More recently, EcoVia has started selling its products to local and foreign customers.
When asked about the recent developments at EcoVia, Rashik Hassan stated, "With the seed funds we received so far from the various competitions, we have successfully completed the trial production phase. However, we need to invest more to expand production to drive down prices, which would boost the acceptability of our products even more in the market."
Currently, Rashik Hassan, co-founder of EcoVia, is a final year student at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP).
Riasat Zaman is a textile engineer, while Ashfaqul Azam is a finance graduate.
Rashik Hassan is the head of operations at EcoVia, in charge of both the office at Mohakhali and the production facility at Tongi.
Apart from the three founders, EcoVia has a total of five employees. However, that has clearly not limited EcoVia from advancing product development and operations simultaneously.
Currently, the team has found success in using urban paper wastes as their raw materials as well.
Furthermore, the team is presently working on getting certification and accreditation from relevant international authorities and has already filed a patent for their unique innovation and technology.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and renowned philanthropist, has recently sparked debate claiming that the next pandemic will be one caused by climate change.
It is truly remarkable how three Bangladeshis have risen to this challenge to build a circular economy that potentially will save mankind from the dire consequences of plastic pollution.
However, the true challenge now remains the acceptance and adoption of such sustainable products among manufacturers.
Fortunately, FMCG giants like Unilever and Coke have pledged to phase out the use of non-disposable plastic in recent times.
Therefore, because of brands like EcoVia, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for mankind and its ecosystems.