Bonkagoj is essentially an A4 sized paper with 11 different types of seeds embedded in it
For at least 2,000 years, the process of making paper has mostly been a one-way street — trees are cut down and turned into paper.
But Narayanganj based start-up Shalbrikkho has decided to reverse engineer the process by creating paper that can sprout plants.
This paper, called “Bonkagoj”, is essentially an A4 sized paper with 11 different types of seeds embedded in it.
Mahbub Sumon, the managing director of Shalbrikkho, first came up with the idea while making visiting cards.
Upon realizing that objects like business cards, invitation cards, and notebooks have a short lifespan, Shalbrikkho started to gather these waste paper to produce an eco-friendly and sustainable product.
Bonkagoj came to life with three motives: mass awareness about the environment; solving the food and nutrition crisis; and breaking the stereotype of monoculture in Bangladesh.
“When we were making visiting cards for the company, we realized that these cards soon lost their value, and ended up being trashed. So, we opted for a sustainable way to recycle used paper. Within a year, we were able to launch Bonkagoj,” he said.
Bonkagoj is handmade and after using it, you can put it on a pot of earth, water it and wait nine days for it to sprout. Soon, you will be on a mission to grow your own little vegetable patch or flower garden.
However, the paper must be used within a year, otherwise the embedded seeds may not germinate.
“We are indebted to nature for every moment of our lives. If we are able to save nature in any way, it will be our pleasure. We are hopeful of becoming more efficient in producing such seed papers with a cheaper price and better quality, overcoming financial and other constraints that we are facing right now,” said Sumon.
How does Bonkagoj work?
When Bonkagoj is discarded and it comes in contact with damp soil and a suitable atmosphere, the seeds get activated and the seed paper starts to germinate within a few days.
You can see sprouts coming out directly from the seed paper. However, due to seasonal changes and variations in air masses, the seed bombs may differ in how they work.
While discarding Bonkagoj, it is better to throw it out on some damp soil after tearing it into pieces.
If you are fond of plants and want to do something for nature, this is a good way to grow them in your balcony tubs or garden using these papers, said Sumon.
But the Bonkagoj has an expiry date.
The reason is that seeds in Bonkagoj have an average germination rate of 35% to 38% for one year. After that, the germination rate begins to fall, reducing the chances of the seed paper working.
Mahbub Sumon, the managing director of Shalbrikkho Photo: Courtesy
From paper to seed paper
Bonkagoj follows the same production process as any other handmade paper. Used paper is collected, then shredded, soaked, blended, turned into pulp, and placed in a dice to make Bonkagoj. The only difference is that seeds are spread on the processed pulp in the last stage, just before applying the heat and pressure to obtain the final product.
“My engineering background has helped me greatly in this venture. I have developed custom machineries and worked 14 hours a day to pursue this goal,” said Sumon.
And Shalbrikkho is planning to introduce other varieties of Bonkagoj as well.
Bonkagoj is a lot thicker than normal writing paper — it is five grams heavier because of the seeds embedded in it.
An A4 size Bonkagoj weighs approximately 10 grams. In addition to that, visiting and invitation cards made from Bonkagoj weigh 14 grams and 16.25 grams, respectively.
Moreover, production is also time-consuming.
While 60 to 80 sheets of ordinary paper can be produced every two hours, Bonkagoj's production in that duration is only five sheets.
“I hope that after developing the system in full swing, we can increase production,” Sumon further said.
The price tag
Bonkagoj is more expensive compared to ordinary paper due to the physical and intellectual labour spent behind the project, said Sumon.
For now, each piece of A4 size writing paper costs Tk66, visiting card paper costs Tk85 and invitation card paper costs Tk100.
“We have worked hard to reach this stage. We are still trying to make it better every day. So, the price is a little higher than normal. However, we are trying to make it affordable for middle-class people,” Sumon added.
Other projects in the works
Shalbrikkho is also working on other sustainable eco-friendly projects.
The first, Pyrolysis, is a machine used to produce diesel from waste plastic. Currently, they have one plant at Deobhog of Chashara in Narayanganj.
The company is also producing “Tium”, an eco-friendly jug and “Koa”, a drinking cup — both made from bamboo.
Another one of its projects include working on leaf plates as an alternative to plastic one-time use plates.
Shalbrikkho is also working on an alternative to polythene-shopping bags, which are expected to be transparent and strong, yet disposable, unlike polythene.