Published: 14th May 2021
This Karnataka environmentalist's unique seed masks once discarded will grow into a plant. Here's how
Nitin Vas, who firmly believes in the Swadeshi model of Gandhiji, wanted to do something to help the environment. We spoke to him about the unique seed masks he created
As the Coronavirus ravages the country once again, the scene around us hasn't changed much. With single-use masks discarded, sometimes PPEs lying around or ending up in landfills, it is not just a health pandemic we are dealing with but also an environmental one. To combat this environmental hazard, Nitin Vas an environmentalist and social activist from Karnataka's Mangaluru has come up with a rather unique invention — a single-use mask embedded with seeds. When discarded into the soil, it grows into a plant.
Nitin, who firmly believes in the Swadeshi model of Gandhiji, says that he wanted to do something to help the environment in these times of distress. "We looked at the N95 design and wanted to model our masks on those. Ours is a two-layer single-use mask, the inner lining is made of cotton cloth. We didn't want to use any sort of plastic or material harmful to the environment so we used cotton ropes to help tie the masks over the ears and behind your head, it's quite easy to remove also. The cotton layer is quite thick and safer than your single-layer cloth masks. Our mask is not as strong as N95 but it is quite effective. Our aim was to create a mask that is durable enough but also degradable," he explains.
The seed masks were launched in March this year under Nitin's social enterprise Paper Seed Co and he says that the response has been overwhelming. "We received over two lakh orders after the launch but we do not have the capacity to manufacture so many and deliver. We can do 10,000 masks at most as we are a unit comprising of five working members,” adds Nitin. The masks are priced at Rs 25 per piece and they are currently available only in one size to fit adults. Nitin shares that they wanted to get seeds of fruit trees but they are larger in size, so they thought why not embed some vegetables such as tulsi, tomato, okra, and others. "You cannot expose the mask to water then the seeds will begin to sprout," he adds.
Back in 2017, Nitin started Paper Seed Co, a social enterprise that is already into making eco-friendly items and believes in the philosophy 'others waste is our wealth'. They began by creating seed papers and later created seed pencils, pens, and other items. "Two months ago, we launched Mangalore toys made from paper pulp. Everything is handmade, our enterprise also employs people from the villages in Karnataka. We wanted to create a way of generating employment for them," says Nitin. Before setting up Paper Seed Co, Nitin was a health instructor for Civil Defense in Dubai for six years. He wanted to come back to India and create a positive change.
Nitin thought of creating an eco-friendly mask eight months ago as they weren't doing well at all due to the pandemic. "This was our last resort during the lockdown. I thought it would provide some kind of employment to our employees during these testing times.
As we already had the knowledge of making paper embedded with plant seeds, we wanted to try and implement it in cotton materials. Although the masks are single-use, the process of making them takes a long time and is quite laborious. We use leftover cotton rags, turn them into a cotton pulp and use the same technique as we did to make seed paper. The process to create the pulp and make sheets out of it takes up to eight hours following which, it takes another 12 hours to dry. We add the seeds to the pulp. Then each mask is cut out following the design of an N95 mask by hand using stencils and then stitched," explains Nitin.