Going plastic-free: Tirupati Laddus to now come in Jute Bags

One of the richest deities in the world, Tirupati Lord Venkateswara is now showing the way when it comes to eliminating plastic and adopting new eco-friendly packaging practices for distribution of its famed laddoo prasadam to devotees. 
On an average, about 3.5-4 lakh laddoos are sold at the temple premises per day, which translates into a requirement of around 70,000 plastic covers on a daily basis, as per estimates.
Now, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the trust that manages the temple, has joined hands with Aditya Birla group company Hindalco and Jute Corporation of India to roll out a pilot project on distributing prasadam in 100% recyclable aluminium foil laminated jute bags. Hindalco and JCI have already applied for a patent for the process of aluminium foil lamination of jute.
As part of the pilot, JCI has opened an exclusive prasadam distribution counter for sale of jute foil laminated bags at TTD and over 1 lakh metres of the laminated fabric or around 3 lakh bags have already been sold over the past two months. TTD additional EO AV Dharma Reddy said efforts are underway to reduce the use of plastic in a phased manner and make Tirumala plastic-free. 
TTD officials said they have been trying to encourage and facilitate use of non-plastic packaging materials at prasadam distribution counters like paper boxes, paper bags and foil laminated jute bags. However, a chunk of the prasadam continues to be distributed in polythene bags of over 51 microns. 
“The jute and aluminium bags for Tirupati laddus are a welcome alternative to plastic bags. They are an Indian innovation and an eco-friendly option for our devotees. With the high demand for prasad, the bags are a good way to reduce plastic pollution,” TTD officials said. 
However, at a price tag of Rs. 25-50 per bag, the foil laminated jute bags are much more expensive than polythene and paper covers and other cheaper alternatives and could be a deterrant in its wider adoption, feel sceptics. “One also has to look at the cost of the packaging material as it is a major factor for devotees who have to buy the covers at the distribution counter,” pointed out a TTD source.
 But, Hindalco Industries managing director, Satish Pai, points out that the product, which is in line with the government’s intent to eliminate plastic, is already finding a mass appeal given its reusability and the fact that aluminium is 100% recyclable and jute is completely biodegradable. “On Sunday, the sale of our bags crossed 5,000 and we expect this to multiply rapidly. We are planning to roll out these innovative bags in top 10 temples and shrines across the country in the first phase. We zeroed in on Tirumala first as we wanted to introduce the concept where it would have maximum impact.”
JCI chairman and managing director Ajay Kumar Jolly, pointed out that the green initiative is not only good for the environment but will also provide employment to thousands of artisans in and around Tirupati, Telangana and Kolkata. 
“Currently, we have around 500 people making these bags. The partnership with Hindalco has been an innovative journey to find a unique and sustainable solution to plastic pollution. India’s natural materials offer tremendous scope for alternative packaging materials,” Jolly added. Buoyed by the rising demand for these bags, Hindalco has already set up a capacity to process up to 50 lakh metres per annum of the material, which translates to around 1.5-2 crore bags annually, at its Mouda foil plant near Nagpur.
With the potential at Tirupati alone pegged at around 90 lakh to 1 crore bags per annum, JCI and Hindalco are hoping to rake in an estimated Rs. 50 crore per annum from sales of these bags at Tirupati alone.

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