Recently, something that hit me quite a bit, was when a person who is striving to make a change mentioned negative impacts on their mental health because of all the negative news surrounding us.
This motivates me even further to highlight the positive initiatives out there, because learning and making changes when motivated by initiatives that are doing the same is far more productive and motivating in a genuine manner rather than forcing changes in haste and frustration because of all the negative news surrounding us.
One such experience I had with an amazing positive initiative is Folium! I had the chance to sit down with Mitali Bhowmick and learn more about her sustainable, and entrepreneurial journey while also getting her insight and advice into how we can all do better.
The more time I spent outdoors the more it became evident of what we were leaving behind.Mitali Bhowmick
Tell us about yourself (background, passions, hobbies) – anything so we can show readers that you are just a regular person who is doing great things
By education I’m a Pharmacist with an MBA in Marketing. Before moving to Vancouver about 3 years ago I spent 10 years in New Zealand. These are meccas for a person like me who loves the outdoors. Love nature, the ocean, the mountains and can never get enough.
I wanted to be involved in trying to turn back the clock, even if by a few milliseconds and hopefully urge others to follow suit.Mitali Bhowmick
What motivated you to get into the Sustainability field and make a change?
“Water changes the way we see the world” …. The more time I spent outdoors the more it became evident of what we were leaving behind. The things that were washing up to the beaches and the impact we had on our marine life. These were items that became very close to me over time. One time we were camping at Dinner Rock on the Sunshine Coast which is quite a secluded place and among the driftwood that we were exploring, it was really alarming to find plastic waste which had washed ashore. Our non-degradable waste seems to be the true maverick which has touched everything sacred in nature…
Why did you decide to start Folium?
I wanted to be involved in trying to turn back the clock, even if by a few milliseconds and hopefully urge others to follow suit. I researched found and partly redesigned products which have the potential to transform our “disposable” culture. Disposable products that would be compostable, sustainable and affordable. And something that will return to earth to enrich it when disposed.
What is Folium in one sentence?
Zero waste disposables taking us back to the future!
We are proud supporters of Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC)Mitali Bhowmick, Folium
There are other competitors out there, I’m sure, what differentiates Folium from the others?
The competitors either use paper or biodegradable plastic to make such disposable leaf plates and bowls sturdy and leak-proof. At Folium we wanted a product which was going to be 100% backyard compostable. We use only leaves to make our plates and bowls, using 3 to 4 layers of leaf to make the product sturdy and leak proof. This is the biggest difference, we are 100% backyard compostable
I’m sure your journey is quite exciting until now, what and when was the AHA moment for you?
Yes, indeed it’s been a very exciting journey. Every time I introduce the Folium leaf plates to customers, there is so much interest and curiosity around the product. People are always astonished that simple leaves can be converted and repurposed to something so useful ( see pictures attached)
Actually, the AHA moment happens quite often. Whether I am presenting the idea and product at university sustainability fares or to local grocers or even small business owners like food truck operators and caterers, the reactions are priceless. It is like a glimmer of hope towards the direction of zero waste resulting from some of our common activities like parties and picnics. People are quick to catch on to the long- term benefits and get excited. For a change facilitator which I strive to be, these are very powerful moments and I can only hope as the word spreads the movement will spread wings
Would you mind highlighting the Folium journey for us?
I grew up as a child in India and it was quite common in our culture to eat on leaf plates. In fact, whether it was street food or “prasad” at temples, leaf plates were the crockery of choice. They used to be flimsy and leaky and were a mess, but that’s how it was. In fact, such crockery has existed for thousands of years.
As it was ordinary, never gave it much thought, until recently when I started delving deeper into sustainability. There was a clear path to retrace our steps to the future. So that was the seed which motivated me to start up this venture and the rest is work in progress
It is like a glimmer of hope towards the direction of zero waste resulting from some of our common activities like parties and picnics. People are quick to catch on to the long- term benefits and get excited.Mitali Bhowmick
What is included in the Folium product line?
Folium product range includes: Leaf plates, leaf bowls and leaf straws. We also do Areca leaf cutlery (see pictures attached). Leaf plates /Bowls can be used for hot or cold food. You can use It for soup, salad or curry. Folium leaf straws will not go soggy up to 5 hours after being in a drink. The plates and bowls are also safe in the microwave for a minute. Visit our website www.foliumware.ca to see the complete range.
What does Folium hope to contribute to?
First and foremost, Folium hopes to contribute to the dialogue. Considerations for sustainability and ideas and their workability. Like our products, there are countless ideas which can push the needle towards a cleaner and longer planet for the future. The conversation and calculations of REAL COST and evaluation of ideas based on tangible metrics with regards to impacts and scale are essential. So yes of course we want to promote our products and bring it to the masses, but we do have an ulterior motive of pushing the dialogue while we do this
How do you source the materials for the products?
The leaves used are broad and from prolific creepers. Only the big broad leaves are harvested. While the new small leaves are left intact on the tree to continue the growth cycle. Sustainable supply of such materials in the tropics is literally incessant. No glue, No adhesive, No chemicals are used in the making these plates and bowls. So, all Folium products are 100% backyard compostable anyway you dispose them. Presently we source and manufacture these products through our suppliers in Nepal, however we are exploring ways and means to bring such production closer to home here in BC.
What are the future goals for Folium, moving forward?
Our goal is for people to use as much as home washable and reusable wares as possible. This is the ideal situation. However, when people think of outdoor parties, picnics or festivals, which is part of our modern lives today, this demands the use of disposable wares, we want them to take a second and think how they will be impacting the space and place and in turn, our planet. Think sustainable, compostable products and chose leaf tableware. Our goal is to deliver this awareness to the population at large.
What obstacles have you encountered in your Folium journey?
A large percentage of the population is aware of the problems, but many aren’t yet ready to make the change… We need a paradigm shift.
For example, the obvious comparison of sustainable products, are to the price of non-degradable products. Actually, non-degradable is an euphemism. The correct word is destructive products. The mission is for people here to understand how expensive cheap really is. For products that are a few cents cheaper on the face of it today, we are jeopardizing huge future budget allocations. Few items to get started with our financial considerations are:
- Future clean up costs, funded by our taxes and donations
- Healthcare costs due to increasing carcinogenic micro plastics in the seafood we consume, funded by our taxes and donations
- Recycling costs where possible, funded by our taxes and donations
The point here is what seems cheap today in reality is far more expensive in the long run. So, if a backyard compostable plate or a straw increases the cost of your meal or drink by a few cents today, the tangible savings in the long run are staggering. The math here is not very hard to figure out…
Think sustainable, compostable products and chose leaf tableware. Our goal is to deliver this awareness to the population at large.Mitali Bhowmick
What has been your proudest moment during your journey?
The challenges and questions every time I speak are a matter of process. However, the proudest moments are when people see a glimmer and when some of their skepticism is answered. The truth is that people really want to do their part. They are just wary of snake oil sales people. For example, one of the concerns rightly brought up during some of my talks is the fact of carbon footprint of sourcing products elsewhere and bringing them here. However, when I explain that the paper or plastic products have the same carbon footprint as they are not manufactured locally, people see the glimmer for sure. The discussion to promote is of course how we can reduce the carbon footprint of sustainable products and that is another long discussion for your next post 🙂
What does sustainability and zero-waste mean to you?
The key is the word sustainability. I encourage all to always be curious and ask questions about the future. Are the products really sustainable? Up to what scale will they be safe for consumption? My key learning that every new idea or product is sustainable up to a certain scale – excesses in anything are not sustainable. So there really is no magic manna from heaven when it comes to sustainability. It is a combination of ideas, lifestyle changes and to some extent sacrifices that will keep pushing the needle in slow motion towards an extended and cleaner future.
If you were to give people an idea of how to make changes in their lives, in terms of living a low-waste lifestyle and low emissions, what are three things you’d advice?
- Zero- waste is a journey. Doesn’t matter where in life you are, take the first step, even if its small one.
- Always give priority to reusable items like cloth shopping bags and ceramic dishes
- Do try to look for long term answers before jumping in, eg. What is the plan for dealing with millions of hazardous waste large batteries in 10 to 20 years when the electric cars start to get scrapped? I’m in no way a detractor, but just want to ensure that impact of the steps we take are considered and answered.
For sustainability entrepreneurs like yourself, what three tips/advice do you have?
- Don’t just sell your product, share your knowledge and learn in the process
- Always listen to what your customer has to say
- Be persistent
Thank you so much, Mitali, for taking the time and sharing your insights with us. It’s amazing to see you pushing through to help increase the momentum of the paradigm shift that is already gradually happening.
Just reading this post over and over again, there is so much for us to learn from each other, share our knowledge so we can apply it in our own lives in a variety of ways to make the positive change