India Interior

She’s got a brand new bag

Ninglun Hanghal | Updated on September 07, 2019 Published on September 07, 2019

A Dimapur entrepreneur finds an alternative to plastic and generates employment as well

Imtiben Lemtur from Dimapur, Nagaland, started making paper bags through her search to find an alternative to plastic. “We all keep talking about the problem of too much plastic, but we never talk about an alternative to it,” says the 30-year-old.

Tired of attending meetings, participating in discussions and seminars on waste management and how plastic bags were an environmental hazard, Lemtur decided she needed to do something about it. “That’s how I got into paper-bag making, but I found that hand-made paper bags are unable to match the demand; we needed a machine, So, we set up the first mechanised paper-bag making unit in the State,” she recalls.

Nagaland’s municipal city and towns like Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung have a huge problem with waste. They generate 111.12 tonnes, 80 tonnes, and 1,800 kg of waste respectively, every single day. Of this, 95 per cent is plastic waste. In November 2018, the State Government notified the “policy for restricting the use of plastics in Nagaland”. Subsequently, in June 2019, it decided to ban the use of plastic. An official gazette was published wherein manufacturers, stockists and shopkeepers were asked to dispose of their stocks so they suffer no financial loss.

Following this, single-use plastic products were banned. Anyone violating the order would be penalised.

Training in Gujarat

Taking a cue from the legislation, about 3 km from the main city of Dimapur in Signal Angami village, Lemtur initiated her business venture. From June, Monalisa Business Solutions went head-on into printing and making paper bags. She and two team members underwent three-month training in Gujarat on operating the mechanised unit. Now, they employ seven full-time staffers and several other home-based workers.

It was a tough task to transport the paper-bag making machine from Gujarat.

“It came all the way by road and took a month to be finally installed. I took a MUDRA loan and that’s how I kick-started the entire operation,” she says, not forgetting to mention the help she got from her friends. The whole process and installation cost her over ₹50 lakh.

Lemtur’s company makes all kinds of paper bag products — bakery bags, grocery bags and shopping bags with recycled and environment friendly paper. To give voice to her belief in women’s empowerment, she hires mostly women workers. As the final touches to the bag products require to be made by hand — such as the handles of the bags or the pasting of gum, women work in groups from home, sometimes 20 of them together. “We supply them the materials. There is no point in their coming to the factory. This way they take care of their homes as well,” explains Lemtur.

Women working from home can earn ₹3,000-4,000 a month. “They can make up to ₹200 a day and this earning makes them feel empowered.” Lemtur underlines the need to change patriarchic mindsets and also employs men for the job of the final product. “Many say sticking and pasting is a woman’s job, but I also have men working from their home. One male employee actually made a whopping 1,000 bags in one day.”

Besides women’s empowerment, Lemtur also wants to break the notion that only government jobs are good. An LLB, Lemtur always dreamt of running her own business and now she is actually doing it. Over the last two months her business has been gaining ground and distributors across Nagaland are lining up for the paper bags. “We receive requests from distributors all over the State, but since we focus on employment, we make sure that we engage unemployed youths and select some new distributors on a trial basis.” Lemtur engages distributors in Mokokchung, Zunhebuto, Wokha, Kohima and Peren districts.

Meanwhile, in an area of about two acres, Monalisa Business Solutions is buzzing with activity. With a machine capacity of 300 paper bags a minute, it is proving that the solution to plastic bags is not impossible.

The writer is a Manipur-based journalist

Published on September 07, 2019

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