When Piku and her father, Bashkor, drive down from Delhi to Kolkata (in the film Piku), a large part of the drama revolves around the latter’s bowel movement. Apart from Bashkor’s chronic constipation, the duo also struggle with the unloading and loading of the toilet chair that he needs. Had these characters from the 2015 film known about Haresh Mehta’s innovation, their lives might have been easier. The “Loo Box”, created by Mehta, is a portable toilet made entirely out of corrugated cardboard. It comprises a foldable seat and biodegradable plastic bag for the waste that together function as the pot, and a tall box with four sides that allows privacy to the user. “The use of cardboard makes it eco-friendly, recyclable and lightweight,” says Mehta, who came up with the idea as a solution to his father’s incontinence.
While Mehta created the Loo Box in 2015, the 64-year-old entrepreneur has been working on corrugated cardboard innovations for nearly 30 years. He has created a whole range of furniture, storage, home decor as well as accessories using the material. Until now, Mehta produced these items out of passion. However, he is now ready to retail it online through the website papershaper.co.in.
The owner of a Mumbai-based design packaging firm, Mehta inherited this “boring” business from his father. A college dropout with a penchant for origami, he would use his spare time to innovate with the material so integral to his work but otherwise considered flimsy. “Over time, I realised that it’s one of the most durable products and a great piece of engineering,” says Mehta, adding, “With the correct mix of material and design technology, cardboard can easily take up to 200-300 kilos of weight.”
He elaborates on the strength of corrugated cardboard with an instance. In 2012, the organisers of Kala Ghoda Art Festival in Mumbai had invited him to put up an installation. There, Mehta had on display a life-sized rocking horse made of corrugated cardboard along with a rocking chair. “While the horse was off limits to people, the rocking chair was sat on by close to 50,000 visitors during the 10-day festival. It still sits in my office,” he says, pointing to the rocking chair. In fact, nearly everything in his office, from the furniture at the reception to office desks and serving trays, are made from corrugated cardboard.
With no educational background in design, Mehta honed his passion initially on the job, by taking up design packaging for companies such as Lakme and Disney, including gift packs, standees and sales displays.
Over the years, Mehta has worked with the material to produce everyday items of utility, from laptop bags to crockery trays and even an ice box. The products come coated with a water-proof material and can last anywhere from five to 10 years. “We are a C-to-C company: cradle to coffin,” he adds in a lighter vein.
While Mehta began retailing his products last month, the collections available at the online store are, as of now, limited. A special attraction is the range of kids’ furniture, as the colourful products are all packaged as DIY. “When the children put it together, they also take care of it and make good use of it. And with cardboard, parents don’t have to worry about sharp edges,” Mehta says.
The chief draw of these products, Mehta explains, is the fact that they are eco-friendly and recyclable. He adds, “It also helps that most of these are foldable and can be dismantled when not in use. And in the present times when we tend to get bored of a particular item in a year or two, these products prove to be cost-friendly.”