The steady shortage of small change in Argentina in recent years has forced many small businessowners to find more creative ways to compensate clients who pay more than the amount due, like handing them candies or a few aspirin. Now there's a more environmentally-friendly alternative: a packet of seeds.

The green initiative, called Ecovuelto, is the brainchild of Leandro Bompadre, a graphic design student at the National University of Cuyo, in Mendoza province, who sells shopkeepers seeds that they can then give to clients when they are out of change. Bompadre said he wanted to offer something that had a longer shelf-life after seeing newsstand owners and supermarket cashiers doling out small items like caramels, tea and bandages.

"Not everyone wants the items that shopkeepers give out," Bompadre told The Observers. "I thought it would be nice for people to get things they could grow at home, like plants or vegetables."

Ecovuelto, founded by Bompadre, sells packets of seeds to shopkeepers who are short on change.

Coins have been in short supply in Argentina for more than a decade. But with the country now facing one of the highest inflation rates in the world, and the peso losing more than half of its value in 2018, getting your hands on the right change has become even trickier. Larger bank notes of 500 pesos (around 10 euros) and 1,000 pesos (around 20 euros) were recently put into circulation, while smaller bills are harder to come by.

A small family business

Bompadre, 28, said he launched the project earlier this year by selling seeds from his own garden.

I have an organic vegetable garden at home so at first, I used the seeds I had. My family and I made little paper packets and put the seeds in. Then I got a local business to print "Ecovuelto" on each packet.

In February I went to talk to local businesses about Ecovuelto, and many of them were interested. A few media outlets wrote about it and my project started gaining momentum.

I sell the little packets for 1.60 pesos each, or around 0,03 euros, and add the shipping cost. I’ve already sold several thousand. There are more than 60 shops in Mendoza that buy Ecovuelto seeds but I also have customers in Buenos Aires, Jujuy, Cordoba and Neuquen. They are used in grocery stores, health food stores, newsstands, bookstores, bars, mini-marts and bakeries.

Leandro Bompadre's brother makes the paper packets.

Vegetable and flower seeds

The project has grown, so I buy seeds from local producers since the ones from my garden are no longer sufficient. We have flowers, like zinnia, marvel of Peru, marigold and snapdragon, and creeping plants like Silver Falls dichondra. We also want to get more people interested in starting vegetable gardens, so we have arugula, chard, parsley, radish, cilantro and scallions.

Ecovuelto offers both flower and vegetable seeds.

I’m running this business and going to school right now. I make a bit of money from it but not enough to live on. To expand, we’d need to stop making the packets by hand and start getting them commercially produced using eco-friendly paper.

This story was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).