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Materials

40: Cups and cutlery made from fruits and vegetables

Problem:

Single-use plastic cups, once thrown away, can take over a century to biodegrade.

Solution:

Making eating utensils out of foods.


To biomimic fruit as a replacement, Jun Aizaki of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, founder of the firm Crème, initially tested rice paper, but then settled on the gourd, a fast-growing plant of the family Cucurbitaceae, which for centuries has been used as receptacles including pots, pans and bowls, and gourds, still used to this day in Asia and South America.

For water vessels, they are still preferred over earthenware jars because they are lighter and they cool the water by evaporation. In Chinese culture, gourds were grown to hold alcohol.

In Japan watermelons are grown in little boxes so that they become square. It looks quirky and weird, but it makes them easy to stack and transport. The idea is giving nature a little bit of a nudge to form it into shapes that would be more functional.

The Crème team created 3D-printed molds in several shapes to experiment with, while Aizaki planted gourds in the backyard of his home in Brooklyn so they would grow into the shape of a cup.

After three summers of growing gourds, the team settled on two main shapes: a stackable cup that has geometric facets and a flask style with a smaller opening, which go by the name of HyO-Cup.

The finished cups are translucent, unique objects that are 100% organic and biodegradable. But it takes a month for the plant to fruit, two to three weeks for the fruit to develop, and then once it is finally grown large enough, it takes another two to three months of sitting in the sun for the gourd to dry enough that it can be used to drink out of.

Aizaki is determined to find a way of making the production process more efficient and thus more scalable.

When in 2019, Crème opened their natural timber, white-painted brick and gingham fabric RedFarm eatery in West Village, New York, following with a second eatery in Covent Garden, London, Hyo-Cups were one of the features. (cremedesign.com)

In Mexico, Scott Munguia’s Biofase Company has been making single-use cutlery and straws out of bioplastics made from discarded avocado pits. This is largely due to a phenomenon called “bonus of biogenic carbon”, which explains that the avocado tree, when growing, absorbs CO₂ of the atmosphere to form its tissues. This phenomenon does not occur in the production of any plastic derived of oil.

It takes 240 days for Biofase’s avocado seed-based bioplastic items to biodegrade in natural conditions, whether they are simply buried underground or placed in a compost pile.

The avocado pits Biofase uses are byproducts of a company called Simplot’s Avocado Farms, which are located in Mexico, keeping the manufacturing process domestic. 80% of the items Biofase produces are exported to other countries (the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Perú. Biofase also supplies straws to a few major restaurant chains, including P. F. Chang’s and Chili’s.

Discover solution 41: Fuel made from coffee grounds

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