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119: Edible cutlery and crockery

Problem:

Plastic cutlery is a major contributor to the growing plastic waste crisis. An estimated 40 billion plastic utensils are used and thrown away each year in the United States alone. 122 millions tons (111 million tonnes) of plastic waste will have nowhere to go by 2030 due to Chinese import ban.

Solution:

Edible cutlery made of flour, and rice and wheat.


In 2005, Narayaana Peespaty, an agricultural scientist specialising in groundwater research, was on a field visit to Mahabubnagar, a drought-prone district in Telangana, India. Peesapaty had ordered a jowar roti millet bread for lunch. He arrived late. The roti had become cold and hard. Forced to break the roti and scoop the dal and curry with its pieces, crunching into them, Peeseapaty realised if a two-dimensional spatula can work, then why not a three-dimensional spoon?

Plastics should not be used for handling food, since they contain chemicals with toxic properties that leach into what we eat. Peesapaty founded a company called Bakeys to produce edible cutlery, made primarily from jowar, a millet flour, and rice and wheat flour in three flavours – savoury, sweet and plain. Tasting like crackers, even if they are not eaten, they are safe to dispose into the environment, as they are biodegradable.

The company has expanded to smaller spoons for soups and desserts as well as small bowls and pots. By 2011, Bakeys had manufactured over 1.5 million edible spoons made from rice, wheat, and millet in eight different flavours: sugar, ginger-cinnamon, ginger-garlic, celery, black pepper, cumin, mint-ginger, and carrot-beetroot.

Several materials such as wheat bran, rice bran, sorghum, corn, etc. are being used for manufacturing of edible cutlery and edible tableware. It is baked at high temperature and is non-polluting from production to disposal. Over 10,000 edible knives, spoons and forks are made per day by a growing number of companies.

For example, Mede Cutlery Company in Zhejiang, China manufactures edible cutlery in attractive colors with new flavours of purple potato, sesame, and corn. Biotrem’s wheat bran tableware production process was invented by Jerzy Wysocki in Poland After only two years commercialising it, Biotrem already produces 15 million pieces a year and they are currently under expansion.

Since 2017, Eclery Foods in Hyderabad, Telangana, India has a fully automated process enabling a capacity of 200,000 spoons per day, which expected to double by November 2018.

In France, former student at the AgroParisTech, Nicolas Richardot, has started up Tassiopée in Normandy, France to manufacture an edible coffee cup, made of biscuit with an inside chocolate coating. As an alternative to plastic cups, once the coffee has been drunk, the cup can be eaten.

In Auckland, New Zealand, the burger chain Better Burger teamed up with Innocent Packaging to create plant-based and compostable packaging for their burgers. The wafer paper packaging made from potato starch and water encouraged their customers to eat everything on their plate, rubbish included. The wrappers are made of potato starch with a taste reported to be similar to a “potato version of a prawn cracker”.

On International Earth Day (April 22, 2018), 500 burgers sold at the chain’s Mount Eden restaurant were wrapped in the material. They even went the distance and used edible ink to brand the packaging, adding their logo and a fun design. Although pitched as a one off activity to raise awareness for the challenges of the environment, since October 2017, Better Burger have saved more than 366,000 plastic items from going to the landfill from its outlets.

What you can do: Stop throwing away single-use cutlery and crockery, try out an edible version.

Tomorrow’s solution: Edible packaging

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