Cutlery you can eat: One company’s approach to the plastic pollution problem

Indian company’s edible spoons are part of growing trend of edible cutlery.

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.

But, Narayana Peesapaty the founder and directing manager of Bakey’s, an Indian cutlery company, has a possible solution—spoons and forks you can eat.

His edible cutlery is made from millet, rice and wheat flours and was the first of its kind when it was developed in 2010. Today, Peesapaty is one of several players in the edible cutlery game, a burgeoning niche that’s created buzz among consumers but received lukewarm reception from environmentalists. 

Peesapaty said he was inspired to create the product while watching his country’s plastic problem mount and the use of plastic utensils become more routine. It’s estimated that India discards about 120 billion pieces of disposable plastic utensils each year.

The company said it has expanded to smaller spoons for soups and desserts as well as small bowls and pots. (Bakey’s)

He said he was also concerned about the health effects of plastic utensils, given that research had found that chemical components in plastic products can leach into food.

With a background in groundwater research, Peesapaty said he also wanted to use a raw material that wouldn’t put much pressure on India’s already depleted water resources. That’s why the utensils are made mostly with millet. The ancient African grain absorbs liquids at a slower rate and is suitable for cultivation in semi-arid areas.

The vegan edibles come in three different flavours — plain, sweet, and spicy — and have a shelf life of about three years. If users don’t feel compelled to eat their cutlery at the end of their meal, the spoons and forks will naturally decompose within four to five days — if they’re not eaten by an animal first. But the edible cutlery cannot be reused.
Narayana Peesapaty’s company Bakey’s produces edible cutlery he says tastes like crackers. ( Bakey’s)

Delivery problems

The utensils went viral after a video was posted to Facebook in 2016. The company said it has since expanded globally, with consumers around the world buying the edible cutlery from the company’s online store.

But Bakey’s stumbled that same year when it held two online crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Ketto and collected more than $300,000. Donors were promised packs of edible spoons for their contributions, but some are still commenting on the fundraising pages that they have yet to receive them.

A dispute ensued with the U.S. distributor, Sarah Munir, who Peesapaty says advertised the spoons at an unreasonably discounted price and shipping rates, and sent him only $148,000 of the $280,000 raised on Kickstarter.  Munir  wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page that the delay was caused by production problems on Bakey’s end.

Watch Bakey’s viral video, reposted below by National Geographic.

Munir wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page that the delay was caused by production problems on Bakey’s end.

Peesapaty admits his machines did break down during the fundraiser when he was still refining his process, but says that he’s working to catch up on orders from the Kickstarter supporters.

But the millet spoons aren’t the only edible cutlery option.  American companies like Bocado Handcrafted Products are also making edible, biodegradable spoons. Others like the Edible Spoon Maker (EDM) and Wilton, sell irons and moulds that allow consumers to create their own spoons at home.

‘I don’t think it is enough’

But some environmentalists think the edible options don’t go far enough to address the plastic waste crisis. More than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, 60 percent of which has ended up either in a landfill or the natural environment.

“I think the edible cutlery is a fun idea; it really shows that there are innovative and creative solutions to single-use plastic, said Emily Alfred, the waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “But I don’t think it is enough.”

Alfred said replacing single-use plastic with another single-use product isn’t going to solve the problem because — while better than plastic — edible options also use up a lot of resources and energy.  [They can also cause entanglement problems for ocean animals before they break down.]

“We are still dedicating a lot of our resources to these new products, whether it is to create them, transport them, have them packaged or processed.” Those resources could be used in other ways to reduce plastic waste, said Alfred.

The cutlery also requires significant resources for packaging and shipping. Since the edible cutlery are more likely than plastic to break, the cutlery is packaged in paper bags and boxed in styrofoam, Peesapaty told CBC News.

And since the Bakey’s cutlery is only made in India,  it must be shipped or flown to other countries, where plastic cutlery could be made or sourced locally.  The company sold 2.5 million spoons last year to catering companies in India and has several hundred international customers.

Alfred said the best way to tackle the plastic waste crisis is to continue following the “three Rs.”

Loujain Kurdi, a Greenpeace spokesperson, says she agrees with Alfred. She suggests consumers buy lightweight metal cutlery sets designed for use on the go instead of plastic or edible utensils.  “We need to reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order — whenever it is possible,” said Alfred, who stressed that reusable options are the best bet.  “When we use reusables, we’re reducing and reusing at the same time.”

See also:

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This biodegradable water bottle breaks down when it’s empty

Your water bottle could one day start to biodegrade the moment you finish drinking, if a visionary piece of design becomes reality.

The brainchild of Icelandic product design student Ari Jónsson, the water bottle holds its shape until you’ve drained it. As soon as it’s empty, the bottle will start to decompose.

As he argued in Dezeen Magazine: “Why are we using materials that take hundreds of years to break down in nature to drink from once and then throw away?”

How does it work?

The water bottle is made from a powdered form of agar – a substance obtained from algae. When this powder is mixed with water it becomes a jelly-like material, which can be moulded into a shape of your choosing.

Jónsson explained in an article with Co.Exist that the mix of algae and water produces the perfect lifespan for the bottle. It needs liquid to hold its shape, but once it’s empty it begins to break down.

He argues that the water is entirely safe to drink, although it might take on a bit of a salty taste after a while. You could even eat the bottle, which is said to taste a bit like “seaweed jello”.

At the moment the design is little more than a concept, but Jónsson hopes it will get people thinking about the problem and consider developing their own solutions.

In 2014, the world produced 311 million tonnes of plastic, much of which ended up in landfill or the ocean.  According to a World Economic Forum report, by 2050 the oceans are predicted to contain more plastic than fish.

By Joe Myers, World Economic Forum

April 1, 2016