Author – Aditya Gupta
India is slowly becoming a country where people are turning health conscious. We are taking a lot of trouble to take care of ourselves. But how can we just watch our food and not what’s holding it? Usage of plastic cutlery and tableware has reached epic proportions, seriously harming the environment. Plastic usage in India has been growing at a massive rate of 10.5% CAGR over the last decade. Plastic items take roughly 500 years to decompose and till then, they languish in landfills, choke our drainage systems and finally seep into the ocean and kill wildlife.
Thankfully, biodegradable cutlery and tableware have emerged as a better alternative to plastics across the globe and Indians have been early adopters of these eco-friendly food packaging material. All kinds of plant biomass material such as bagasse, rice husk, coconut coir etc., are being utilized for producing eco-friendly cutlery, tableware and other food packaging products that are seeing a surge in usage in this decade. Let us take a look at the different types of biodegradable cutlery, tableware and food packaging products available in the Indian market currently:
Sugarcane Bagasse Bowls
Sugarcane bagasse products are the ones that have penetrated the Indian biodegradable tableware market the most and have much wider acceptance. Ecoware and Pappco are the pioneers in manufacturing these products at a large scale through multiple manufacturing units across the country. Bagasse bowls are made from of sugarcane biomass extracts and are heated at high temperatures to be given the desired shape. The actual products of sugarcane like powdered sugar, juice and rum are not affected as well because it’s only the waste that is taken into production. They decompose easily within 90 days as opposed to plastic that can take ~500 years.
The advantage with Bagasse products is that they can be molded into any shape and thus help in catering to customized large orders. These biodegradable wonders are now being adopted by various cafés, food chains and airport food outlets across the country. The 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi popularized these products for packaging food in the games village. Ecoware which catered to this huge need is now the market leader for these products in India. Bagasse bowls cost around INR2-10 per bowl/plate and are easily available online as well as in retail outlets across the country.
Areca Leaf Tableware
At first glance, we might wonder how a plate made out of plain leaves could sturdily hold solid or liquid food. Surprisingly, various leaf-based biodegradable tableware is now available in the market, which ensures that no trees are cut in the process. The fallen dry sheaths from betelnut trees or areca palm leaves are cleaned and are heat pressed and cut into the required solid shapes. No chemicals are used in the entire process, which leaves a minimal carbon footprint.
Areca leaf plates are light-weight, elegant, easy to use and throw, which is suitable for all kinds of food and served at all kinds of temperatures. These plates look quite elegant and fancy on the outside and are pretty light on the purse. They are a good alternative to food caterers and party-throwers who are concerned about customer convenience and saving the environment at the same time. Eco Palm Leaf Plates, Verterra Dinnerware, The Magnus, Ecovision are some of the leading manufacturers in this segment. Areca leaf plates cost in the range of INR4-10.
Bio-lutions Agro-waste Fiber Technology
German technology-based Bio-lutions offers a unique sustainable packaging and disposable tableware solution made of agricultural residues. Biolutions collects agro-waste raw materials such as various kinds of rice straws, banana stems, sugarcane leaves, etc., and convert them into self-binding fibers through a mechanical process. These fibers are converted into a paste, which is then molded into food-grade containers and plates.
Biolutions utilizes its patented technology in which a mechanical process converts agri-waste directly into a paste, which makes it possible to use even the shortest fibers from any agricultural residue. Their raw materials do not have to go through an energy-intensive process of cellulose extraction or bleaching. This way, they avoid the excessive use of chemicals and water in pulp production processes, which is common to cellulose-based paper production.
Narayana Peesapati and his wonderful venture Bakeys has been a game changer in the biodegradable cutlery market. The entire concept of eating the edible cutlery after the meal is innovative thinking, which has simply got rid of the worry of decomposing the product after use. Bakeys’ edible cutlery is made from different kinds of flours that are highly nutritious and do not cause harm to our body, unlike the cheap plastic cutlery.
They are baked at a high temperature and therefore have no moisture. What’s more? These edible spoons come in different flavors and make your dining experience healthy and tasty as well. You can eat it but if you wish to skip eating it, it also decomposes pretty quickly and acts as a great fertilizer. The biggest positive is that it is fairly cheap, which allows an average Indian household to think of using it regularly (~INR3 per spoon). However, Bakeys produces only spoons as of now, which is quite a limited offer.
Rice Husk Tableware
Rice husk is a surprisingly strong material that can withstand significant wear and tear and has a long life. Rice husk is one of the most durable forms of biodegradable tableware that can withstand temperatures of more than 100oC without getting damaged. This reusable tableware has a smooth glossy covering that is 100% natural and derived from the wax present in rice husks.
The entire manufacturing process results in a pure natural extract that is free of toxins and harmful by-products as well. However, rice husk cutlery are pretty expensive and are not economically viable for an average Indian household. They are currently being sold online on various websites such as Ecosave and cost in the range of INR600-800 per plate. These are strong, smooth, compact and reusable and could be a good substitute for daily usage storage like tiffin boxes, etc.
Biodegradable cutlery and tableware products made out of Bamboo were traditionally used in rural areas in India, but now they have arrived in the urban market. Pappco is the first Indian firm that looked into bamboo to create a new range of biodegradable bamboo cutlery that are much more robust and classier than plastics and decompose way faster than plastics (take ~6-12 months to biodegrade).
Another thing is Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that doesn’t put any pressure on the ecosystem because of the manufacturing of these products, unlike paper products. While these reusable products are sustainable to source and use, but they are expensive. A plate would cost around INR300 as of today. However, bamboo’s environmental benefits and product strength justify the cost.
Comparison table for various Biodegradable Cutlery & Tableware
|Plastics||Areca Leaves||Bagasse Bowls||Bamboo||Edible Cutlery||Rice Husk|
|Decomposition time||~500 years||30-60 days||<90 days||90-180 days||~30 days||4-8 weeks|
|Environmental Effects||Hazardous. Blocks seepages and pollutes water, kills wildlife||Decomposes into fertilizer as it is made of natural leaves||Decomposes into fertilizer as it is made out of plant biomass||Coverts into manure, fast tracks growth of sugarcane||Decomposes into fertilizer as it is made out of flour||Decomposes into fertilizer|
|Disposal||Easy but harmful||Easy||Easy||Reusable, easy disposal||Edible, easy disposal||Reusable, easy disposal|
|Cost||INR0.3/ unit||INR4-10/ unit||INR2-10/ unit||INR300/ unit||INR3/ unit||INR500/ unit|
|Availability||Online and retail||Online and retail||Online and retail||Primarily Online||Primarily Online||Primarily Online|
So the next time you decide to pack your food or throw a party, maybe you should give the new set of biodegradable products a shot!