Single-use plastic cutlery has changed the way consumers eat outside their homes. Convenient, yes. But for the better of the environment? No. Plastic Pollution Coalition reports that America alone uses 100 million pieces of these plastic utensils per year—a large percentage that contributes to about 270,000 tons of plastic waste produced globally. Six million tons of these flimsy plastic materials are discarded every year. Whether they are used or not, they end up where all plastics go: in the landfill, or in the ocean. While one may get their fill with their favorite spaghetti in a popular fast-food chain, those handy utensils will have more devastating impacts past its use.
Disposable plastics strangle the ocean, not only in numbers, but in the unseen microfibers that seep through the material and poison the marine biodiversity. They clog waterways, float through the surface, accumulate on the shore and negatively affect ecosystems they are dumped in, even landfills. Plastics, it must be noted, take up to a thousand years to decompose. Due to the length of their biodegrading, some of them end up melding into crops, or into an animal’s stomach.
A less-delicious dilemma
The problem with single-use plastic is prevalent all over the world. Experts now predict that by the year 2050, the amount of plastic found in the ocean will weigh more than the number of fish in it. BBC states that 90% of seabirds have digested plastic in their stomachs. One out of three sea turtles may die from it. Instead of atolls, trash islands, or long expanses of floating waste, are seen on the surface of many prominent beaches, including the tropical waters of the Caribbean.
Plastic alone is not the problem, but the way consumers see it as a one-time use material. It has always been the perception of ease, at the expense of the planet. Thankfully, many countries are now taking action. Peru restricts the use of single-plastic products in their preserved areas. Canada looks into banning plastic cutlery by 2021, and so does the UK. The plastic revolution is affecting the way one eats, from new straw alternatives to reusing old tumblers for their favorite frappe. This may affect one’s eating convenience, but there is always a choice: to bring their own cutlery, or eat them.
Pass those plates
If there’s anything single-use foodware can eliminate, it’s the extra fuss of carrying bulky tableware, washing them clean, and bringing them back. Nobody wants to carry a cracked ceramic. The lighter alternatives are cheaper and can be thoughtlessly ditched after a feast, but the paper, plastic or Styrofoam varieties negatively affect the environment in their own ways.
Paper plates, the least dangerous of them all, make use of virgin fibers from timber that requires cutting down trees and bleaching of the pulp. While it is biodegradable, the manufacturing process alone leaves a trail of carbon footprint that can harm the environment. Styrofoam, on the other hand, possesses styrene, a hazardous, cancer-causing chemical that harms humans and animals when heated. When mixed with plastic, these two elements make a toxic combination that could cause chronic diseases.
If plates cannot be disposed, what if they can be eaten? Poland-based Biotrem puts forward a solution in the shape of a cork-colored bowl that is also edible. The wheat bran foodware, tough enough to hold hot soup, was invented by Jerzy Wysocki, with a background for milling. A ton of edible wheat can make up to 10,000 plates, which can easily biodegrade through composting in the span of 30 days. The makers even say that these can be used in classic or microwave ovens for reheating old meals. And unlike plastic, one doesn’t have to be wary of its effects on the health.
Gobble those glasses
The popular red cups are a staple in parties—so much that 500 billion of them and their kinds are used annually and are thrown away after one use. They’re all around, littering picnic grounds and communal events, even the world’s most beloved cafes. Starbucks, for one, has been called out for its beverage vessels. Though made out of paper, their coffee cups are still lined with plastic to make the interiors waterproof. These are perfectly engineered from melting, warping or leaking, but the make of these cups are difficult to recycle. Only 1% reach the proper facilities.
But Loliware pitches in their contribution to put a stop to this cycle. Their product, a seaweed-based glass, is one that can be chewed and digested when its contents are gone. To make “disposing” more exciting, these cups come in bright colors and different flavors, from the joyful yuzu citrus to the calming matcha tea. When uneaten, the cups can be composted and can become a snack for pets. Eating is as good as disposing.
Snarf those spoons
Slipping a pair of fork and knife into the bag might send the security on alert. If eating by hand is not an option, Bakey’s Sarah Munir offers a delicious suggestion: a set of edible cutlery. The fully vegan option is made up of rice, wheat and sorghum flours, mixed without traces of dairy and trans-fat. This sustainable set aims to go against its plastic rival to put an end to the 100 million polystyrene varieties that are used every day.
Bakey‘s first product, the edible lunch spoon, goes perfect with ice cream, yogurt or soups. Since these spoons lack water and moisture, they will not crumble against liquid. The design also stays intact due to a secret dough kneading method which leaves each spoon with less than 10ppm of gluten. To take this edible cutlery up a notch, these spoons also come with various flavors, from sugar, cumin, black pepper, mint-ginger, and celery.
Slurp the straws
The thin, flimsy and lightweight, straws seem to be the lesser evil of the prominent food-related waste, but experts say otherwise. In the US alone, 7.5 million plastic straws are polluting the local coast. It is estimated that there are, at most, 8.3 billion plastic straws that accumulate on the shorelines across the world, contributing to marine debris. Since straws are smaller and easy to digest, they find their way into marine life and consequently, poisoning their devourer.
Many fast-food chains are looking into the less-hazardous paper straws, and eco-warriors are clamoring for other options, such as bamboo and steel. There is another more delicious alternative;have found a way to create straws that can be chowed down after its purpose. Zero-waste and biodegradable, this project is led by Divya Mohan and is incubated by Lund University’s VentureLab. The bread straws are infused with nutrients and a variety of flavors, from the sparkling mint to the indulgent hints of berries.
Edible cutlery is man’s response to the growing threats of plastic pollution. It offers the same convenience, and presents more benefits, without the hazards to the environment. When paired with intelligent design, eco-friendly advocacies can overcome the harmful nature of reckless consumerism. These edible cutlery alternatives show promise of saving the planet, one meal at a time.
Caris is a feature writer for print and online magazines, constantly charmed by quiet aesthetics and the human brilliance of purposeful making-do.