Think beyond PLASTIC

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 5 July 2018

The plastic ban is making restaurants, e-commerce portals and small entrepreneurs come up with ingenious serveware , cutlery and other eco-friendly alternatives. Amrita Prasad talks to a few of them.

Unlike many e-commerce brands who continue to use plastic packaging to deliver their products, Salebhai uses corrugated boxes made of cardboard and this is their small attempt to reduce plastic pollution. It is an e-commerce platform for biodegradable home care and body care products, and also enables people living away from home (in big Indian cities and abroad) order a range of specialities directly from their hometowns. 

Salebhai takes immense pride in promoting brands that echo its concerns. “A number of our vendors espouse this, with products specifically made from recycled trash such as folders, from natural materials such as water reed bags. But realistically speaking, it is not possible to completely do away with plastic. By promoting non-plastic products such as wooden decorative boxes over plastic ones, Salebhai, as a brand, is on its way to going back to our roots,” says Vishwavijay Singh,  co-founder, Salebhai.   

While it seems a herculean task for companies and e-commerce sites to completely eliminate plastic in product packaging, Salebhai promotes products whose packaging is done without any plastic usage. Citing examples, Purba Kalita, co-founder, Salebhai, says, “While a Kolkata-based brand packages their teas in tin boxes, a Gurgaon-based brand packages their teas and face packs in paper bags.”  

Recently, Salebhai celebrated its second anniversary and made a stronger commitment towards their anti-plastic stand. It also regularly promotes an environment-friendly lifestyle via various communication channels — from blog posts to videos to topical posts. “We even run contests on the these lines and try to build a community and create a dialogue about how we, as regular consumers, can bring about a change at an individual level to make a bigger impact,”  says Singh. 

Disposable plastic spoons and forks are a big environmental hazard. Excessive use of plastic cutlery not only adds to environmental waste, but also adversely affects our health. Bakey’s Edible Cutlery, a Hyderabad-based  startup, has been trying to tackle this issue by offering edible spoons and forks, thus encouraging individuals, communities and restaurants to opt for a safe and eco-friendly way to eat. 

Narayana Peesapaty, founder and the man behind the idea, says that plastic is not just toxic for the environment but also for living beings — often the reuse of plastic cutlery by restaurants may lead to fatal ailments like cancer. “Plastic is nothing but petroleum jelly and made of fossil fuel and could be a reason why the number of people suffering from cancer is growing at a fast pace. We specialise in cutlery made with dough (made from a mixture of sorghum, rice and wheat flours, and kneaded with hot water). We do not add preservatives, chemicals, additives, colouring agents, raising agents, fat, trans fat, artificial chemical nutrition or animal ingredients, milk or milk products in the process of manufacturing. The spoons are baked in order to make them crisp and hard so that they are moisture free,” says Peesapaty. 

You can either eat the cutlery or dispose them as these are 100 per cent biodegradable. Started in 2016, Bakey’s makes spoons, forks, soup spoons, dessert spoons, yoghurt spoons and crockery as well. However, they don’t make knives.  

The spoons if not exposed to moisture can last up to 18 months  and stay crispy. If the wrapper is not removed, the spoons can last even 24 months. Once the wrapper is removed, the spoons can be stored in dry airtight containers for similar results. “These are single time use products and can’t be reused. Once dipped into food and put in mouth, they absorb moisture. Keeping them for later use will invite microbes,” cautions Peesapaty. The edible cutlery disintegrates in less than a week hence making them safe for the environment and for animals to consume.   

But if metal/ alloy cutlery can be easily washed and reused, then why invest in edible cutlery? Peesapaty says that he is not against use or reuse of metal/ alloy cutlery. “Our products are meant to be replacement for disposable plastic cutlery, and disposable bamboo chopsticks and cutlery. To make our edible cutlery, less water is needed than what is required to wash and reuse metal cutlery,” insists Peesapaty.

So if you want to opt for edible and biodegradable alternatives instead of plastic spoons and forks, Bakey’s is one of the smartest options. You can check out their website or order from other e-commerce sites.  

Maharashtra’s plastic ban initiative outlaws a variety of plastic items that have been in use in the restaurant industry for quite some time — plastic bags, cutlery, food item packaging etc. However, prevailing environmental concerns as well as the strong directive from the State Government is making people come up with eco-friendly ideas to replace plastic. 

Yogesh Ghorpade, CEO and founder, Uplodefoodie, a Pune-based startup that caters to the food and beverage industry with software as service-based solutions, says that several eating joints and stores in the city have already given up on plastic in part, thanks to the initiative of entrepreneurs who have been selling eco-friendly cutlery, biodegradable straws and paper bags to these businesses. 

“Most have already deployed alternatives to the use of plastic, especially since the fines are extremely prohibitive and will be difficult for small kitchens and restaurants to pay. The restaurants that we are catering to have already reached out to manufacturers of eco-friendly substitutes for plastic. For instance, many are using wooden or bamboo cutlery. While biodegradable bagasse waste-based disposable plates are popular substitutes, bamboo/ paper straws and stainless steel cutlery and crockery are also good alternatives,” says Ghorpade.  

According to him, cornstarch-based bin liners have become popular with restaurants in Pune, and foil and paper bags are being used for packaging takeaway orders.

When asked how data and analytics and use of technology can reduce plastic as well as organic waste, Ghorpade says, “The problem is that all the products a restaurant sells have short shelf life, and the organic products of the inventory eventually reach a point where they’re not fit to be served to customers.

This leads to a large amount of waste, which then is usually placed in plastic containers for disposal. At Uplodefoodie, we abhor waste most of all. Thankfully, our AI and data-leveraging intelligent platform helps restaurants manage their inventory in the most efficient manner possible, using prior data to accurately predict the demand for a particular raw material and choosing to order the right amount at the right time only.  Keeping meat and vegetables in the freezer/ refrigerator reduces idle time and also reduces the possibility of food waste and plastic.” 

With data and analytics on their side, restaurant owners can place orders for supplies and inventory only when it is required, and in the right quantity. “Past usage patterns in data will allow the technology-enabled system to make accurate predictions about the number of customers in a day, and will provide critical information to restaurant owners and managers in terms of what to buy and in what quantity to cater to the presumed footfall in the restaurant on any given day or week. By ensuring that purchases are made through a data-driven process, restaurants can keep their organic waste and plastic to a minimum and save money that would have otherwise been wasted in buying extra produce,” adds Ghorpade.  

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