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Fully biodegradable take-away food containers: how to get your local restaurants to abandon plastic?

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 27, 2020
How can people convince their local restaurants to switch from plastic to biodegradable takeaway food containers? What will get the job done?

With the pandemic in full swing and restaurants going extinct, to survive they are shifting toward take-away and delivery. As a side effect, we are rapidly covering the planet in plastic. Let's not.

Some of the problems:
  • getting the restaurant owners to even care about the type of containers they use
  • getting people to care about the type of containers their food comes delivered in
  • finding suppliers of truly compostable, biodegradable takeaway food containers
  • finding such that will hold warm sauces, even soups for long enough to be delivered and food eaten - while they shouldn't contain health-damaging chemicals (glues, plastifiers, etc)
  • finding such that fully enclose the food (lids or boxes), rather than just plates
  • finding such that can compete in price with the plastic containers
  • misinformation: some options listed as ecologically friendly and biodegradable are actually not so in normal conditions

Let this session focus on helping the restaurant owners find the best possible options for takeaway packaging that doesn't damage the environment or make it prohibitively expensive for the restaurants to make the switch. Let's make this page super useful to anyone who would like to get into the business of distribution (or even production?) of compostable/biodegradable takeaway food containers.

Let's also compose a list of suitable manufacturers/suppliers on all continents so that people can source locally and reduce the cost/pollution of transport.

I will actually place demo orders with any good options that we manage to find. After a while, we should revisit all the listings and remove any non-optimal suppliers from this page so that the only information left is super useful. In the final version, we could summarize the best options by continents.
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Creative contributions

Biodegradable plates made from Palash tree leaves

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Nov 05, 2020
These are done manually by Indian girls who are working for Vistaraku - a company started by Madhavi and Venu Vippulancha out of their love for nature.

The Palash tree leaves have natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties, which make eating from them safe. The leaves are stitched together using food-grade cotton thread and starch-based glue and then heat pressed along with food-grade cardboard. Here's a video showing the process.

The leaf plate stitching is a livelihood activity for tribal people in some parts of India.

[1]Kora, A.J. Leaves as dining plates, food wraps and food packing material: Importance of renewable resources in Indian culture. Bull Natl Res Cent 43, 205 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42269-019-0231-6

Manufacturing process of Areca leaf packaging

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 27, 2020
This video shows the manufacturing process of plates made from Areca leaf.

The hydraulic press molds used in the above video don't seem to be designed for takeaway - I see no lids for the plates. But these people have the lids as well. I have contacted them and will post an update once I have the plates in my hands:)

In the 2nd video's comments section the following info is being mentioned:
  • the price of the machine is around 310 USD
  • good areas to look for Areca suppliers are South-Shimoga, Tumkur, Chennagiri, Assam
What I wonder is how the packaging can be sterilized. UV lamps, ozone,... What else would be suitable?


[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areca

Areca alternatives that grow in Europe / America?

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 27, 2020
Can you think of any suitable plants that abundantly grow in European/North American climate and could replace Areca for the purpose of being hydraulically heat-pressed into plates/lids?

Alternatively, maybe some trees have suitable wood that could be freshly cut into thin slices, soaked (cooked?), and then heat pressed into shape, hopefully without cracking.

Manufacturing process of wheat straw fiber packaging

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 27, 2020
You probably want to watch this video with muted sound. It covers the entire conversion process from wheat straw to food packaging.

They didn't mention the additives by name but there were at least 2 chemicals added to the pulp - 5-8% water repellent and 0.8% oil repellent. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable eating from this without knowing what the chemicals are.

Wheat straw is abundant in the west, so producing such packaging locally would cut the cost/pollution of transport.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Another walkthrough of the manufacturing process https://youtu.be/vKBwz2KFZlk
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Here is an Indian Startup working on solving the same problem https://youtu.be/B3aq2KMH2z8

Reusable food boxes

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Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce Oct 27, 2020
It's true: it is very hard to find a cheap disposable substitute for plastic.

I believe that sacrificing the disposable part would be an ecological and affordable possibility. Let's imagine 10 metal/plastic pizza boxes, moved around the cities, delivered, emptied in the plate of the buyer, and brought back to the restaurant to be filled again.

Basically applying the concept of refilling shops but for take-away.

Pro:
  • In the long term is cheaper to reuse the same food boxes more than disposable ones
  • it encourages people to get in the refill mental set
  • if you want your box to be resistant (so you can reuse it) it will also probably keep the heat more efficiently
Contra:
  • weight is higher: not a problem for a scooter or car delivery, but luckily now many food deliveries are used completed by bike. They could make it lighter by keeping on using plastic for their boxes, but since they'll use the boxes for nearly forever the plastic pollution out of it it's quite minimal
  • it takes longer to deliver the food: the receiver may not be ready, all the corona rules...
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Spook Louw
Spook Louwa month ago
That's an interesting thing to think about, what would be better, reusable or biodegradable? I think biodegradable is best if you take people and how they tend to act into consideration, but, with a little faith in humanity, reusable would obviously be best.
I found this coffee shop that allows you to check out a cup, similar to a library, which you can then return at any of the franchises. https://www.fastcompany.com/90450872/at-a-growing-number-of-coffee-shops-getting-a-coffee-to-go-means-checking-out-a-cup . This seems like a good idea but I think the admin must be quite difficult and people have proven that they do not respond to incentives to reuse.

Unfortunately, I can't find the original article, but I read somewhere about another coffee shop that got rid of cups completely. You can only buy a coffee if you bring your own mug. That would be the best solution. Imagine if governments simply outlawed these "single-use" plastics and people simply had to make sure that they had the appropriate containers with them if they wanted to get food to go.
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Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce6 months ago
I'm so much into corona world that I forgot people may want to eat again out of theirs home in the future.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
That would certainly be the most efficient. It would work in some cases, but often people order takeaway in situations where they need food on the go. They need the container too, to eat out of. They might not be ready to eat at the time of delivery so can't empty the container then and there.

Ecoware - a company that makes degradable food packaging products

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 28, 2020
Ecoware: They use agricultural waste (mostly sugarcane, wheat, and rice) to produce food containers. They have over 500 products (everything plates, bowls, cutlery, trays, boxes).

The products are microwave safe.

Price range:
From: INR 25 (USD 0.34) for a small bowl
To: INR 245 (USD 3.32) for a 750 ml box with lid

They also have a sample kit - INR 1850 (USD 25.08)

This is the same box the Subway chain uses for their salads, at least in my city (Pune, India).
I have used it. They are sturdy. They don't get soggy.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
That's a surprisingly high price. In my area, restaurants are paying roughly 0.20 EUR (0.24 USD) per clamshell styrofoam container that has 2 compartments. I've found Chinese suppliers that offer biodegradable (wheat straw) substitutes at around 0.055 USD per container. Will order a sample before I post it here

Compostable, biodegradable clamshell takeaway boxes from China

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 29, 2020

In this section, we can bundle together all equivalent options from China. This way they can easily be compared by price and any other relevant info. All of the options listed below are made from either sugarcane bagasse, wheat straw, or rice straw.

  • degradablepackage.com; made of sugarcane bagasse, price without shipping per clamshell: 0.0823 USD

(will update this list soon)
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JA
John Alexander6 months ago
One thought for this (in progress) list, would be to also list the fasted time the product would biodegrade, and under which conditions. To my knowledge there are "biodegradable" product that actually require either very specific conditions, or very long timescales before they biodegrade.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic6 months ago
John AlexanderThe ones that are troublesome are made of PLA (Polylactic acid) and possibly other attempts at making biodegradable plastic.

These clamshell options listed above are made from either sugar cane bagasse, wheat straw, or rice straw. They are said to degrade within weeks when composted.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni6 months ago
John AlexanderI like the idea; wherever available, mention the conditions and the time taken for the product to degrade. That way, we educate at least a part of the crowd who is enthusiastic and aware. People can then compare and buy the stuff that takes minimal time and has minimal requirements.

Dual-purpose biodegradable

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Spook Louw
Spook Louw Apr 15, 2021
I remember reading about cigarettes with biodegradable filters that each contained a seed as well. This means that every cigarette butt disposed of could potentially result in a plant.

Perhaps this could be a good addition to this idea as well. Not only will the environment benefit from having less waste and more plants, but it could also help with the hurdle of getting businesses to support the idea as it's a good marketing ploy.

Every Spring, here in South Africa, one of our local supermarkets, Checkers, runs its Little Garden campaign where they give customers a small biodegradable pot containing a seed and some potting soil every time they spend more than a certain amount. This has become hugely popular and people collect these seeds by the dozens for their gardens.




Perhaps a fast food outlet could enjoy the same success by adding seeds to their biodegradable containers.

I realize this won't do much good if the containers are still simply disposed of, as they'll just end up on a landfill or get burnt in a rubbish dump, but perhaps the containers could be designed to be used as pots for the plant after it has been used for food.

I think this actually goes a long way towards solving a couple of the problems mentioned in the original post.

People might even be willing to spend a little bit more on containers like these because they are environmentally friendly and they get a "free" plant out of it.

[1]https://www.green-butts.com/

[2]https://www.checkers.co.za/little-garden/

SaveGlobe - company that makes biodegradable food boxes

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 28, 2020
SaveGlobe - they make biodegradable food containers from sugarcane bagasse.

They have not displayed the prices on the site.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
I will send them an email.

After a while we should tidy this page up and remove all the sub-optimal options that we listed during the research stage. I have hopes for this brainstorming session page to become a good resource for someone who wants to make a difference by switching to eco-friendly packaging or even going into distribution business

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