We’ve all been there: at a festival, restaurant, or maybe at home, after getting some takeout. You remove the contents of your plastic delivery bag, almost indifferently distributing its contents on your dining room table: plastic utensils, plastic food containers, a plastic bottle containing your favorite juice or soda. Maybe you’re at a neighborhood barbeque and someone hands you a juicy grilled veggie burger on a plastic plate, then you snag some lemonade on the way to your seat with a plastic cup.
For most, these benign scenes of everyday dining aren’t overtly bizarre or surprising. In fact, it’s what many of us do when we have to grab a bite away from home or on the go. So why do I mention them? These mundane scenes have less to do with the amazing kung pao tofu you had last weekend or the burgers your generous neighbor served you last August than how much they have to do with the planet. 6 million tons of single-use plastics gets thrown out every year, putting approximately 700 marine species in danger. 85% of all plastic in the world isn’t even recycled which means it ends up in landfills, essentially never breaking down.
What if there was a better way? Well, fortunately, German-based tech startup Leaf Republic had the same question. They’ve found a way to engineer sustainable food packing products and cutlery made out of bioplastic, recycled plastics or entirely out of leaves. Their packaging products have lids made from bioplastic or recycled plastic and offer a three-layer bowl made from leaves. They are made without synthetic additives, coloring, and glue, and best of all, they spare trees and are biodegradable in less than 30 days.
We spend only a brief moment in this world. Everything we own is only temporary. What really counts is what we create, what we build up. What counts are our actions and our decisions. They last forever. They make up the true value of our being. If these actions lead to building up a sustainable, social, gainful company, then we will have the greatest job in the world.
Leaf Republic’s products, which are made from green leaves, are for uses like catering, take away and food trucks and include serving trays, plates, bowls, take away containers and wristbands. In addition to their range of products in different sizes and shapes, they ship internationally and a retail box containing 3,450 plates and bowls can be purchased for just €1,499 (approximately $1,768).
Leaf Republic was founded on the belief that packaging, which will always continue to be an integral part of our daily lives, should be both beautiful and sustainable. As human consumption and the human population explode, they felt that the packaging industry needed to be revolutionized not replaced.
While their idea is groundbreaking, India has been manufacturing leaf plates for centuries, a technology that is becoming less used in the country. Food was commonly served in pattals, Indian eating plates made from broad leaves which have been dried and molded into various shapes. Even though disposable plates are often more expensive in India, they are becoming more popular for events like weddings or festivals because they are easier to handle, more convenient and aren’t as easily damaged. Plastic plates are also used for everyday events like having guests over for dinner when it’s too much of a chore to collect all of the dishes used, wash and dry them each time. India is taking steps to combat the rise in single-use plastics, however, in fact it just banned all disposable plastic in the capital this year to decrease air and waterway pollution.
Leaf Republic’s tech is actually quite simple and involves machine-sewing leaf layers together using palm fibers and paper derived from leaves. The leaves come from wild vines in South America and Asia, and the process does not require trees to be downed. Their products last up to a year and can be used like regular plates, even in the microwave; they’re waterproof, washable, and reusable. Once they are no longer needed, they can be discarded as compost or in nature and break down on their own.
The design is amazing, simplistic and an interesting example of how the West is learning from traditions and creations from around the world. Hopefully, increased contact and free exchange of ideas will stimulate similar inspiration for the betterment of the planet.