Food packaging is filling up landfills and polluting our oceans, where materials like plastic and polystyrene can take centuries to decompose.
But one company might have a tasty solution to cut down our use of plastic dishware.
South African startup Munch Bowls has created a biodegradable bowl made from wheat, which you can eat as part of your meal. The bowls are vegan, can hold hot soup for up to five hours and have a shelf life of 15 months, according to the company.
They are marketed to be used at picnics, parties and corporate events. The startup says it has sold bowls to hotels and companies in the hospitality industry in South Africa, Belgium, Singapore and Dubai.
The bowls were originally made by hand but to keep up with demand, the company has recently commissioned a machine that can produce 500 bowls per hour.
Saving the planet from plastic
According to the UN, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year – nearly the equivalent to the weight of the entire human population – but only 14% of that is recycled.
Georgina de Kock, an artist and entrepreneur (who previously sold homemade chocolates and screen prints), launched Munch Bowls in 2014 after working at food markets and becoming appalled at the amount of packaging used to serve street food.
“I was looking around and just noticing all the rubble that is created by us humans, and it really started irritating me,” she says.
The company says its bowls eliminate the waste generated from disposable containers, or the products and time needed to clean reusable ones.
“Whatever you can put on a plate, you can put in the bowl,” said de Kock. “It’s the perfect size to hold in your hand.”
You can’t eat plastic
A large bowl wholesales for around 33 cents. Although this is more expensive than traditional plastic packaging, de Kock argues the bowls have nutritional value and can be integrated into a healthy diet.
“If you take a taco, if you take a wrap, anything like that, you can eat it, it adds value to your food,” says de Kock. “Plastic you can’t eat. It does not add anything but pollution.”
“It’s no use saving the world, then you give people food that is not good for them,” she adds.
The bowls are made with all natural ingredients, including rooibos extract, a South African plant and natural preservative that is high in antioxidants. Customers can purchase plain flavor bowls for savory food and sweet flavor bowls for desserts.
Other companies have produced edible dishware, but Munch Bowls say it is the first based in South Africa.
Biotrem, a Polish technology company, produce tableware and packaging made from compressed wheat bran, which it exports to restaurant chains and retailers in 25 countries.
Although its products are edible, it markets them as a biodegradable alternative to plastic and paper products that end up in landfills.
De Kock says she has recently taken on a business partner to help her scale up operations. By the end of next year, the startup hopes to install six production lines and to make other products such as spoons, coffee cups and containers for meals on flights.
“The world is facing a pollution crisis,” said de Kock. “We need to do something now.”