There’s been a lot of talk about the edible cutlery designed by the company Bakey in India. These disposable utensils are made out of wheat, rice, and millet. Some people have been getting excited about this, proclaiming, “It will reduce our waste!”
I wanted to check in with everyone about this because it’s not so simple. Plastic cutlery may not be recyclable in most areas, and it’s not compostable, but it also doesn’t do a whole lot sitting in a landfill. It will be there when we dig it up and we can melt the plastic and reuse it.
In contrast, the biggest thing to understand about compostable material is that it’s only worthwhile if it’s composted. Organic material in a landfill doesn’t convert into compost; instead, it releases methane gas and adds to global climate change.
Edible cutlery works if it’s a) eaten, or b) composted.
I don’t know enough about the food/waste habits throughout India, but I can speak to those of the U.S. We landfill a lot more than we compost. Most street-side waste collection bins do not include compostable bins, only trash and recycling. Lots and lots of organic material (including things like newspapers) end up in landfills instead of being converted into glorious soil.
(P.S. We only recycle about 30% of what actually is recyclable.)
I often see well-intentioned food carts and food trucks, conscious markets, and thoughtful restaurants with their doggy bags- who hand out compostable plates and to-go containers. In a way, this is great because it’s not plastic and it’s especially not Styrofoam! Reducing our plastic consumption saves natural resources and helps steer people away from carcinogenic chemicals and dyes. Yet if people take all this compostable material away with them and don’t throw it into a composting bin or compost pile, then it will end up in the landfill.
Bakey boasts that their utensils will decompose in three days. This only means out in a compost pile, soaked in rain, aerated by wind, and munched on by microbes. The cutlery in a landfill will end up like other organic material, taking anywhere from three months to 75 years to break down into microscopic, toxic bits.
Composting is an enormous benefit to the natural cycles of soil and this planet. I advocate composting over recycling and composting any day of the week, but we have to do it correctly.
If you’re a restaurant, food cart, or other business that serves items in compostable containers, please make sure you have a place to collect those containers and then compost them. If people bring to-go items with them and don’t compost them, then we’re actually causing harm.
Another great option? Bring your own fork, knife, and spoon from home. I have some made out of bamboo. I keep them in my backpack at all times, so I rarely have to use plastic utensils. Remember: reducing waste overall is best.