These days, “compostableware” is becoming increasingly common. Whether it’s your to go box, or the lidded soup bowl, or the bio plastic cups for your drinks. And yet, something’s not quite right. That soup bowl starts to bend. The to go box gets soggy. The cup is made from corn, which, GMO or not, is unsustainable and responsible for many issues both agricultural and economic in our society today.
And that’s just the beginning.
Many of those benign looking bowls and plates utilize chemical binders (as much as 40% by weight) to hold their shape, and when exposed to heat, begin to release those binders into what you eat. Well then, what can an environmentally conscious eater of food do? One option that I recently learned of is Verterra.
Verterra have created what is, in my experience, the slam dunk of bio based serviceware: Their plates are made 100% from fallen leaves and water. Nothing else. And they can be used in an oven, microwaved, have hot fluids in them, be refrigerated, even reused. Really? Yes. How?
In conversation with Michael Dwork, CEO of Verterra, I found that they have learned well how to take advantage of what nature already provides. They use three layers of leaves: The top one has a thick wax cuticle, providing water resistance. The bottom is sanded so that it’s quite fibrous, a layer of first defense, able to absorb moisture, preventing premature disintigration. And the middle layer is thick with sap.
Steam is applied, the leaves are shaped, and the sap leaf layer bonds all of them together. Follow that with repeated hot and cold sessions, and much like tempering steel, this toughens the package, to one that can be used in ways that many of their plastic or lesser bio based counterparts could only dream of.
As for their biodegradability, they say it takes 3 months, even though two tests have shown a shorter time. It’s a move like this, rather than claiming the lowest result, that is indicative of the kind of company Verterra is. At their factory in South Asia, “…employees receive fair wages in safe working conditions and are provided access to healthcare.”
And according to Dwork, his apartment in NYC uses nearly the equivalent of the whole Verterra factory. Without going into industry manufacturing secrets, the heating and cooling process requires little energy to maintain the needed temperatures. And in comparison to the amount of energy needed to sort, grind, melt and re-form plastic into desired shapes for recycled material based products, it’s clear to see how Verterra’s simple, clean method (which includes recirculating that steam water) is the more sustainable manufacturing process.
And the result? Quite stylish, durable, truly compostable, non toxic serviceware, using resources that would otherwise burned as waste. An awesome feat that I think should be widely supported, by us as consumers, by restaurants in search of an attractive option to their current offerings, and by corporate lunch rooms, a source of a great deal of waste in our country.
Readers: What other bio based replacements for unsustainable options have you enjoyed? Have you had a chance to use Verterra products? What’s your take?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.