The trick to the household products made by Bamboozle is very simple—what looks like trendy plastic kitchenware actually is formed from a combination of bamboo and natural materials such as sugarcane and cornstarch.
The company’s dishes, cups, serving platters and composters have the appearance, feel and durability of plastic, but were manufactured with one-fifth of the greenhouse gases used to make plastic. One goal of Bamboozle is to nudge consumers away from single-use products by creating sturdy, attractive items that can be produced sustainably, and once discarded, are biodegradable, rather than languishing in landfills.
Bamboozle’s original products were made from a formula that included 70 percent bamboo, 15 percent cornstarch and 15 percent melamine–a type of plastic. “The first step was to reduce the use of plastic,” said Avishai Greenstein, brand manager for Bamboozle. “Then we wanted to get to 100 percent plant-based.”
Two years ago, Bamboozle developed a new material, Astrik, a mix of 15 percent bamboo and 85 percent polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic-like substance made from renewable sources such as corn starch, sugarcane or tapioca. “By adding bamboo, we were able to reduce the cost, and we’ve been using bamboo that was going to be incinerated, so that’s more sustainable,” Greenstein added.
Although the company would prefer not to use food sources in its formula, the process of replacing plastic is still evolving. “It’s a long journey, but we’ve taken a lot of steps,” Greenstein said. “We’re still not at a silver bullet moment; right now we are doing the best we can and building demand and consumer knowledge.”
While many businesses have struggled or shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bamboozle’s sales have increased and the company even had to hire more staff to meet demand. Besides selling products to some retailers, Bamboozle sells directly to consumers online.
“There is a real hunger in retail to bring more sustainable items to the product mix,” according to Greenstein. At the beginning of the year, consumers already were looking for more sustainable products, and with the pandemic, people are feeling a bit of a wake-up call, Greenstein said. “People are realizing the need to be more responsible,” he said. “People also are looking for authenticity and we explain what is sustainable about our products.”
Also, with families in quarantine, people had time to take stock of their decor and decided to replace items, such as 15-year-old dishes. “We’re trying to bring more sustainability into households.”
This is at a time when the purchase of single-use plastics has exploded, because many people feel using disposable items reduces the risk of transmitting the coronavirus and restaurants only were offering take-out service. But a recent study by scientists concluded that reusable products do not increase the spread of the virus, as long as they are cleaned properly. While PLA is used in disposable cups, part of Bamboozle’s goal was to show that items made with PLA have a permanent place on kitchen shelves.
Bamboozle built loyalty by responding to consumer concerns and being upfront about challenges. The company has been offering discounts because of shipping delays. When some customers expressed concern about the products being manufactured in China, Bamboozle sent them pictures of the factory. Adding a second manufacturing plant in the U.S. is a company goal, which would decrease its carbon footprint by reducing flights from China. “Ideally, we’d like to have manufacturing in the countries where products are used,” noted Greenstein.
Requests for custom items also are in the mix. “Other brands and retailers noticed our products and engaged us to expand our lines and their lines,” Greenstein said. “Our goal is to make products that meet other companies’ specific needs—they design it, we manufacture it.”
But despite success in the consumer market, the company has no plans to rush into the food industry, partly because it does not want to make single-use products, such as take-out containers, and wants to ensure its products are sturdy enough to withstand industrial kitchens. “Our goal is to be in the food industry,” Greenstein said. “The demand is there; but the materials have not been tested enough for us to be confident about it in high-use and hot water washes. I worked in a restaurant before—I can't think of anything worse than tableware failing during dining service.”
Most of the food establishments that have approached Bamboozle for products are small restaurants and bakeries. “Many are interested in our plate line; they like the shape and colors of our bowls and plates and view the sustainable aspect as part of their vision.”
The resilience of Bamboozle’s dinnerware is scheduled for a test at a small cafeteria at Binghamton University of the State University of New York. In addition, the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life, a gathering place for Jewish students on campus, had used disposable plates, cups and cutlery for meals; the cafeteria staff feeds between 100 and 150 students twice a week. After the Chabad House staff got a dishwasher, Bamboozle donated service for 400 people.
Greenstein got the idea for the test after talking with his cousin, who works in the cafeteria, and hated that they relied on single-use products. The pandemic cut short the semester and delayed the start of the pilot program, but Greenstein said it is slated to start when classes resume. “We want to see how [the dinnerware] survives and whether it discolors,” he added.
Now that the demand and supply sides of the sustainable market is finally getting in sync means more opportunities for businesses. Six or seven years ago, according to Greenstein, investors were putting money into sustainable items, but the demand was not huge. Now the demand is there, and companies are trying to meet it. Noted Greenstein, “We’re pushing the industry to be more sustainable by giving people brands they care about and want to interact with.”
Image credits: Bamboozle/Facebook