It was an idea that struck Narayana Peesapaty thousands of feet above the ground—on a flight, while he was being served refreshments. What got this 38-year-old scientist thinking was the plastic cutlery accompanying that hot meal. In a jiffy, the concept of edible cutlery—spoons, forks and chopsticks that you don’t need to throw away after use, and are healthy and nutritive enough to eat—was born. And, even if they had to be disposed, they would degrade in less than a day. "The idea was to give an alternative to people who do not want to use plastics," says Peesapaty, a Master in Forestry Management with over 16 years of consulting and research experience behind him. That was 2004.
It took Peesapaty, a former scientist at ICRISAT in Hyderabad, another two years to give commercial shape to his idea. Peesapaty began by checking out the suitability of various cereal flours—wheat, rice and sorghum (johar)—as base for his edible cutlery. He finally zeroed in on sorghum as the base flour. Vegetable pulp—spinach, beetroot and carrot—were used to add colour and nutritive value to the cutlery. Spinach gave it a green shade, beetroot red and carrots brought out a yellow tinge.
The production line, comprising blenders, slicers, dyes and an oven, had to be designed and calibrated to ensure that the spoons retained their hardness, while not losing out on their taste and nutritive value.
Not only are they eco-friendly, they also contain sorghum and vegetable pulp, making them health-friendly and nutritious as well. Pretty neat idea, really. And a much-needed one; plastic is doing enough damage to the environment in India at present, not to mention the infrastructure. The railway people have already proposed replacing the huge numbers of plastic cups used by passengers for quick train platform chai with traditional clay cups (although they will probably have to be mass-produced). This idea has already been around in some form; ice-cream served in wafer cups, for instance. One may also see some pani-puri vendors on the streets of urban India serving their fare in bowls made of heat-pressed layered leaves (my uncle in Central India manufactures such leaf-based cutlery, and industries like these help provide employment to the forest folk too). I look forward to the day when these innovations catch on, and disposable plastic becomes a rare sight. Let us wish this entrepreneur all the best for his venture, and hope there are many more like him.