In the past, people from India and Southeast Asian countries inherited the wisdom of their ancestors to make tableware out of banana leaves with their hands. In the modern era, a team of Germans have created “leaf-made plates” that not only show us a high level of craftsmanship, but have also overturned the general public’s understanding and imagination of leaves!
According to Science Magazine, a total of 270 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated around the world in 2010. In response to this issue, a Munich-based German company Leaf Republic has developed non-toxic and sustainable “leaf-made plates”, in the hope of replacing non-decomposable plastic tableware and reducing our impact on the environment.
The idea for “leaf-made plates” came at a picnic, when the company’s founder saw piles of disposable tableware discarded on the ground, making him think about the danger that plastic waste poses to the environment. As a result, he had the idea of developing environmentally-friendly “leaf-made plates” and starting Leaf Republic.
In the early stages of Leaf Republic, the team spent almost one year on research and development and drafting. They used 3D printing to accurately create moulds with the aim of building up the basic structure of plates. After many rounds of design, fabrication and testing, they successfully created plates that do not contain plastic, adhesives or chemical additives, and consist of 100% leaves.
The raw materials used in “leaf-made plates” are vine leaves sourced from Asia and South America. The team directly obtains leaves from local villages. Plates have three layers in total, with the first and third layers being leaves and the second a waterproof thin paper also made of leaves.
If you just want to use them for solid foods like peanuts, leaf-made plates can be reused over many days. And if you want to use leaf-made bowls for hot liquids, the special waterproof design of the tableware gives you peace of mind. However, because of its natural structure, this leaf-made tableware is a bit more difficult to clean.
It takes ordinary plastic plates at least 73,000 days to break down into nature, while “leaf-made plates” only need 28 days to decompose. Just like in the natural decomposition process of fallen leaves, these plates eventually become fertiliser, providing nutrients to other plants.
In July 2016, the Leaf Republic team raised 64,000 euros on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, using this money to buy large machines for automatic production. It hopes to expand the scale of tableware production and work towards the ultimate goal of building a fully automated production line. The team said that, given their experience of small-scale production, large-scale production will certainly be more challenging.
The team has already started to deliver leaf-made plates to customers. But according to their official Facebook page, the appearance of some plates has been damaged due to insufficient protection during the sea transport process. At the moment, the team is actively looking for a solution and hopes to find a quick and efficient shipping service.
Leaf Republic looks forward to seeing its leaf-made plates sold on shelves around the world, brought home by consumers and then returned to nature.
A Taiwanese version of leaf-made plates: Taiwan Yeziwan
After the 2013 toxic lunch box scandal (when a disposable container manufacturer used toluene to clean grime off its products) and the discovery that locals use leaves as plates during her travels in Southeast Asia, Hsin-man Wang started to think about the possibility of creating non-toxic tableware herself. Later, she decided to set up an organisation called Taiwan Yeziwan and, with the help of iLab, a business incubation project created by Social Enterprise Insights, started the research, development and fabrication of leaf-made tableware.
According to its official website, Taiwan Yeziwan is hoping to increase the added value of leaves, raise farmers’ income and mitigate the impact of disposable lunch boxes in terms of both food safety and the environment. Taiwan Yeziwan has already hosted many hands-on workshops, which have helped it promote leaf-made tableware to the general public. In these events, participants are invited to taste the flavour of the Earth that comes with using leaf-made bowls.
Both the German Leaf Republic and Taiwanese Taiwan Yeziwan are dedicated to making and promoting leaf-made tableware. They hope that leaves can one day fully replace conventional disposable lunch boxes, and that the impact of plastic waste on the environment and human health can therefore be reduced.