Can biodegradable disposable plates replace plastic? A Flemish start-up says yes

MADE WITH PALM LEAVES

 

A new start-up in Antwerp province has just launched a selection of disposable plates, bowls and other tableware that are fully biodegradable. The duo behind Naturiac wants to help end our reliance on plastics.

Under the brand name Palma Nature, the pair produce biodegradable plates and bowls made out of palm leaves. “There’s no industrial or fermentation process happening,” explains co-founder Deepak Kumar, an expat from India. “The production happens in India, where we take the fallen leaves and heat them up, moulding them into plates.”

This results in brownish tableware that decomposes when left outside. The Brasschaat start-up hopes to convince everyone, from festival organisers to garden party hosts, to drop plastics and replace them with ecological alternatives.

“The entire idea is very circular,” says Kumar. “We take materials from nature, but also give back to it.”

Plastic is on its way out

– Deepak Kumar

 

The idea behind Palma Nature was hatched in France, where Kumar and Christophe Vanduffel, the other founder, studied together at the Rennes School of Business. “We became friends,” says Vanduffel. “One day we were in a supermarket, and we started talking about how biological and eco-friendly products were always more expensive than the regular versions.”

The idea that products should be both ecological and affordable stuck with both of them. After graduating and building up their own careers, the two entrepreneurs joined up again in Antwerp last year and founded Naturiac.

“We can sell directly from India, which allows us to have competitive prices,” says Kumar. “The time is also right for our products. In 2020, for instance, Belgium will ban disposable plastic cups at large events. So plastic is on its way out.”

The prices are surprisingly low. A set of 25 simple oval plates cost just €7. Shipping is free for purchases above €30.

There is the question, however, of how ecological this really is. Shipping things all the way from India also pollutes the environment, and maybe we should just do away with disposable tableware altogether?

“For now we can only produce plates made of palm leaves in India, or alternatively Mexico,” says Vanduffel. “They simply don’t grow in Europe. But we’re also researching the possibilities of local products, like corn starch, so we can shift our production to be more local.”

Not using disposable tableware sounds good in theory, say the founders, but for now large events, caterers and even smaller players, like food trucks, simply cannot do without them. So offering biodegradable alternatives is a good start.

Christophe Vanduffel and Deepak Kumar want to revolutionise the disposable plastics industry

 

Which also ties into the plans the entrepreneurs have for the future. They don’t want to sell only palm leaf plates but want to become a one-stop-shop for all kinds of biodegradable and ecological products.

“We want to develop different brands for different kinds of products,” says Vanduffel. “Palma Nature is just one brand for bio-disposables. But we also want to expand into fields like stationary.”

But first they need to get their plates off the ground. “We just launched a few weeks ago,” says Kumar. “For now, customers need to go to our web shop to buy our plates. But we are investing in brand awareness and approaching supermarkets to sell our products there. Because we want to offer ecological alternatives for everyone.”

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