Friday, September 28, 2007
Spudware, spudware everywhere spudware
Christopher Middleton is stirred by a spoon made of potato
No one particularly likes plastic cutlery, but for years we've all put up with it. Now its days could be numbered, thanks to the introduction of knives, forks and spoons made not out of polymers but potatoes.
One potato, two potato, three potato, fork: a spud is knifed by his starchy kin
Yes, say hello to SpudWare, the planet-saving alternative to traditional disposable cutlery. Made from hardened, moulded potato starch, it's as heat-resistant as plastic and every bit as strong: the fork can prong a hard carrot without snapping and the spoon can cope with the hardest block of ice cream.
"Synthetic materials tend to break more easily," says Joe Frankel of Edinburgh-based suppliers Vegware, the firm championing root-veg utensils in Britain. "Because our product is a natural one, it's got a bit more flexibility."
We subjected our samples to a series of experiments, during which we performed the equivalent of culinary cannibalism by plunging a SpudWare fork into the heart of a King Edward's without a hint of snappage.
SpudWare's crowning eco-glory is its biodegradability. While plastic sits unaltered in the earth for centuries, SpudWare decomposes within 180 days. Guaranteed.
So whereas future generations of archaeologists will be forever digging up plastic knives and forks from late 20th century birthday parties, they will be baffled at the abrupt absence of such artefacts in the early 21st century. It could become a mystery to rank with the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
Already corporate America is questioning the amount of disposable plastic cutlery it gets through (39 billion items per year at the last count), and among the institutions that have swapped from plastics to "bioplastics" is the staff canteen at Marin County Civic Centre in California. "If you want to walk the talk, you can't have a café filled with plastic," says canteen supervisor Charles McGlashan. "We took the view that using all that plastic was a violation of our values as a county."
So well has the SpudWare gone down that Marin County has now progressed to Tupperware-like containers made from fermented corn, and plates made of bagasse (a fibrous by-product of sugar cane). Now the idea is catching on in Britain (where two billion plastic items are used each year), with catering firms such as Rail Gourmet seriously considering taking the potato-instead-of-plastic route.
The only blemish on the SpudWare front is the way the cutlery gets a bit sticky and tacky if left in water overnight. There again, all it's doing is fulfilling its promise to biodegrade, water being a prime mover in getting the process started.
And do bioplastics really decompose when buried? You bet they do. Every SpudWare item comes complete with an ASTM D6400-99 (a Certification of Compostability from the American Society for Testing and Materials). And, when it comes to rot, those people know what they're talking about.
# Potato starch cutlery can be ordered from Vegware (0131 777 2562; www.vegware.co.uk). Knives, forks and spoons cost £3.19 per bag of 50 (reduced to £2.35 if you order 10 bags or more).