The Right Choice
The following post is from Ravish Majithia MBA’18, founder of Magnomer, a fall 2017 hatchery business. Magnomer uses cradle-to-cradle principles to redesign plastic packaging by adding visual magnetizable elements that complement brand designs and enable recovery from waste streams for better recyclability.
Let me paint you a hypothetical buying choice. Which would you pick: a biofuel powered Toyota Camry or a price equivalent electric Tesla Model 3? As we collectively overhaul our way of life in the context of sustainability we should pause and ask ourselves a simple question. Are we making the right choices?
Our choices today matter. At first look, biofuel powered cars seem like a good idea. It’s an affordable plug-n-play solution which fits the basic requirement of using a non-fossil based renewable source of energy. But is it sustainable? Do we want to take away vital food production away from human and livestock consumption to burn in a fuel tank? Do we want to further infiltrate our food-supply chain with GMO crops, as would be inevitably required, to meet demands for fuel production? Perhaps most importantly, do we even want a plug-n-play renewable fuel in which the average consumer has no incentive to reduce their fuel consumption? As externalities for biofuels start coming into focus, the choice becomes clear. An electric car powered by energy derived from renewable solar or wind is the better choice by a mile.
I have news for you. While the choice may be hypothetical for cars it is not for cutlery! Today, we have the option of buying compostable plant-based disposable cutlery versus standard run-of-the mill plastic cutlery. While standard oil-based plastic cutlery is clearly not sustainable, we need to ask if compostable cutlery is. Compostable cutlery is made from bioplastic which have origins in corn or similar starch-based plants. They are the biofuel equivalent of cutlery. However, unlike biofuels they are not affordable. Compostable cutlery costs 2-3x that of standard cutlery. Also unlike biofuels, compostable cutlery does not thrive on existing infrastructure. Bioplastics require commercial composting which is not currently prevalent.
We can allow our minds to wander and come up with clever solutions to implement reusable cutlery. Reusable cutlery is a noble goal which will truly solve the conundrum at hand. It however is the equivalent of biking to work instead of driving. Sure, it can be done on a nice sunny day. However when it’s snowing outside – we need to use disposable cutlery. (Oh, well you get it!)
Compostable cutlery is not the answer. Far from it! The energy savings in manufacturing compostable bioplastic are arguable. The expectation that the average consumer knows the difference between compostable bioplastic spoon and recyclable Type 5 polypropylene cup and segregate while discarding is unrealistic. The hope that costs of compostable bioplastic will be, in future, on par with oil-based plastic is a myth at best.
We, collectively, need to make the right choice. We need to look deeper into our supply and waste management chains and ask the obvious question. If plastic bottles can be recycled – why can’t cutlery? We should all aspire to buy the Tesla Model 3 of cutlery – a recyclable product manufactured using recycled plastic