Walking on an evening market, wandering through narrow streets with food stalls, where all kind of food is sold in biteable sizes. It sounds like a dream flight away from sustainability. Although, wait a bit, take a look closer with me.
‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’, is what I’m used to think when walking through this kind of eateries. The take-away sector of the food industry is like made of hell when it comes to sustainability.
A bunch of single-used plastic cups, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, moreover, the straws wrapped in tiny plastic bags, the same applies to the cutlery, sometimes even to the napkin; and to top it off with a sauce of plastic, the entire collection of plastic tools will be hand-over to you in a – you’re right – plastic bag. If they are only using one, because sometimes the sauces, of course packed in cute looking little plastic cups, might be packed separately, and why not adding a second bag just to avoid leaking.
Shall I calculate about how much plastic is used for one meal, more specifically, how much single-use plastic is used and will end up within a matter of minutes (if you let your meal cool down entirely, maybe a couple of hours at most)? Imagine how much of this plastic will actually return to a recycling bin, out of which it will return to a recycling centre and eventually will rise out of its plastic ashes and be re-used again? It would be a questionable number, I guess.
Our oceans tell us tremendous stories to answer these questions, and so do the stomachs of fishes and birds during a dissection to find out their remarkable cause of death. Unfortunately, most of their stomachs contain more pieces of plastic than digestible pieces of food. Nobody told them to unwrap the plastic packages we use to keep the take-away meals fresh, didn’t they? Which is a cynical joke I wished I should never make. Albeit, it mimics the reality painfully.
So, from the ocean back to the road, from the plastic food packaging to the street market in Pai, Thailand. Of course, some vendors are selling food in plastic packages, ready to carry in plastic bags. On the other hand, other vendors have something really genius. Simple genius, which is the kind of geniality I like the most, frankly.
So, what about wrapping food in natural materials, such as plantain leaves or bamboo? The same food packaging materials are often used in Latin America for wrapping tamales and other kind of food, and I like it.
Wrap it Up!
Globally, bio-engineers are looking for difficult production processes to fabricate eco-digestible packaging materials, while it is actually already out there. I admit that in some countries there aren’t as much plantain leaves as here are, but for sure there is a way round. Nevertheless, imagine replacing all the plastic package materials here by plantain leaves and other real organic materials, and not throwing them in the waste bin after, but in a dedicated bin for composting, wouldn’t that be nice?
Oh, but you cannot compost cooked food, I hear you thinking. Sure, but there might be a way round, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater before we think it through.
But I’ll leave the latter to designers and manufacturers, which I will see next in the Design Week in Chiang Mai; where luckily sustainability is a part of ‘the design of the future’ as well.