Even nimble mental gymnasts will find it hard to figure out the connection between Crofton House School, Doolin’s Irish Pub, and the Starlight Casino. Now add golf courses, yacht clubs, movie-catering companies, and Big White Ski Resort to the mix. Give up? All are environmentally smart enough to use disposable cutlery made of wood.
If you’ve ever accidentally heated a plastic fork, you know that although it shifts shape it’s still a hunk of plastic, as it will be generations from now, which is bad news for landfills. “They can’t provide an answer on how long it takes plastic to degrade,” says Darrel Scorah of year-old Vancouver company Ecoware Biodegradables (www.ecowareproducts.com/ ), which he runs with his sister Amber. Scorah is a graduate of BCIT’s entrepreneur-focused Venture Program, while Amber’s background is in sales. When you grow up in Vancouver, he says, “You have that connection to natural surroundings. You don’t want to see products that are detrimental [to the environment].” Spotting similar cutlery in London, England, Amber brought samples back, and that was the impetus they needed for what Scorah calls “several months’ research and a lot of groundwork”.
The utensils their company sells are made of birch that’s harvested from farmed forests in China (now home base for Amber, who is fluent in Mandarin). “In comparison to other trees, birch is fast-growing,” says Scorah, pointing out that wooden cutlery composts in 45 to 60 days. Feedback from the company’s distributors is that “the response has been absolutely positive,” he says. “People feel there’s a need for it. Our number one customers are schools and universities. Schools are really pushing for this kind of stuff.” The company will soon be supplying cutlery to Trinity Western University for a composting study that will be conducted by its bioscience department, and is finalizing an agreement to do the same on a larger scale as part of the university’s overall composting program.
It makes you wonder why all takeout and fast-food restaurants aren’t switching to wood. The bottom line: a wooden fork costs only a fraction of a cent more than one made of black plastic, according to Scorah. Even when you compare it to the cheap white plastic variety, which cost a minimum of one cent each—with wood running a maximum of four cents—you’re still only looking at a few cents’ difference that most thinking consumers probably wouldn’t object to paying. “One restaurant pointed out the extra charge on the menu,” says Scorah, “and contributed the same to an environmental program.”
Scorah’s customer list already includes Big White Ski Resort, as well as the others listed above, and the company is talking to several high-end hotels, because here’s the other thing: aesthetically, wood beats plastic to a pulp. “The green aspect aside,” Scorah says, “we get people who just like the look of it.”
With 1,000 pieces the minimum order, birch-wood cutlery isn’t available at the consumer level—yet. “It’s on the agenda for sure,” Scorah says. In the meantime, there are measures you can take, beginning with the obvious. The next time you get takeout on your way home or phone for delivery, just say you don’t need plastic utensils and why (and maybe point out that wood ones are more ecofriendly). Baby steps, but they work. Think how quickly grocery stores have caught on to us bringing our own bags. If you’re in the habit of eating a BLT from the sandwich shop at your desk, raid the cutlery drawer in the coffee room or stash your own in a drawer.
Many Vancouverites bring their own mugs to coffee shops, and there’s no reason we can’t tuck cutlery into our purses and backpacks, too. Mountain Equipment Co-op (130 West Broadway and 1341 Main Street, North Vancouver) will sell you a nested knife, fork, and spoon set made of a strong metal alloy called Halulite ($10.50), or the same in stainless steel on a ring ($4), or in Lexan ($2.10). None of these comes in a case, unfortunately, and nobody wants a buttery fork loose in her purse. But in this multicultural city, aren’t most people adept at using chopsticks? Someone put me on to the My Hashi stainless-steel-and-wood portables sold at Murata (15 East Broadway), which fold, are super-stylish, and live in their own fabric bag when not in use ($37). At the other end of the scale are those sold, complete with case, at Yokoyaya123, the toonie store at International Village (88 West Pender Street). Okay, they’re plastic, but at least they won’t end up in the landfill.