The Science of Sustainability
Jan 28, 2022
To be clear, this post won’t cover the entire science of sustainability – there are entire graduate programs at major universities for that. However, we will dig into the science behind our Zungleboo plant-based plates and bowls.
I’ve heard of plant-based burgers, but plant-based tableware?
You’ve likely come across a number of sustainable home-goods made with bamboo, wheat straw, coffee husk, etc. We’re seeing everything from straws, toothbrushes, cups, and plates. Yes, you can call them eco-friendly because they partly contain those plant-based materials. But to understand whether or not they are truly sustainable, it’s important to know what binder is blended during the manufacturing process to make them sturdy enough to survive years-long use. In many cases, products that claim to be sustainable may contain melamine, which is not eco-friendly (nor is it microwavable, by the way), or they may even contain polypropylene (PP), which is a plasticky petroleum-based chemical.
Yep, we have bamboo in our plates, a naturally fast-growing renewable resource. In addition, Zungleboo plates use a bio-compound called polylactic acid (PLA for short) as a binder and do not contain melamine or polypropylene.
And here is where we start to get into Zungleboo sustainability science. PLA is a bioplastic, which may sound like a contradiction in terms but when plastics are made using renewable materials – like the corn starch in Zungleboo plates – they are called bioplastics. These bioplastics are sustainable alternatives to the petroleum-based plastics that are seemingly everywhere.
Let’s take a trip back to 7th grade biology class. Remember photosynthesis? Plants use sunlight to convert CO2 and water into glucose (sugar) and oxygen. The surplus sugar that the plant doesn’t use is stored as starch and this plant starch is the building block for bioplastics.
That starch is fermented into lactic acid which is then converted into long chain polymers, also known as polylactic acid. The PLA is formed into small bioplastic granules which can then be formed into lots of different objects. For our plates and bowls, the granules are made into pallets which are eventually machined and molded into the finished product.
But what about the manufacturing
Often when people talk about a sustainable product, they often don’t take the manufacturing process into account. What good is a sustainable end-product if the manufacturing process isn’t as eco-friendly as it can possibly be?
This is another area where PLA has an advantage over conventional plastics. Research by PLA suppliers shows that, on contrast to petroleum-based plastics, the production of polylactic acid (PLA) causes around 60 percent fewer CO2 emissions and consumes 50 percent less non-renewable energy.
The end result
When we started Zungleboo, we explored a number of different approaches to bring plant-based tableware to life and our research led us to the fact that using PLAs plus bamboo was the only way to go. As a result, Zungleboo tableware:
- Has high stability and is strong enough for daily repeat use
- Is free from BPA and other harmful substances
- Became a part of the USDA Certified BioPreferred® Program
- And is both microwave and dishwasher-safe
In addition, we wanted to create something that looked fantastic on a table and we’re feeling pretty good about the end result.