Editor’s note: With warmer weather just around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us will start looking for opportunities to cook out and picnic. This week, Life Goggles takes a look at an earth-friendly disposable plate from India… made from leaves. This post was originally published on Monday, March 3, 2008.
The sent Life Goggles a pack of 20 leaf plates to test. But where do you start testing a plate? Kev did an excellent review of some plates made from potato starch, so I did what any self-respecting blogger would do: I copied him.
But as it turns out, these are quite different products. These disposable plates are made from sal and siali leaves, from the forests of Orissa, East India. And as you’d expect, leaves can’t hold that much weight, so doing a test like Kev’s weight bearing experiment with apples was a no-goer; in fact it struggles with a knife and fork on it. For an easy comparison, think of the leaf plates as a replacement for paper plates at parties or barbecues, but bigger. They’re about 30cm (12″) in diameter.
So how do they fare? Pretty well to be honest: they’re used in India for festivals and weddings and you can see why. They’re flexible and you can hold it with one hand to squeeze it together a little to keep things secure; however your hand needs to be underneath, as it will just bend if you hold it by the edge with something heavy on it.
As I said, it’s ideal for snack food, but not something to eat your dinner off at the table. A knife will cut through the leaves so a spoon or a fork would be better. The shiny side of the leaves face up (the underside is quite soft) so it does hold liquid to a degree. Things like tomato ketchup are fine, but it won’t hold a thin sauce for long. I tested it using water and while the plate seemed to be holding the water well, moving the plate revealed after a couple of minutes that the water had seeped through.
While I was at it, I thought I’d see if they were reusable after a quick wash. Not really. A quick wipe maybe, but once the leaves are wet, they tend to curl up when drying, which splits some of the seams. There are a few little pieces of wood which connect leaves together, which can come undone in the drying process.
So use them once and then put them in the compost bin — the ultimate in biodegradable dinnerware.
To see how they’re made, go here for a slide show of leaf plate making. There’s a description, too:
Leaf plate making is a village-based industry, which depends upon the local availability of siali (Bauhinia spp.) and sal (Shorea robusta) leaves from nearby forest. It is a widespread activity in the villages of Orissa, employing thousands of workers. Many of them are home-workers, working in an informal way to increase the household income. There are also some more organised “self-help” groups. These are often women-focused or adivasi (tribal)-focused.
Women appear to be the main collectors of leaves. Later, they sit together in the smoothed mud yards in their village and stitch the leaves into rounds with little sticks. They can be stitched further by machine. The stitched rounds are put out in the sun to dry. Each plate is made by pressing two rounds of leaves together in a machine. This work is done mainly by men.