Two students from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have just won a sustainability prize in an entrepreneurship competition. Swapnil Mishra and Aditi Deodhar, who founded Planeteers, have created a vegan and biodegradable edible alternative for single-use cutlery in order to fight the city’s mounting waste and pollution crisis.
Founded by Swapnil Mishra and Aditi Deodhar, two business administration students at HKUST, Planeteers is a startup that has just won the Environment & Sustainability Prize under the One Million Entrepreneurship Competition held by HKUST Entrepreneurship Centre. The mission of Planeteers is to replace single-use plastic cutlery and wooden chopsticks with their edible and biodegradable vegan cutlery alternative, which will help alleviate plastic pollution and deforestation.
Currently, Hong Kong dumps over 4,000 tonnes of plastic cutlery into landfills each year. Alongside food packaging, single-use containers and straws, disposable dinnerware and cutlery alone makes up almost 10% of all plastics thrown out into landfills in Hong Kong. Planeteers’ founders added that plastic cutlery poses a health risk, and could be a major source of the estimated 50,000 tiny plastic particles we unknowingly consume each year.
“The idea for Planeteers germinated after having witnessed the dire need for single use plastic waste reduction and at the same time spreading awareness about the severe health concerns [of] using plastic cutlery,” Mishra and Deodhar told Green Queen.
“We saw people eating hot food with plastic cutlery and realised the damage they are doing to themselves by consuming microplastic.”
While wooden alternatives make for a biodegradable option, they fuel deforestation, with China’s wooden chopstick industry alone accounting for 20 million trees being cut down annually.
The young startup’s cutlery is made from whole-grain flours, is neutral-tasting and 100% vegan-friendly. Mishra and Deodhar shared that they believe their edible cutlery will appeal to people in Hong Kong, who are increasingly nutritionally aware, health-conscious and are concerned about the plastic waste epidemic.
“Our cutlery isn’t just an alternative to plastic cutlery but also something that compliments and enhances your experience of the meal,” said the sustainability-focused entrepreneurs.
“The key here would be to sensitise them and help them see the potential so as to make them acceptable and receptive to change.”
HKUST’s annual competition provides a platform for young entrepreneurs in the city to kickstart their future businesses and winners can use the cash prize as seed capital to further commercialise their inventions. Planeteers plans to reinvest the funds received from the prize money back into product development, testing and running a pilot program.
Hong Kong’s waste crisis is becoming increasingly severe, with last year’s waste disposal figures reaching the highest level since records began in 1991. Recent news of the city’s failed recycling system and the scrapped waste-charging bill has further exposed the enormous challenges for a cleaner Hong kong.
But Planeteers remain hopeful that attitudinal shifts are taking place, and believe that new innovations will be at the forefront of the fight against waste. “We see rising awareness and sensitivity towards plastic waste and [the] importance of sustainability not just in F&B, but also from other industries such as fashion and consumer electronics,” they told Green Queen.
“We see the change happening but we also see room for further improvement. We hope to be the catalysts of change.”
Lead image courtesy of Planeteers.