Non-Plastic Fantastic

The European Union has dramatically restricted single-use plastics and may eliminate them entirely. That’s shaken up the market in favor of product developers who are able to think outside of conventional containers.

February, 2022

As children, many of us were told not to chew on straws or spoons. But for one inventive German company, Kulero, that’s precisely the idea. Its novel, non-plastic disposable eating and drinking utensils are the brainchild of Hemant Chawla and Juliane Schöning. Now based in Göttingen in Central Germany, Chawla began developing the technology after being appalled by the amount of discarded plastic trash during a festival in his native India in 2017.

Kulero’s products are made of bread dough and therefore entirely edible. A Kulero ice-cream spoon is not just a means for eating a dessert. It’s part of the sweet itself and completely vegan to boot. After some initial success in India, the company entered the German market in 2020. It claims it has replaced more than one million plastic spoons and has dug out a unique niche in the market.

The tide is turning as German consumers are rejecting unnecessary packaging and single-use plastics in favor of eco alternatives.

© photka – stock.adobe.com

“There aren’t currently any viable alternatives,” Chawla told the German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche. “Wood and paper have a taste many people don’t like. Other products aren’t stable enough for hot food and fall apart.”

Post-ban boom for eco alternatives

If the European Union has anything to do with it, Kulero’s success story won’t be unique. On July 3, 2021, the bloc instituted a wide-ranging ban on plastic cotton-bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks, polystyrene drink and food containers and non-biodegradable plastic bags.

The restrictions form part of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted in 2020, which is in turn part of the bloc’s Green Deal. This huge initiative addresses big global challenges including ocean pollution: The Heinrich Böll Foundation, headquartered in Germany, estimated some 930 billion pieces of plastic waste ended up in the North Atlantic in 2019 alone.

WASTEFUL PACKAGING

End-­consumer ­plastic waste in ­Germany by ­application in 2019*

59.1 %

PACKAGING

9.8 %

CONSTRUCTION

5.9 %

ELECTRONICS

5.5 %

AGRICULTURE

4.4 %

VEHICLES

3.2 %

HOUSEHOLD GOODS

12.3 %

OTHER

77 %

of German consumers prefer to buy products that use as little packaging as possible**

Sources: *Conversio, **Ipsos 2019

The new EU restrictions will help reduce that kind of pollution, but many types of plastic containers and packaging are still allowed, if in restricted form. They include PET bottles, immediate-consumption beverage and food containers, packets, wrappers, tobacco filters, sanitary items and wet wipes. Germany’s Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection estimates that Germans use almost three billion disposable coffee cups every year – around 320,000 an hour.

So it seems inevitable that the market for non-plastic alternatives will expand exponentially. Moreover, Germany will also need systems for distributing and collecting multi-use replacement products. “This new framework will become even more noticeable in the coming months,” expert Victoria Kintzinger explains. “Restaurant-related companies are already active here. But alternatives for personal care products are also being increasingly produced and marketed.”