We often see utensils and dishes made with plastics and polystyrene on special occasions like parties, marriages and other events. They are easy to handle and cheap to buy which is why they’re so widely used. It’s incredible to think that it our society has made it easier to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, transport it to the store, and then finally sell it, only for it to be thrown away. For everyone, it is extremely important to understand that this convenience of using fossil fuels to make single-use disposables is causing serious threats to the environment. There is something natural which is a perfect alternative and sustainable option for where disposable dishes are needed. You might have noticed in Asia, when you go out to eat on streets these days, that you sometimes see leaf dishes in use. These dishes, after centuries of use in a traditional way, have now once again, started replacing paper and plastic plates. These beautiful plates and bowls do not only look fancy and unique but also have minimal environmental impact – being made from just leaves and bamboo fibre. In Nepal these leaf dishes are known as “Tapari” and for centuries they’ve been used in traditional and religious activities and rituals, one of these is known as ”Pooja” but since it became more widely known about the damage of plastic pollution they have started being used more widely again, both in Nepal and around the world.
With the increasing population and increasing resource demands globally, our environment is under threat. We are now facing global warming as a planet which is resulting in climatic changes around the world. Every year, there are new climate records being broken and extreme weather events – floods, droughts, hurricanes and other climatic disasters are all too common in the news. Along with the increasing energy demands globally which is the main cause of global warming, our consumption behaviour has rapidly been seeking more resources for all sorts of ‘luxury goods’ and products to improve our lifestyle. This has resulted in massive deforestation and a consumer society where resources are depleting at an alarming rate much faster than they are replenished. However, the positive thing is that more and more people have also started realising how serious our over-consumption of the natural resources really is and realising that their are threats to nature by the products we use which will in turned be a threat for our upcoming generations.
Leaf dishes have undoubtedly been a product that has very positive environmental value. They are one of the best alternatives and can replace both plastic and paper plates, they have the potential to be carbon neutral, and not only that, but the production has almost no environmental impact as no trees have to be cut and the leaves can be harvested in a sustainable way. Leaf dishes can also help on a local scale because, unlike plastic plates – which can take up to 100 years to biodegrade, if a leaf plate is left in the environment it will biodegrade in just a few weeks. This helps in developing a more clean and pleasant environment. Plastic pollution is a serious problem as only 9% of the whole plastics are currently recycled while the remaining 91% are left in landfill sites, in the natural environment and in large water resources. This ends up causing damage to thousands of species particularly in our oceans where marine life and sea birds suffer greatly. Paper products replacing plastics can be a solution to this problem too, however for paper it demands large quantities of wood which has to result in deforestation. If this is not done sustainably it can actually be worse for our atmosphere than using fossil fuels. Leaf dishes bypasses the need for deforestation as harvesting the leaves can be done without cutting the trees.
Leaf dishes have undoubtedly been a remarkable solution to help the environment by reducing plastic usage, perhaps by accident since there was not any idea of the damage plastic was going to cause back when leaf dishes were first used centuries ago! Being entirely organic, it means that they are 100% compostable so can be just used as compost material or burnt after use. There is nothing wrong with leaving your plates on the ground after your picnic with leaf plates!
Here are some other important points in using leaf plates.
Created using entirely organic material, plates and dishes can be made of different species of plant material including bamboo, palm leaves, grasses, green leaves as well as other material like bagasse, a waste material obtained from sugarcane. In Nepal and India leaf plates (locally known as Tapari) are often made of Sal tree leaves. Sal leaves have been used traditionally to help with health problems in Nepal and they are completely safe to eat.
Leaf plates are beautiful, stylish and attractive, while also not too expensive. They also complement home and other decorations, unlike paper and plastic disposables. They are also convenient to use and easy to dispose of. As previously mentioned, they are biodegradable and healthy for environment. They are consumable by micro-organisms and natural compounds upon disposed.
Without any argument, leaf plates are natural gift to us. They do not pose any threats to our health or for the environment. They can be burnt or disposed of incredibly easily, they can even be eaten by insects or cows and other livestock.
Leaf plates are certainly in trend worldwide having significant environmental value. If we look at the Nepalese market too, it has gone beyond conventional Tapari. There are now many different shapes and sizes. Leaf plate manufacturing has emerged as an industry. It has also contributed to the local community by providing lots of employment and also in supporting environment conservation. Bamboo plates and Areca leaf plates are also becoming more popular, but in Nepal Sal leaf plates manufacturing is still a start-up.
European nations are even importing a lot of Areca palm leaves from India as those nations do not have these trees. Use of Leaf plates have replaced tons of paper and plastic products already.
Leaf plates have a relatively low carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is defined as: it is the total amount of carbon emitted directly or indirectly by the humans, organisation, event or product. It is measured in the tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). You might be shocked to learn that burning just 1 kg of oil produces about 3 kg CO2. Similarly, every kg of plastic produces between 2-6 kg of Carbon Dioxide during production. Leaf plates main production of CO2 comes from their transportation.
It is important to know how our actions and consumption are affecting the environment and ourselves. Use of plastics has been identified as one of the major causes for global warming due to significant CO2 emissions but also the fat that these products take decades if not centuries to degrade means the waste we produce now will still be here for many future generations to deal with.
Leaf plates are becoming a significant solution to paper and plastic plates. We hope that TAPARI will be an important part of this.