To wage a war against plastic pollution and the depleting groundwater levels due to rice cultivation, Hyderabad-based Narayana Peesapaty quit his job as a senior researcher with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. His weapon of choice was edible cutlery. “Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental challenges we are faced with but we also need to look into the issue of groundwater management, given that India is a major exporter of the water-intensive crop — rice,” says Peesapaty, over the phone.
In 2010, he established Bakey’s in Hyderabad, which produces vegan and degradable cutlery — spoons, forks and chopsticks — out of a mix of jowar, rice flour and wheat. Jowar’s neutral taste profile makes it easy to pair with a variety of dishes and the cutlery is tough enough to even spoon soup with. “It takes about 15 minutes for the spoon to get soggy,” he says.
Peesapaty, who received the Swachh Bharat Award from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of World Environment Day last month, says “When I told people that this is a natural product with no chemicals, they did not believe me. And the ones who did, only congratulated me and nothing really happened.”
But his persistence seems to have paid off. To meet increased demand, Bakey’s has now created an automated system to multiply their production. For Peesapaty, however, “one of the best aspects of the machine is the fact that our female workforce, who were earlier housewives or held semi-skilled jobs, helped us create it. I always tilt towards hiring women because I have noticed that men focus on profit maximisation while women concentrate on profit optimisation,” says Peesapaty.
While Peesapaty’s zero-waste process to create the natural product is basking in acclaim, is there any incentive to shift from metal to edible cutlery? “There really isn’t much of an incentive to choose our product over steel cutlery but it takes about 4.5 ml of water to make one spoon of ours whereas just washing a steel spoon requires 25-30 ml of water. Also, in places like canteens or during events, when you switch to edible cutlery, you know it is hygienic for it is something that can never be reused,” he says.