Americans thow away a trillion disposable plates every year. Almost all of them are made from plastic-coated paper.
Michael Dwork, on holiday in India in 2006, was impressed by street vendors who served their snacks on leaves. Dwork traveled through southern Asia looking for the perfect leaf that could be developed into a disposable plate that would appeal to Americans. He finally settled on a type of palm leaf which is common in India.
Dwork developed a plate which contains no plastics, waxes or other chemicals. They can be safely used in a microwave, conventional oven or freezer and can be hand washed for re-use. The plates biodegrade after about six weeks.
Dwork has set up a company, Verterra, to manufacture the plates in India. At about 75 cents each, they are much more expensive than plastic-coated paper plates but cheaper than single-use bamboo plates.
Verterra’s leaf material has drawn interest from manufacturers in other fields including packaging and for temporary furniture and flooring for exhibits.