Eco-friendly leaf plates in high demand
Dishes made from betel leaf are 100% disposable and not harmful to nature
The leaves of Areca palms and betel vines are fast becoming unlikely champions in the fight against plastic waste generation in Bangladesh.
There is a vast market for plastic thermocol-made utensils across the globe, including in Bangladesh, as the majority of restarurants and food establishments depend on them for their low cost and disposability. However, plastic is notoriously resistant to natural decay, so the use of disposable plastic utensils leads to a perpetually rising mountain of waste.
However, utensils made from leaves have been growning in demand in the country because of their environment-friendly nature. Dishes made from Areca nut leaves have drawn attention as they are easy to wash and comfortable while traveling.
At the same time, dishes made from betel leaf are solid and durable. These eco-friendly dishes are 100% disposable and not harmful to nature. The products are natural, compostable, and biodegradable and yet look stylish.
In view of the rising demand, some small and medium enterprises have been set up in different parts of the country to cater to local demand.
“We make areca plates and cups, such as areca bowls and other disposable utensils. We are making products from sustainable resources (fallen leaves) following an eco-friendly process and will ensure that it is acceptable to the earth when disposed of (biodegradable and compostable),” said Mamunur Rashid, the owner of Brothers Areca Leaf.
He has been producing different products, including utensils, since 2019. His small factory is located in Raipur Upazila of Laxmipur. He collects betel leaves from the local farmers, trained to preserve such delicate but cheap material.
“One of the main obstacles to my business flourishing is lack of awareness among people, among whom are farmers who supply raw material to me,” Mamunur said.
Bright Areca Ltd started its business with only six machines a couple of years ago, and now the number has doubled. Imran Hossain, managing director of the company, said they could not tap the market due to a fund crunch.
“We have been unable to fulfill the local demand. There is a lot we can do if we have the means, since the raw material is not a problem here,” he said.
As the idea of leaf-made utensils is still entirely new in Bangladesh, no significant research has been conducted to determine the local demand and ways to improve marketing or branding.
Despite this, the handful of companies operating in Bangladesh is finding it hard to fulfill customer demands, Imran added.
Mamunur also could not make great amends in the market already captured by the plastic thermocol-made utensils. But due to his determination and belief in his products, he has already started procuring machinery from neighboring India.
“I have not conducted any research on the market size of such plates, but the 10- and 12-inch plates that we make are becoming popular among retailers, most of whom are online shop owners,” Mamunur added.
Asked about challenges in the business, Mamunur cited the lack of preparedness of courier services for delivering such delicate utensils made of leaves. “My business is not that big, and I cannot afford my delivery channel. Therefore, good or bad, I am being forced to rely on the existing channels, which are not cost-effective either.”
He said the initiatives taken by him and some other factories in the country have failed to make a noise till now. “The customers are unaware of these products' usefulness and quality. Thus, it is necessary that these entrepreneurs come together in branding and marketing their products so they can also share knowledge,” Mamunur said.
“Our mission is to serve people by ensuring a clean environment and, more importantly, reach hygienic products at affordable prices. Each plate can cost around Tk12 to Tk25 depending on variety at the consumer level,” he said.
Collecting the leaves is hazardous, and the quality varies as farmers are not yet familiar with the opportunity that areca leaves carry.
“This makes a huge impact on the quality of the products, and not all the batches carry similar quality,” he said.
Customers may find varying product qualities; they also vary in prices, Mamunur added.
“Our Areca dinnerware stands up to hot foods and liquids. Soup or sauces won’t leak and will not flirt with the taste. The plates can be used even after six months of storage,” said the entrepreneur.