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Eateries bring in edible cutlery

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MUMBAI: Of late, customers ordering soft drinks at the KFC outlet near Ghansoli station have been walking up the two flights of stairs leading to the sitting area in the careful, measured manner of an English butler. Taking their eyes off the beverage mug on their tray, after all, would mean risking spillage. That’s because the brimming beverage cups now come without the customary plastic lid and straws, laying bare ice cubes that jump precariously as one makes one’s way up.

In the run-up to the plastic ban from June 23 onwards, the food industry is busy rethinking its life in plastic. If some restaurants have made the switch to paper bags and cups, others are using edible cutlery. Starbucks, for one, has replaced its green plastic straws with paper straws and serves even cold frappes in paper cups. Then, some firms such as Coca-Cola and Bisleri have even started collecting waste plastic from the city for recycling.

Just over 15 days ago, Grandmama’s Cafe, which has seven outlets in Mumbai, returned its residual stock of plastic bags and cups to its vendors. “We sold it at half the price,” says assistant restaurant manager of the Juhu outlet, Umesh Mane. While their graduation to paper cups has been fairly smooth, the shift to eco-friendly silver foil containers and paper bags has been a somewhat sticky affair, quite literally. “When we get orders for greasy, gravy-based items, sometimes there is spillage and customers complain of soggy bags,” says Mane.

Besides, cold beverages don’t warm up to paper cups. At The Pantry, Fort, which replaced plastic straws and glasses with paper versions three years ago, one will now find reusable stainless steel straws. Besides, their bid to be eco-friendly has recently seen them get rid of wooden boxes and cutlery in favour of ones made of corn starch. “But we are still trying to find alternatives for serving juice. Unlike coffee, which is thick, juice is thin and makes a paper cup soggy,” says restaurant manager Vijay Mohit.
 

This search for sustainable straws and cutlery has also birthed startups. For Rhea Chhabria, a 26-year-old footwear designer who quit her job in Delhi to move to Mumbai to bring about eco-awareness, a conversation provided the spark to venture in the business of sustainable straws. While having brunch at a popular restaurant in Mumbai, she happened to speak to eco-warrior chef Kelvin Cheung, who was struggling to find eco-friendly straws. “Immediately, I called my now-partner Suraj Nair for his in-depth knowledge and expertise in the steel and machinery industry to try and come up with a solution. Together we worked on research, development, prototyping, conducting a pilot run and collecting feedback,” says Chhabria, who soon co-founded SuckIN Eco Straws earlier this year.

Even the hospitality industry is busy throwing its plastic in the garbage. Aluminium bins, cloth bags, glass cutlery and reusable toiletries have materialised at Hotel Sahara Star. “Plastic is quite a versatile material. It’s durable, inexpensive and lightweight. To find a similar medium in light of the ban has been difficult,” says the hotel’s deputy general manager, Salil Fadnis.

Not many needed the ban to see plastic as a villain though. “Except for two squeezy bottles of vanilla essence, there is no plastic in my shop. Even the tissue holder is made of metal,” says Asad Siddiqui of Andheri’s Shake Shop, which has never used plastic spoons, cutlery or bags. He has even instructed his staff to ask clients who insist on a straw for their kids, ‘Would you really like a straw?’ They usually get the hint. To be sure, this has earned him one negative online review, but Siddiqui says he can live with that. “I can afford to lose one customer.”

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