Cups made from sugar cane? Bowls and plates from bamboo? Bottles made of corn? Catering Goes Green

 - December 1, 2008, 6:10 AM

Catering is going green. In this case, green doesn’t refer to salads or veggies, beans or tea, but rather the tableware on which they’re served– cups, bowls, plates.

Environmentally friendly, this tableware is biodegradable and/or compostable and made from fast-growing, renewable plant materials, from bamboo to sugar cane.

Cups made from sugar cane? Bowls and plates from bamboo? Bottles made of corn? Yep. Just as remarkable, they’re microwave, oven and refrigerator safe. Welcome to the 21st century.

Paula Kraft recognized the need for environmentally friendly tableware about a year ago when a client who called her Tastefully Yours catering company in Atlanta demanded that its orders be packed in eco-friendly containers. In fact, his requirement was that everything in the package–cups, trays, boxes, plates and wrapping paper–meet an eco-friendly standard.

“The cost is only about 10 or 15 percent more than what we pay for comparable packaging and plating from petroleum-based plastics,” said Tastefully Yours executive chef Dan James.

Steve LaRosa, a partner with Sensations In-Flight Catering in Saugus, Mass., just outside Boston, is providing packaging and plating made from corn. “It’s attractive,” said LaRosa, “and in a compost pile it breaks down in 20 to 30 days.”

Biota of Telluride, Colo., claims it has created “the world’s first compostable” bottle from corn. The bottle will degrade within 75 to 80 days in a commercial composting process. By contrast, notes the company, the traditional plastic bottle “will never biodegrade.”

Verterra of New York City uses a palm leaf unique to India and employs a method of steam, pressure and UV sterilization to make its line of biodegradables. It uses only fallen leaves to make its products.

The Sugar Cane Paper Company makes its products from the byproduct of the sugar extraction process, or bagasse. It is a process, according to the company, not unlike that used by the ancient Egyptians in making “paper” from the papyrus plant.

Tableware from Innoware of Alpharetta, Ga.,

is made from a variety of natural raw materials. The sugars from the plant materials are fermented in “a process similar to making yogurt and then transformed to a high-performance polymer called polylactide.” The resulting resin is the basis for all the company’s tableware, which Inno-ware claims will biodegrade in composting within 60 and 180 days “with no toxic residue.”

Sysco Foods of Houston is a major supplier of biodegradable and compostable packaging and such and carries lines from seven suppliers. A quick search of the Internet revealed more than 100 companies now engaged in producing eco-friendly kitchen and dining tableware, but only a handful of them make eating utensils.

“It’s not that easy, being green,” sang Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street fame.

Perhaps not, but business aviation caterers are going in that direction, and as Kermit concluded, “I think it’s what I want to be.”