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Sustainable STEM: Greenprint (birchwood-based) Flatware

Updated: Aug 18, 2022


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Welcome to another post on alternative-to-plastic flatware (spoons, forks, knives) options for your STEM/STEAM class! If you have not read about some of the items we have explored so far like rice straws, bamboo straws, and Kraft tape, you can check them out! Interested in trying these eco-friendly products out yourself? Check out a Ben + STEM Sustainable STEM Sample box.

For many of us, we envision our STEM class as a space for students to tinker with materials and develop solutions to local, regional, national, and global problems. It has bothered me the last few years how much disposable plastic I was using in my class while asking the students to develop solutions to environmental problems. Granted I did rummage through recycling bins to reuse items, but I rarely brought in metal spoons, forks, and knives for my students to use. After we were finished with projects, the plastic knives, forks, and spoons, usually ended up in the trashcan.

Credit: Padraig Treanor

According to the National Geographic Society (2019), single-use plastic accounts for 40% of the plastic produced each year. Thinking about alternative materials for flatware can be one impactful solution to a multi-tiered problem of alleviating material waste and creating a sustainable STEM classroom.

So flatware made from wood products- is this a decent solution for STEM activities? I purchased a box of Greenprint Disposable Wooden Cutlery and see how it holds up when compared to plastic flatware. I then share some background information on eco-friendliness to help inform your decision if these may be a good fit for your STEM classroom.



Credit: Marco Meyer


The Greenprint product is made from birchwood. Birch is a short-lived, deciduous hardwood tree that lives in temperate and boreal climates throughout the northern hemisphere. The trees are native to Europe, Asia, and North America. Products derived from birchwood include, but are not limited to, plywood, oils, topical medicine, paper, gels, soaps, beer, shampoos, tar, percussion instruments, and speakers cabinets. Yes, if you learn anything from reading this...the natural resonance of birchwood (specifically Baltic Birchwood) is ideal for speaker cabinets.


Speakers

Credit: Sandy Kawadkar


Let's dive into Greenprint Wooden Flatware and see what it's like...


Company Description: According to their website, their flatware is as follows:

100% Biodegradable

Compostable

Renewable

Non-Toxic

Chemical Free

BPA Free


This flatware is also registered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit organization that certifies organizations that align with the FSC mission- “to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests.”


Decomposition Timeline and Process: Decomposition time is approximately 80-90 days to compost. Wooden flatware can be composted in backyard composts heaps or your school garden.


Physical Characteristics: They feel like fork-, knife-, and spoon-shaped popsicle sticks! They are very light and sturdy. The tines on the fork and serrations on the knife are not extremely sharp, so small children (hypothetically) shouldn’t injure themselves by lightly touching those surfaces.


Tensile Strength: The flatware is strong and has a little flex to it. I wouldn’t be too rough with this cutlery, but they are not brittle either.



Longevity in Liquid: I soaked some of the flatware in water for three hours to see what happened. The flatware resembled the typical characteristics of wood when submerged in hot water (183F) and cold water (65F). Similar to popsicle sticks, they floated in the water and dried quickly without any notable changes in shape and tensile strength.


Conclusion: Avoiding single-use items and sticking to more permanent solutions is ideal (i.e., metal or silicone flatware); however, single-use birch wood items certainly have an environmental advantage over single-use plastic flatware and I was a fan of them for this review. The compostability is also a huge plus for me! Another plus is that students may need to consider the unique qualities of birchwood flatware in design challenges as they differ in their physical properties from plastic flatware. However, always thinking about student safety, students may want to wear gloves in the off chance they get splinters.

Birchwood flatware also paints REALLY well!



Moving forward if you choose to try out birchwood flatware

  • Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions to dispose of the materials.

  • Be careful with possible splinters of the birchwood product, the edges are rough and it can be snapped easily if purposefully pressured to bend

  • Though this flatware is approved for use with food, young students must be closely supervised so they do not chew on the flatware.

  • The Greenprint flatware kept its characteristics in cold water and hot water. These forks, spoons, and knives would do well in STEM projects that are submerged in water.

  • Avoid birchwood brands that use plastic to individually wrap the flatware or packing materials. Greenprint did not use plastic in its packaging.

  • Some of the items reviewed in our sustainable STEM series have expiration dates. The Greenprint flatware does not have an expiration date on the packaging.


Keep an eye out for more at Ben + STEM as we continue to explore eco-friendly materials and supplies for your STEM or STEAM classroom! Interested in trying these eco-friendly products out? Check out a Ben + STEM Sustainable STEM Sample box.





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