UWTensil: Making affordable, sustainable cutlery

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Congratulations to fourth-year Chemical Engineering students Gavin Lee, Nishita Saha, Minh Trinh and Andy Yang for the great success they have had generating interest in their new technology: a low-cost, biodegradable replacement for single-use plastic cutlery. With their $5,000 Concept $5K award, $10,000 Esch Pitch Competition win and $3,000 Bhattacharya Capstone Design Award, the Capstone Design team known as UWTensil is moving forward on their plan to take their fourth-year design project to market.

For their Capstone Design project, the team developed a novel wood-plastic made of wood sawdust and bio-based polymer poly-lactic acid (PLA) and designed a manufacturing process to mass-produce the material into cutlery for the food services industry.

Stronger, cheaper and bio-degradable

Seeing opportunity in the North American and European single-use plastic bans that begin this year, UWTensil set about creating an affordable substitute for the ubiquitous plastic cutlery that accompanies take-out meals. Their product is stronger and cheaper than the other non-plastic utensils available now, and its price is competitive to that of current plastic serving-ware.  

While the concept of combining sawdust and PLA is not new, the group is the first to have determined how to combine the materials effectively and cost efficiently. Their novel bio-fabrication process creates a strong and biodegradable composite. Furthermore, because the process requires a relatively small amount of the expensive PLA component compared to the much lower priced sawdust component, it’s cost-effective. And, unlike plastic, the new substance can be assimilated into the natural environment through the process of decomposition by micro-organisms, like bacteria.

The UWTensil team poses for a photograph.

UWTensil (L-R) Minh Trinh, Nishita Saha, Andy Yang and Gavin Lee would like to thank their advisor, Professor Tizazu Mekonnen, for his guidance throughout their Capstone Design project. They have raised $18,000 towards the costs of taking their new technology, a low-cost, biodegradable replacement for single-use plastic cutlery, to market.

All the best to UWTensil as they take the next steps to bring their biodegradable cutlery to market and give us all access to an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic knives and forks.

Watch UWTensil’s pitch at the Winter ’21 Concept $5k Competition: