[Column] Cutlery calamity

A real feast for the eyes, Dap Hartmann ironically calls TU Delft’s new light blue sustainable plastic cutlery. In this column, he lucidly explains why.

(Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Last month, TU Delft celebrated its birthday and no expense was spared. On the occasion of Dies Natalis, the university generously gifted all students and staff a reusable cutlery set worth 0.83. Mind you, the total price is 2, because there is an additional 17 cents for processing and transport plus 1 to distribute it to us. 

What a resounding success that stunningly beautiful cutlery is! I don’t see anyone using it, so I suspect that they placed it prominently in a display cabinet at home. The sublime light blue eating utensils are a real feast for the eyes. They come in an enchantingly beautiful plastic case that opens effortlessly and is itself contained in a gorgeous cardboard box to protect the aesthetic yet highly fragile print.

So much for the Antiques Roadshow. What an embarrassing display! I don’t know whether you have the hands of a six-year-old, but I think there is a fair chance that the cutlery is way too small for you as well. In the past, babies often received a spoon and a fork from their grandparents for when they started eating solid food. I still have my baby cutlery and it turns out to be the same size as this reusable cutlery. The spoon is the size of an egg spoon. Great for eating a soft-boiled egg, which you can’t get anywhere on campus. Somewhat less convenient for eating soup, unless your lunch break lasts an hour and a half. All this is   ̶f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶u̶p̶o̶n̶  granted to us for the purpose of making the campus more sustainable. Although manufactured in China, it was transported to Delft by ship and not by plane, by way of compensation. I would have preferred that the sustainability coordinator had personally picked up those 40,000 cutlery sets from China with a cargo bike. 

How truly sustainable it is when everyone cleans their cutlery with hot water?

It is unknown how long this reusable cutlery will last, nor whether microplastic particles are released during use, to enrich the meal with nutritious polymers. But the key question is of course: how truly sustainable it is when everyone cleans their cutlery with hot water? I bet my beautiful cutlery set that a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) performed by CE Delft will show that it is much worse compared to stainless steel cutlery that is collectively cleaned in a dishwasher. Because that is also true for cups, glasses and crockery, according to a report by CE Delft.

But wait a minute … didn’t we used to have metal cutlery before that was replaced by disposable plastic junk? And now we realise that wasn’t such a great idea, so we switch to reusable disposable cutlery. I really can’t imagine anyone using their reusable cutlery set more than 100 times. It will probably take some time before it finally sinks in that stainless steel cutlery that is cleaned collectively, is the most sustainable option and infinitely more convenient to use. At that point, we are back to square one and we have achieved circular insight. Bon appétit! 

Left to right: my baby cutlery, the reusable cutlery set, adult-sized cutlery. (Photo: Dap Hartmann)

Columnist Dap Hartmann

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