Germany alone goes through over 360 million plastic ice cream spoons a year. After a few moments use, they end up in the trash or on the street. Placed end to end they’d extend 34,000 kilometers. Amelie Vermeer (25) and Julia Piechotta (26), entrepreneurs in Heidelberg in southwest Germany, invented an idea to end the waste: Spoontainable, the first edible ice cream spoon. They’ve already sold 2 million. And it’s not their only product to avoid waste.
Vermeer and Piechotta, both of whom are environmentally conscious ice cream lovers, came up with their innovation – where else? – in an ice cream parlor. They were convinced that there had to be a better, healthier, tastier, and environmentally friendlier ice cream delivery system than a plastic spoon. So they began tinkering.
Dozens of recipes, a crowd-funding campaign, and countless kilos of ice cream later, in April 2019 they launched the Spoonie edible spoon. Spoonie Choc is made from cocoa-shell fibers, Spoonie Classic from oat fibers. “Both are sustainable because they utilize what otherwise would’ve been waste products. They’re also vegan, sugar-free, and climate-neutral,” Vermeer says. “And for those who prefer not to eat the spoon: they’re 100% biodegradable.”
Just in time: disposable plastic is banned in the EU from 2021 onward. Bioplastics offer some promise, although they decompose a bit too slow for compost and, if they end up in residual waste, are hard to recycle. Spoonies, by contrast, end up ice cream eaters’ stomach. More than 300 ice cream parlors in Germany and eleven other European countries have opted for Spoonies. In October 2020 top German discount retailer Aldi chose Spoonie Choc for one of its dessert-to-go products. “Having a prominent partner like Aldi is great,” Piechotta says. “Together, we want to encourage as many people as possible to use less plastic.”
Currently, Germany produces 11 million metric tons of plastic waste annually, more than any other European country. Takeaway restaurants, which have boomed during corona, have propelled this trend. Moreover, studies by non-profit organizations in Germany (Bund Naturschutz and the Heinrich Böll Foundation) indicate that between 1950 and 2015 only about 10% of plastic worldwide was recycled.
Orders from customers like mass retailer Aldi and Coppenrath, a cookie manufacturer in northwest Germany, have enabled Soontainable to increase production to up to 500,000 spoonies a day. Depending on the quantity ordered, the unit price is 5 to 8 cents. The startup now employees six people. “We always have ice cream in the office,” Piechotta said. “Employees can use it for product testing or motivational purposes.”
While most ice cream parlors in Germany are closed for the winter, Spoontainable’s founders are developing a product for a year-round application: coffee. By March 2021 at the latest, Vermeer and Piechotta aim to launch an edible coffee stirrer that won’t dissolve even in hot coffee. “We want to demonstrate that small steps can lead to big things. That’s why we’re working to expand our product range.”