Photo/IllutrationMarushige Seika's edible plates, chopsticks and spoons (Masato Konishi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HEKINAN, Aichi Prefecture—Edible tableware may not sound tempting, but plates made of crisp wafers are attracting interest from environmentally conscious businesses.

Marushige Seika, a small company here, has seen orders pouring in for its E-Tray products after years of sluggish sales as businesses look for ways to reduce plastic waste.

The company, with a staff of about 50, produces crunchy, waterproof wafers to wrap ice cream, similar to soft serve cones. The wafers, mainly made of wheat and cornstarch, are a lesser-known specialty of Hekinan.

Marushige began developing an edible plate eight years ago for “yakisoba” noodles and other meals served at outdoor events with the intention of “reducing the amount of waste,” according to Katsuhiko Sakakibara, 41, a senior managing director.

The company repeatedly adjusted thickness and materials so the plates could be easily chewed but maintain their shape at least for one to two hours.

It also made the products tastier to discourage consumers from discarding them without tasting them.

Paste of raw shrimp was mixed into the wafers to give the plates a savory flavor. The plates also come in onion, roasted corn and purple sweet potato flavors. Hekinan is famous for its onion production.

Plates seasoned with chocolate and squid ink are made to order.

The plates drew attention for use at events and parties after they arrived on the market under the brand name of E-Tray, a combination of “eat” and “tray.”

Marushige also released edible chopsticks flavored with “igusa” rash used for covering tatami mats.

But sales remained unstable. While the company’s sales totaled 180 million yen ($1.62 million) in the last business year, edible tableware accounted for only 5 million yen.

The turning point came last summer when the U.S. coffee shop chain Starbucks announced it would stop using plastic straws.

Anti-plastic sentiment has since ballooned not only among global corporations, such as McDonald’s, but also among major Japanese restaurant chains.

A growing number of large U.S. cities have also imposed a ban on the use of plastic straws.

Sales of E-Tray products sharply increased this year. Orders for 6,000 to 7,000 plates came in between January and March from businesses trying to project an eco-friendly image, although annual sales were only 3,000 or so in previous years.

Marushige is looking to develop an edible spoon by the end of the year to sell in Japan and abroad.

“There is large demand for spoons around the world,” said Sakakibara.