Emirati entrepreneur carves out green cutlery business using fallen date palm leaves

Lamis Al Hashimy’s start-up, Palmade, serves up a local eco-friendly solution to fight single-use plastic

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An Emirati entrepreneur is making use of fallen date palm tree leaves by converting them into eco-friendly cutlery.

Lamis Al Hashimy’s company, Palmade, manufactures cutlery from discarded date palm tree leaves that can be composted and turned into fertiliser to nourish the growth of more trees.

This is just the start of her ambition to develop a range of products from the date palm to replace single-use plastic in the UAE and overseas.

In a Dubai factory, machines whirr as the fibrous, sturdy leaves are ground to powder, combined with extracts such as sugar cane, converted into pellets and moulded into knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks and coffee stirrers.

The big dream is to make other materials around the date palm tree and remove plastic of short life span
Lamis Al Hashimy, co-founder, Palmade Biodegradable Products

The disposable cutlery looks and feels like plastic and is being used in hotels and supermarkets in the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait.

“I’m a mother of three and I wanted to create something my kids would learn from and be proud of,” said Ms Al Hashimy, co-founder of Palmade Biodegradable Products, while supervising orders at the factory in Dubai Investment Park.

Behind her, a row of conveyor belts roll out clusters of spoons and forks.

Cartons are readied for shipment with the tag: “Palmade – proudly made in the UAE with leaves from our date palm trees.”

“It’s eco-friendly, biodegradable, compostable and addresses a major problem,” she told The National.

“We are using material from an indigenous tree – there is value to be harnessed from discarded palm leaves.

“We are not cutting trees down but reusing leaves that otherwise get thrown away or burnt.

“With this, we can replace single-use plastic that is destroying our oceans, our land.”

Founded in 2019, the UAE company was launched during the Expo in October 2021.

The company partners with Emaar and teams collect leaves trimmed in tree-lined Dubai communities to produce the disposable cutlery.

The cutlery is used in Emaar hotels, at food and beverage outlets during the Formula One Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, Spinneys supermarkets and was widely used in food stalls during Cop28 in Dubai.

From manufacturing 10,000 units every two weeks, the factory now produces 70,000 daily pieces.

The aim is to build the business in the region and take the company to markets in Asia and Europe.

From waste to value

It took years of experimentation in her garage for Ms Al Hashimy, working with her husband, to find home-grown solutions.

They first began collecting date palm leaves near their Dubai home in 2014 and turned these into paper bags and stationery.

Then they worked with academics and students at UAE University in Al Ain to create a product that needs less water than paper – bioplastics.

“This can be moulded into different things and we use a material we have created by combining date palm leaves with plant biopolymers like extracts of sugar cane or soya beans,” she said.

“This acts like a glue that binds the fibres of the leaves together to give strength and malleability to the cutlery.”

The company will soon add straws to its disposable collection.

Golf tees and hair clips from the leaves will be the first steps in the sports equipment and fashion accessory sectors.

Taking a stance

The campaign against single-use plastics is gathering momentum.

The UAE imposed a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags earlier this year. The government announced it would prohibit the import of plastic cutlery, drinks cups and styrofoam from 2026.

The UN has said single-use plastics have led to an environmental catastrophe with up to 12 million tonnes of plastic swept into the oceans annually.

Dangerous microplastics are consumed by fish and enter the global food chain.

Ms Al Hashimy said more people need to understand that individual actions have far-reaching effects.

But it has been a challenge convincing companies to move away from buying cheaper imported plastic cutlery – a plastic spoon typically costs 5 fils and a Palmade product is about 12 fils.

It’s the larger message of buying a UAE-made green product that Ms Al Hashimy wants to drive home.

“People say what difference will I make, I’m just one person. This discounts individual efforts to make better choices,” she said.

“There are bottlenecks when I try to gain a new client because they compare us to plastic.

“I always say plastics are unfairly priced if you add what it does to the environment.

“There is an intrinsic value to shifting to a sustainable product and I believe customers now expect this of restaurants.”

Her husband and co-partner, Yousuf Caires, said it is time companies make the call to move to a locally available alternative to plastic.

He said verifying that Palmade is eco-friendly is possible due to the stringent certification process in the UAE.

“We have the certificates – but above and beyond that, you can come to the factory so you know what you are buying is really sustainable,” said Mr Caires, an executive director at Expo City Dubai who has led efforts to identify green start-ups worldwide.

Love for the date palm

Building a product from the date palm tree is at the heart of the company’s story.

“People connect to the date palm whether or not they are Emirati,” Ms Al Hashimy said.

“Most of us have sat under the shade of the date palm or eaten from it.

“You can't not be part of it having lived in the UAE.

“The big dream is to make other materials around the date palm tree and remove plastic that has a short lifespan.

“When people hear our journey, all this becomes relatable.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:01 PM