It’s no secret that we collectively waste an enormous amount of materials that could otherwise be creatively repurposed or eliminated altogether, with so-called “single-use” items being among the worst offenders. But does it make any sense at all to make product packaging, to-go containers, and coffee cup lids out of materials that don’t biodegrade? The fact is that the world is full of alternatives that break down a lot faster or are, themselves, by-products of another manufacturing process — and some of them last a lot longer than you might think.

Aerial view of select pieces from Evelina Kudabaité's new GIRIA biodegradable dishware collection.

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Designer Evelina Kudabaité saw an opportunity in a material that’s often overlooked. Tree bark is typically removed from logs before they’re processed into lumber for architecture, furniture, and other projects, creating “slash piles” of unwanted material that then has to be discarded. While some mills send this material to chipping facilities to become mulch, the logistics of transporting it aren’t always financially feasible, and it often gets burned instead.

So what if materials like this could be “rescued” by craftspeople for another purpose? Kudabaité’s new “GIRIA” collection upcycles this waste into a range of beautiful tableware that retains the pleasant properties of plant-based materials. Consisting of plates, bowls, platters, and jugs, GIRIA is made of tree bark scraps collected from sawmills which are then dried, chopped, and mixed with powdered leaves.

GIRIA is here to help cut back on the obscene amount of tree bark waste in our world.

The Lithuania-based artist mixes these materials into a paste and shapes them by hand into the vessels, coating them with a non-toxic finish that can be gently washed with a cloth. Since they can’t be washed directly in a sink, they’re not ideal for everyday dishes, but they can still serve beautiful decorative purposes, or inspire short-term food usage as an alternative to harmful plastics.

The finished dishes retain a rustic look that reminds us where they came from, and that there’s plenty more of the same materials to be had, especially as a byproduct of sustainably managed working forests. The different kinds of leaves and powders used in the making of each object, including charcoal for darker tones, gives them a unique look. No two pieces will ever be identical.

One of the biodegradable bottles that makes up the GIRIA dishware collection.

GIRIA biodegradable bowls and plates are great for storing herbs and spices.

The official GIRIA website explains that “the project is aimed to pass the sensations of the forest through material, to establish a connection between the user and the object. This collection is a result of an experimental process by which it was meant to show how materials, which are destined to become waste — tree bark and leaves — can be transformed into sustainable design through the traditional crafts like cooking and clay molding.”

“It is a research on the alternative and unconventional ways to shape wood, which reminds [one] of the culinary process. During the research, a recipe of a unique material that consists of harmless organic substances has been found. No two items in GIRIA are the same: each is made by hand, and the bark dust of different kinds of trees (oak, pine, ash, and tree leaves) gives a unique texture, varying in color and roughness of a surface.”

A few GIRIA biodegrable bowls stacked up next to a piece of the tree bark used to make them.

Kudabaité adds that “the collection distinguishes itself from mass production, making the products as individual as their owners.”