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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

Local entrepreneur develops eco-friendly dishes

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Larry Ohlman III says his efforts to make an eco-friendly flowerpot led to his biodegradable tableware line. Larry Ohlman III says his efforts to make an eco-friendly flowerpot led to his biodegradable tableware line.
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How does one go from raising orchids to creating a line of dinnerware?

"It's actually not that far of a deviation," said local entrepreneur Larry Ohlman III, who has spent the last 18 months designing a line of ecologically friendly plates and bowls.

Four years ago, Mr. Ohlman, 29, was growing and selling varieties of orchids for his family's Ohlman Farm and Greenhouse Inc., of Toledo. But he was experimenting with materials to make an eco-friendly flowerpot.

"From there it kind of segued into tableware production," he said.

Next month, a limited list of retailers will begin carrying his Eco-Collection tableware, which the Food and Drug Administration has certified as 100 percent natural.

The products - dinner plate, salad plate, and bowl in shades of mocha and light natural brown - are made primarily of powdered bamboo fibers mixed with biological-based polymers at high temperature. However, when an owner tires of the dinnerware it could be buried in a landfill or even a backyard.

"It would break down 100 percent in a landfill. We have already tested it for compostability," Mr. Ohlman said. "It would be gone in six months."

Dan Seigel is chief executive of EVO.com, a Web site that evaluates the eco-friendliness of "green" consumer products and provides links and information on where to buy them. He said Mr. Ohlman is not the first to come up with eco-friendly dinnerware but he probably has "the best of both worlds."

Several EVO vendors have plates that are fully biodegradable and will break down in six months. But such plates, made from palm leaves, sugar cane fibers, or corn-based plastics, are mostly for short-term use and are not too durable, Mr. Siegel said.

"It sounds like what he's got has more durability and lasts longer," Mr. Siegel said.

John DuVall, owner of Honey I'm Home, a home decor specialty store on Monroe Street in Sylvania, said Mr. Ohlman's invention has another quality: aesthetics. It has "great colors and its's got a great feel to it," he said.

He added: "It's just a great concept. Going 'green' is the new hip thing."

The product is priced at $10 for an 11-inch dinner plate, $9 for a 8 1/2-inch salad plate, and $8 for a bowl. That's much higher than more common dinner sets. At Target, for example, a set of four dinner plates, four salad plates, four bowls, and four mugs costs about $30.

Mr. Ohlman plans to sell his dinnerware beginning Sept. 1 through his Web site, www.ecologicproduct.com. In October, it will be in stores including Claudia's Natural Food Market. He hopes to place it in national retailers.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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