Two young Zapotec entrepreneurs in Oaxaca are using an innovative and local alternative to plastic and Styrofoam to join in the effort to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable materials and prevent environmental damage.
Hambre Feroz (Ferocious Hunger) sold its first hamburgers to hungry customers just nine months ago in Juchitán, but already Samantha and Luis Fernando — who were identified only by their first names — have made a name for themselves by wrapping their meals in banana leaves.
The two say that the move towards ecologically-conscious packaging was inspired by innovative solutions in other parts of the world and a sense of urgency to move away from practices that pollute and degrade the environment.
“We saw how in Asian cultures, especially in Thailand, they use banana leaves [to package different foods] and we wanted to do it in our business, too, not to copy them or because it’s a fad, but because we believe that we need to protect the environment and to save it starting now. We cannot wait any longer; our mother Earth is undergoing an environmental collapse, and I believe that we should live naturally starting with our businesses and other small spaces.”
Packaging is especially important to Hambre Feroz; the company does not have a fixed location, but makes its sales online and delivers its products. Samantha and Luis Fernando said that although there was some initial pushback against their new natural packaging, many people have applauded the decision.
Another big advantage is that the new packaging saves money: the Styrofoam plates they used before cost double what they now spend on banana leaves in Juchitán’s market.
The two added that environmentally responsible packaging is just one of their efforts. They also donate a peso from every hamburger sale to a reforestation campaign that that they hope to launch soon in their hometown.
Additionally, the cooking oil they use in their hamburgers is recycled to make ecological soap, which they donate.
“Our principal concern is to begin to take care of the environment as well as fair business practices. We are young, but we are sure of the need to establish a socially responsible business.”
Samantha and Luis Fernando’s packaging solution follows a law approved in April by the Oaxaca Congress to ban single-use plastic throughout the state, giving its 570 municipalities one year to prohibit the material.
Local governments have also established measures to against non-biodegradable materials. At the beginning of this year, Santiago de Laollaga became the first municipality in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to declare itself plastic-free and in the young business owners’ hometown of Juchitán, one of the principal food markets levies a fine on merchants who give plastic bags to customers.
Another Oaxaca entrepreneur who has eschewed Styrofoam is a Oaxaca city street vendor who now sells his corn snacks on corn husks rather than plastic.