Hungarian engineer-turned-entrepreneur Zoltán Tóth believes in a cleaner environment by working toward solutions that tackle serious waste issues.
Tóth founded Ocean Friendly Cutlery (OFC), a deposit-refund stainless steel cutlery dispensing machine to eliminate single-use cutlery waste and pollution.
“My dream was to invent a product that does not exist on the market,” he said. “I wanted to offer something that has the potential to make a big difference all over the world.”
The cutlery machine, which is patent-pending, is marketed to food service providers as a way of offering utensils that are not only more environmentally friendly, but also serve as a cost-savings alternative to the 100 billion pieces of single-use cutlery used every year in Europe, according to Transparency Market Research.
With the OFC machine, operators can fill the device with cleaned, sanitized reusable eating utensils. Customers then insert a coin or token into the machine and then select the cutlery needed. When finished, customers then return the used cutlery back into the machine and are refunded their deposit.
The result, according to Tóth, is a more efficient and eco-friendly way to conduct business for many in the food service industry who use single-use cutlery, including quick-serving establishments such as food courts, airports, buffet-style restaurants, hospitals, universities and others.
OFC comes on the heels of a decision by the European Commission to ban the commercial use of single-use plastic cutlery beginning in July of 2021 in an effort to reduce plastics that end up in the oceans.
According to California-based Plastic Ocean International, 25.8 million tons of plastic waste is generated every year in Europe, and less than 30 percent of that waste is recycled.
Tóth said some alternatives have been developed for use in place of plastic utensils, but single-use cutlery made from other materials may not be the right answer, either.
“Possible available single-use cutlery alternatives are made of wood, bamboo or biodegradable products, but those things still generate a lot of waste and require a lot of natural resources. They are also more expensive,” he said. “But multi-use cutlery is less expensive, most ecological and diners reportedly have a more enjoyable consumption experience from real utensils.”
Some places do offer self-serve multi-use silverware, typically displayed in open bins. But Tóth said there are many reasons why that practice is neither efficient nor effective. He said open-bin utensil displays present a risk of hygiene concerns, additional waste and theft. In the OFC machine, all multi-use silverware is enclosed and separate from other food and food-related packaging waste, making it less likely that it could accidentally be discarded. Cutlery is dispensed individually making it much more sanitary for the customer rather than being available in a shared container. The machine also prevents theft of utensils – if they are not returned, the deposit is kept. Tóth said another advantage for businesses to have the machine is an easier collection process of used cutlery.
Tóth is a long-time advocate of waste-reducing measures. He served Electrolux Lehel Kft as COO from 2000-2005 before being appointed as the CEO of Electro-Coord Hungary Nonprofit Kft, an organization that established and operates electronic waste collection, recycling and recovery systems in Hungary.
From 2008-2011, he served as a member of the board of directors for WEEE Forum – Brussels, a coordination of e-waste collection organizations in European Union member states.
Although he retired in 2017, Tóth has continued his quest to create awareness and forward-thinking solutions that are both eco-friendly and cost-saving for businesses.
“Be brave to choose the obvious,” he said.