• Ariel Green

Creating a Sustainable Dining Routine with Pallavi Pande, Founder of DTOCS Palm Leaf Plates

Updated: May 26



We all know by now that single use plastics are bad for the environment. So we typically stay away from things like straws, plastic silverware, and plastic, paper, or Styrofoam tableware. However, you may be having an event where you need to use disposable tableware and you want to make the most eco-friendly choice.



In today's podcast episode we're talking with Pallavi Pande, founder DTOCS, a brand that makes environmentally friendly disposable tableware. DTOCS tableware is made from naturally fallen palm leaves. They are chemical free, plastic free, compostable, microwave safe, elegant and single use disposable. The brand employs a majority female workforce and part of the proceeds from sales go towards improving education for the poor local communities in India. DTOCS plates and tableware are made with a focus on quality that makes them a great fit for your daily use as well as weddings and special events.


Find DTOCS online:

DTOCS Website

DTOCS LinkedIn

Facebook Group

Facebook Page

Instagram

TikTok


LISTEN HERE: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Watch on YouTube


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TRANSCRIPTION:


Ariel:

Hello, and welcome back to the Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage, and educate each other; from gardening to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We're all on a journey to taking care of our bodies and our planets. I'm your host, Ariel Green.


We all know by now that single-use plastics are bad for the environment. And we typically try to stay away from single-use items in general. However, you may be having any event or some days you may not just want to do the dishes and you want to make the most eco-friendly choice on disposable tableware. So that's where today's guest comes in. In this episode, we're talking to the founder of a brand that makes environmentally friendly disposable plates and bowls. And if you're listening to the audio podcast right now, be sure to go and watch the video on our YouTube channel as well, because you need to see how gorgeous these products are. But first, let's read a review from Apple podcasts. This one comes from Terry K and it's titled “Love the Sustainable Topics”. It reads, “Great advice for helping us all be more mindful of our impact on the planet, not just what we put in or on our bodies.”


Exactly. Terry, thank you so much for leaving this review. There are so many nuances to sustainability and we can all do a little bit every day to make an impact. Be sure to leave a review on Apple podcasts to have it featured in an episode. Now let's get back to the show. Today's featured sustainable Brown girl is Pallavi Pande the founder of DTOCS tableware made from naturally falling palm leaves. DTOCS plates and tableware are chemical-free, plastic-free, compostable, microwave safe, elegant, and single-use disposable. They are also the winners of the Next Day Award at the natural food expo for the most innovative new sustainable product on the market. Thank you so much for joining us today Pallavi Pande.


Pallavi:

I am so glad to be here. Thank you for having me.


Ariel:

Of course. I always like to start with your story. How did you become interested in sustainability?


Pallavi:

That is such a dear question to my heart because that is my why. A lot of people ask how? When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Children are like monkeys, monkey see monkey do.” And like most parenting, the best way to make these lessons stick is to teach by example and kids learn by watching you. I was taught certain things. When I was a child, I went to a Catholic convent school and my parents both are educators, they both are professors. They believe in education, they believe that education opens up your minds, your perspectives to different cultures and how do we just embrace life and that is what I wanted to conserve. I wanted to pass on what I've been taught like saving resources, saving electricity, saving water, just a little bit of habits that sustained, that lived with me even today.


And I just don't want it to end with me. I want that part of me, I want to see it in my children. I want them to have these sustainable habits that are just not for their own life, but also the environment around them. I wanted to pass on that responsibility, that legacy to my children and every little action. It's that every little action that they see that you're doing is what will actually have an impact on their life. I believe in having an impact by leading, by doing something and that is why I started off my company DTOCS, two years ago. And also, you can see I'm a woman of color and I was born and brought up in India so eating on leaves is a very cultural part of my childhood, for example, canapes.


And I remember growing up in India, we used to eat on these leaves on special occasions on festive occasions. When I came to this country 15 years ago, I was just so nostalgic about my childhood memories and eating leaves and food just tasting so better there. And I was like, how can I make this accessible to my children who are born here? Who barely go to India now and forget about eating outside. So, what do I do about this? And that is when I was like, the whole concept came from that childhood memory of eating on leaves. And I was like, let me introduce this concept to Western Orland, let me start DTOCS. So that is how I gathered all the resources, a team, a beautiful, grateful team that I have for DTOCS. We've been working together for the last two years and we built this in the last two years. So that is how I started.


Ariel:

Wow! That's amazing. It's so great that you were able to take this cultural aspect from your home country and to bring it here and modernize it and just make it usable for everyone. And it's great for the environment, it's really serving a purpose so that's just so amazing.


Pallavi:

Thank you. And people ask me, how do you do this? I'm like my motivation every day is my girls. When I wake up in the morning, I see who I have raised and how I've raised. It's like my children turning so eco-friendly, they talk about composting, they talk about recycling, they make sure I put the right thing in the right bin. So, how much more rewarding can it go beyond this?


Ariel:

Exactly. Wow, that's so great. So, growing up in India, I guess you mentioned that you guys ate on the leaves. Were there any other sustainable practices that were just ingrained there that when you came here, it was like, Ooh!


Pallavi:

Well, there are a lot, talk about the culture, the history, the heritage that we have, starting from the herbs to using everything natural. Talk about ginger and garlic, that's the mantra, the magical things, ingredients and everything that brings a lot of things to your body, does everything naturally. So, in terms of sustainability, I feel it's just not about one product or service, it's about living your lifestyle in a certain way that gives you peace, that you're happy and content with.


For example, growing your vegetables, we did a lot back in India and, I'm from Portland, Oregon. And the amount of space you have in Oregon is very limited, but we try to make the best use of it. So, we have our own 20-foot veggie garden in the backyard. And every spring we try to get our hands dirty. My daughters love the earthworms, the bugs. So, it's very nice to see the way they connect to nature. And that is what I wanted. I desired that they are closer to nature because that's how we were and we were taught how to be kind to nature. So, we try to do that, do our own veggies at home, try to eliminate it in a way. I'm a chef at home. We do three meals in a day and, we've gone plant-based. I used to be a meat-eater, a big-time meat eater, and we've converted into a plant-based diet so minimizing food wastage. Our mantra is, “You just take what you can finish, do not overload or do not waste, it does not get in the sink or the trash.” So just a little bit of habits, that's how we grew up. We grew up seeing all of those, and that's how we incorporate those things into our lives.


Ariel:

Yes, exactly. I love that. Let's talk about the process of how you create the tableware. Obviously, we don't have palm trees in the… I mean, we do have palm trees, but not the same as what you have in India. So, what's the process of creating the tableware?


Pallavi:

Sure. My family lives in a very small town in the Himalayan mountains in India. Where Mount Everest is from the very north where it snows. Of course, there are no palm trees there. So, because nature is such a big part of our heritage and the whole eating on leaves, it brings nostalgia to me. The way we do it, the palm trees, is a cottage industry in the Southern part of India so that's a more humid, warmer coastal area in India and that's where there are these palm tree farms that are specifically designed for nurturing them in an ethical way with no pesticides and no chemicals, just for the purpose of creating these palm leaf tableware. It took me almost six months to narrow it down to a manufacturing unit where I wanted my products to be manufactured because, I want to give back to the community back in India because that's where I'm from, my roots and I really wanted to do something for farmers over there.


And second, a majority of the workers in our facility are women workers. Part of our sales, all of our sales, 10% of that goes to the education of the children of those women workers back in India. So that was very dear to me, my cause, or why am I doing this? And what do I want to achieve at the end and what do I want to teach my kids, seeing this impact that we can put on somebody's life.


First, I believe you should be capably now and then do something for somebody. And these palm trees that we talk about here, are not the palm trees that you would see on a beach in Hawaii or California, but these are a specific variety of palm trees. They call it a Beetle Nut or so formally Areca Nut. And, as I said, this is a cottage industry there and they grow it for this purpose, so there are palm tree farms. And the process behind it is, when the tree is nurtured, the leaves fall naturally from the tree, they are collected from the ground and they are sun-dried. They look exactly like wood, they have, the woody texture they're sturdy, you can literally knock on them and they will not break, so very bamboo style looking, leaf here. They are picked up and they are cleaned with fresh water and then the sheets… The leaf is so thick it's called a sheet, tuck sheet. It's hot compressed to give a different shape or different depth and then once it's the desired shape that you want, you cut it and then you sterilize it under the UV rays.


Each product is sterilized and clean. And then there's a quality check that is trimming up the edges so that they are softer. And then they are packed in a recycle shrink wrap, and then they're put in cottons to ship. So that is just the way they are manufactured and processed. And at DTOCS, we believe in the best quality so as you said, we got the Next Year awards in 2019 for the quality of our product so that means a lot. And because of our quality, we also audition for Shark Tank.


Ariel:

Oh, wow. Cool.


Pallavi:

Thank you. And of course, we didn't have the numbers. We were barely starting in 2019, so we have to audition again perhaps next year. So, I'm looking forward to it.


Ariel:

Yeah. That would be great. Shark tank is a great way to propel forward, but it sounds like you're doing great on your own as well.


Pallavi:

Thank you, means a lot.


Ariel:

So, what types of products do you have? I know you have the plates, but what else?


Pallavi:

So, we started two years ago with literally four products. Even today, when you see my Instagram handle, I don't know what I was thinking. It's called Woodward DTOCS plates because I only had a vision for plates. I was like, I don't know what I'm going to do. But today, after two years, I have 50 different kinds of products, like 50 different kinds of plates, five, zero 50. Yes. And my vision just doesn't stop there. I want to come up with takeaway boxes, to-go containers with leaflets or aluminum beds, at least, not the PLA, not the plastic lid. So that is something I'm working on and we should have something this year. And a new product launch that will be coming next month is the charcuterie boards? So, we have a famous 13-inch round coming up next month so we are launching that product and it's very famous among the charcuterie makers.


Ariel:

Wow! Oh my gosh, you have so much planned! I wouldn't have even thought about doing to-go containers, but I'm sure that there's a great need for that because more, states and cities are putting in place, different laws as far as single-use containers and bags and whatnot go.


Pallavi:

Yes. And I believe there are two main reasons for that, especially during COVID the pandemic.


Ariel:

Yeah.


Pallavi:

So, I believe the laws are great because they are encouraging products that minimize cross-contamination. So, for example, though they are single-use yes, but they beat the single-use plastics or the single-use paper products, but you have to cut down the trees and then you have to talk about recycling, which is what 50 years whereas here, the palm leaf products break down in four to six weeks.


Ariel:

Wow!


Pallavi:

Not kidding, four to six weeks. I've done it in my backyard. And if people are interested, I can show you, later on, we've done a time-lapse video, how it breaks down completely in four to six weeks, goes back to nature, there's zero waste. So, I believe, they are COVID safe because you don't have to put the dishes in and out, you don't have to put them in the dishwasher, you don't have to clean them and you can pick them up and put them in your recycle or trash bin or compost bin as your desire.


Ariel:

That's great because I know a lot of the compostable items on the market are machine compostable, it's not like it's going to break down in your backyard.


Pallavi:

Correct, there are still green emissions and it takes 50 years. Some of them take hundreds of years. Again, the word compostable is, could be so tricky because it could mean anything from one month to one year or even more so that is something people when they are conscious, pay attention to. What is the impact that it does on the environment, how long?


Ariel:

Exactly. Yeah. So that's great. Because I know, especially for me, when I'm buying something that says it's compostable and it's like, eh, can I really do it in my backyard? And I think that's one of the most important things because most cities and states don't have the ability to compost things. Until that becomes more mainstream then this is great, but even after it becomes mainstream, like this is great too.


Pallavi:

Thank you. Yeah. So again, as I said, no commission, composting required, all it takes is sunlight, water and air and in your backyard. Even if you have a pot, a pot of plant, put it in there, like a fertilizer. I've done it in a pot. Yeah.


Ariel:

What about silverware? Have you looked into making silverware?


Pallavi:

Yes. That is a very good question. I get it so many times. When am I launching the silverware? So, we actually do silverware. The only thing is it's not made from palm leaves because it's very hard to give the leaves that shape to get them into that, curvature and everything. It's very hard. You cannot, it's not possible because it breaks down.


Ariel:

Okay. Yeah. It makes sense. So, what's your silverware made from?


Pallavi:

So right now, the one we have gets sold out within a month so we barely stock it. It's from wood. We make it from wood.


Ariel:

Gotcha. Is that also compostable?


Pallavi:

Yeah, but it will not compost as soon as the palm leaves, it will not take four to six weeks, it will be longer than that.


Ariel:

Okay. I see. So, what are some other ways that people can make their dining routine more sustainable?


Pallavi:

Oh, wow! That is such an interesting question because I'm always looking out for revamping my dining room or perhaps our kitchen with all these sustainable eco-friendly products that are in the market. I believe the first way is to find out if you want to do it, if you really want to go green. And it's like, I'm speaking, I've had two years in this eco journey. And you mentioned, you've been going green for some time now. So first you have to find out if you want to do this because you want it to be sustainable, stick around and be content that you're doing your part, but just a couple of phase for anybody who is a starter or an expert could be, you can start it from reducing food waste and then, investing in efficient appliances in your kitchen, then having green cleaning supplies in your kitchen or around your house. They're so many non-toxic products these days.

And then, my favorite one is to grow your own produce. Why not? Or if you can't, which is understandable because you don't have space or you don't have the green thumb. Buy local, go to farmer's market, go support the local farmers so that's another way. And then the big three R’s of, sustainability, which are reduce, reuse and recycle. So, whatever you have, for example, we do the pasta sauce, the glass jars. We put a cookie and other gift items in there and we put a nice ribbon on there, a piece of cloth that we have and we gift it to friends. So, just upcycling what you have or not buying a lot and just working with what you have. Again, I told my kids to either use this or live without it, I'm not buying you more things.


So be strategic about, building your dining room, for example, choosing furniture that's ethical, choosing linens that require less water when you wash them something that's not very starchy and using softer napkins. There are so many ways to do this in your dining room and then get smarter about water. Some people have a filtration system, they don't like bottled water. You can also do terminal panels to generate your water at home so just a little bit of ideas of being smarter with the water. And then, start composting if you haven't yet, I know composting is not for everybody, but a start could be good with a smaller container and, giving it a try. So that is something people can do.


And the last one would be, I'll say being smarter about your disposables again. The single-use disposables, plastics, paper, Styrofoam and now that people know about these alternatives, which are palm leave tableware, giving them a try. And my purpose here on this call with you today is just to make them aware that there exists an alternative to these harmful products that are not only harmful to your lifestyle but also the environment. So, I'm glad you asked that question.


Ariel:

Yes. Wow. Those are so many tips, but also so great. It's something for everyone on different levels, you can start small and then work your way up to the more difficult things like composting or even gardening so something for everyone there. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell us where can everyone find you and your products?


Pallavi:

So, our listeners can find me on social media of all kinds. For 2020, I've been a Tik-Tok queen, a reels queen, an Instagram queen, my kids call me an addict because I didn't realize the power of [inaudible 20:50] a big, important role because I literally couldn't imagine what leaves could do. And when sometimes I tell people I make palm leaf tableware, they go, “Leaves? we're not sure.” And they give me the skeptical of which is totally okay, no judgment here. So, for that reason, I asked them, go to my website, look at the products there and you will not be able to distinguish between if they're wood or bamboo or palm leaves. So again, the website is a great platform for people to look at the inventory, what we offer. We are on Facebook. We have a Facebook business page called DTOCS, and we have a Facebook public group where people come in to learn more about the products, how to use them, how to reuse them, how to use them in other ways. For example, my daughters would color on them when they're done using them 30 times, or they would put their legos on them or how to compost them. Just a private group for all of us to have conversations around these equal products and again, an equal lifestyle, that's what the group offers. And then we're also on Instagram where we put our inspiring stories every day, how to incorporate this, just not in lives, but it also in eco-weddings, eco-events, how the caterers are using these, how the restaurants use these, how they make wonderful and thoughtful gifts, for example, for Christmas, for Mother’s Day, just to pamper anybody in the kitchen, dad's day when they want to do barbecue picnics. So, we put out all these pictures on Instagram where people can be like, “Oh yeah, we can do this.” It's like putting it in their minds by showing them so they’re impacted. And also, again on Tik Tok, we're on Pinterest and then LinkedIn. So, these are a couple of our social platforms.


Ariel:

Perfect. Yeah. Please go follow, DTOCS on all of these platforms. The products are so beautiful. They're so versatile and I can just see a huge market for you so I wish you all the most success.


Pallavi:

Thank you. Thank you so much. And I just have one tip for the listeners. It's, never regret it if you think you didn't start yesterday. So, it's okay because that was the first best time that you could have made an effort to make an impact by your actions, which is fine because you do make your impact every day by your conscious choices, but today's the next best time so make the best of it.


Ariel:

Exactly. I love it. Thank you so much for joining us Pallavi.


Pallavi:

Thank you for having me Ariel. I had a wonderful time talking to you and educating everybody and raising awareness for DTOCS. I'm excited to see if people have any feedback for us, if they want to get in touch with us regarding anything, for any question and answers I would love to have anything answered for you. So, connect with me on LinkedIn, on all social media and I would love to get in touch with everybody.


Ariel:

Awesome. Thanks so much.


Pallavi:

All right. Have a wonderful rest of the day. This was wonderful.


Ariel:

Yes. Thank you. I'll be in touch with you. I'll send you the, graphic and all that. Let me stop recording.


Ariel:

Thank you so much for listening to the Sustainable Brown Girl podcast. Be sure to subscribe and share it if you loved it and leave a review. You can find us on Instagram at Sustainable Brown Girl and check out our Facebook community, we would love to have you there. Until next time, let's continue to make healthy choices for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Thanks for listening.


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